Adopt an aggressive energy-management program today

April 3, 2008
David Berger says many energy initiatives are low-cost and easy to implement.

Some maintenance, operations and engineering managers would argue that notwithstanding the recent hype, energy management has been on their agendas since the first energy crisis back in 1973. Others would say that much more has to be done in the name of corporate social responsibility, green, sustainability and saving our planet. Then, there are the pragmatists who need to see a payback as with any other project or capital purchase. Many need a push from government through regulatory pressures, or demands from customers. Finally, some would assert that energy-management initiatives are an excellent marketing or public relations opportunity targeting customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers, government, media, special interest or lobby groups, and the general public.

The good news is that none of these are mutually exclusive. Some energy-reduction initiatives have always been there, and will continue long into the future, like ensuring a building is well-insulated and properly sealed. These same measures benefit the environment by reducing waste, have a solid business case and are good for marketing purposes.

So, it should come as no surprise that, regardless of your rationale, adopting an aggressive energy-management program is the right thing to do, independent of your industry, size or location. And many of the possible initiatives under such a program are low-cost and easy to implement.

Energy strategy and planning

Maintenance technicians are more accustomed to action than planning. But, when it comes to energy management, the most effective approach is to plan a comprehensive, multiyear strategy that yields a mix of short- to long-term projects. Build a track record through visible short-term wins that excites and engages stakeholders at every level.

A useful starting point for longer-term projects is conducting a comprehensive energy audit to identify, quantify and prioritize improvement opportunities. This can be useful in the development of energy policies such as design guidelines for new construction and new equipment, or for establishing preventive and predictive maintenance practices that address gaps the energy audit identified.


One of the easiest short-term projects to launch in the name of energy efficiency is a lighting system evaluation. The days are numbered for the incandescent lamp. Fluorescent bulbs last about five times as long and consume from 1/4 to 1/5 the energy for the same lumen output, making them the alternative of choice. Additionally, less labor is required for either a run-to-fail or preventive maintenance replacement strategy because fluorescent bulbs last longer.

Most offices and plants use 1.5-in. diameter T12 fluorescent lighting and magnetic ballasts. This is being replaced by the more efficient 1-in. diameter T8 lamps. The PCB content in the old-style magnetic ballasts makes it difficult to dispose of them. These are being supplanted by more energy-efficient electronic ballasts. Typical savings with these two upgrades is between 55 watts and 60 watts for each four-lamp fixture. Further savings can be achieved by replacing some four-lamp fixtures with two-lamp units in areas where light levels are excessive.

Older exit signs typically use incandescent or regular fluorescent lamps. These should be replaced as soon as possible by the most efficient lighting on the market today – LEDs – which last 50 times to 100 times longer and use about 1/20th the energy of incandescent bulbs.

Another measure that’s rising in popularity is greater use of natural light. Workers are happier, more productive and generally healthier in environments that have lots of natural light. Timers and sensors can be used to adjust lighting levels after sundown, as well as for outdoor or infrequently used locations such as washrooms.


Many modern CMMS software packages have sophisticated condition-based monitoring capability. This certainly can be useful in better monitoring the conditions related to the heating, cooling, steam generation and air-handling equipment in your plant and office. There are specialized building-management systems that can help you monitor building-related systems such as HVAC, fire protection? and security. Some of the measures to consider regarding reducing waste and improving the efficiency of these systems include:

  • Tune boilers on a regular basis (eg, use the CMMS to initiate regular inspections, or use a condition-based monitoring system for tracking boiler efficiency)
  • Inspect and clean heat-transfer surfaces regularly
  • Install variable-speed drives on pumps and fans
  • Replace standard control valves on chilled water systems with valves that are insensitive to line pressure
  • Adjust the sequencing of your HVAC systems using computerized control systems to minimize simultaneous calls for heating and cooling (when preheating overheats incoming air)
  • Insulate and seal doors, windows and the rest of the building envelope
  • Insulate steam and other heating lines and install removable insulating blankets on valves, fittings and expansion joints
  • Recapture condensation from air handlers and direct it to chilling towers or other grey-water uses
  • Perform regular building control system PM inspections to spot failed sensors, leaking valves or improper programming
  • Operate furnaces and boilers at or near design capacity
  • Reduce excess combustion air and reduce radiation losses from openings
  • Perform regular PM inspections and use predictive technologies such as thermography to detect steam leaks and faulty steam traps
  • Minimize steam venting with a vent condenser to recover flash steam energy, and use high-pressure condensate to make low-pressure steam
  • Use backpressure turbines instead of pressure-reducing or release valves to reduce steam pressure more efficiently
  • Recover furnace exhaust gas heat to preheat fuel and reduce fuel consumption; use recovered heat to feed lower-temperature production processes


An effective way to reduce energy consumption is to modify your procurement policies and practices. Modify the wording on contracts and purchases orders so they favor waste reduction. For example, when sourcing energy, purchase renewable energy only. Build energy-conservation clauses into your contracts, such as incentives based on meeting performance targets. Purchase equipment that yields the lowest life cycle cost. Ensure that any renovations conform to Energy Star and other waste-reduction standards.

Energy-management tracking systems

Another effective approach to reducing energy costs is to modify your CMMS or use another tracking system to gather data on current energy consumption patterns. Do this for each asset and the overall plant to determine the best approach for modifying suboptimal practices. For example, determine if periods of heavy demand for electricity can be shifted to off-peak hours to take advantage of lower rates. Investigate alternate fuel sources that might be cheaper and reduce emissions. Also, your CMMS should be able to alert you, through condition-based monitoring, to any anomalies such as spikes in energy or fuel consumption, which can be reduced or spread over time.

(Editor’s note: The Plant Services CMMS/EAM Software Review, posted at, provides a side-by-side comparison of more than a dozen popular software packages.)

E-mail Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., partner, Western Management Consultants, at [email protected].

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