Many organizations are taking advantage of the possibilities digital technology offers energy management. Breakthroughs have yielded substantial competitive advantages to early adopters by giving them greater control over energy consumption, costs and efficiency.
Experts can help
Most plants are hampered by imperfect knowledge of the energy sector, its innovation and its risk management tactics, so businesses fail to take advantage of the opportunities that energy market competition produces. However, by working collaboratively with energy consultants, end users can focus management attention on core business objectives and reduce economic risk and capital investment in energy usage.
Much of energy-management innovation can be credited to energy outsourcing, an industry that grew out of a need for expert advice and guidance as energy deregulation, costs and environmental impact grow. With dynamic energy markets, it's more profitable than ever to consider energy outsourcing. During 2002, energy experts managed nearly $6 billion worth of energy.
Energy outsourcing services may include consulting, environmental compliance, generation, plant operations, commodity purchases and more recently the technology that monitors and controls energy consumption.
Benefit from deregulation
Before delving into the details of energy management, it's important to understand the domestic energy market and how to mitigate market volatility.
Energy deregulation can provide cost-saving opportunities. As in any consumer-driven industry, choice can benefit purchasers. Options promote competition, which allows users to get the best possible price and product.
Fourteen states have full deregulation and retail energy competition. Other states are considering reducing regulatory barriers to give manufacturers more consistent and competitive prices for the electricity they purchase, while reducing energy price risks.
Energy consultants can help acquire supplies at reduced or predictable prices and take advantage of hedging opportunities and consumption-management techniques.
In the same way the Internet revolutionized business, controls technology is affecting the way facility managers oversee, predict and manage energy. When paired with an independent consultant, technological advances enable facilities to streamline operations, comply with environmental regulations and increase energy system reliability.
Web-enabled energy meters make possible real-time monitoring. Deployed with wireless technology, these meters give energy users access to information about energy cost at any time from anywhere.
Monitoring specific facilities, buildings and equipment provides additional information. Digital images can be turned into online operations and management manuals. Drilling down to individual energy users gives rapid access to information, a user-friendly knowledge base and opportunities for savings.
Analyzing real-time data can help determine which facilities or machines should be upgraded or improved. An accurate energy-use profile makes possible better predictions about energy and cost.
Digital technology can help locate a problem and identify whether it was caused an in-house failure or by the utility. Switching systems controlled through the Internet can shut down or transfer operations to standby systems immediately, without interrupting production.
Increased access to the Internet has further improved managers' abilities to receive customized information about electricity use, gas volume, humidity, voltage and ambient air temperature as a function of time. Monitoring multiple locations allows managers to get a detailed snapshot of energy usage.
Deregulation and technology implementation represent risk. However, the right mix and the right energy manager can mitigate the risk.
Risk management works best when used with remote, demand-side management that manages loads and shifts them from on-peak to off-peak hours. Companies also can manage risk by analyzing historical costs to better determine budgets for energy purchases and for changes in operations or purchasing that cut costs. Embedded technology allows managers to discuss and predict energy prices and costs in real terms, rather than relying on guesswork.
Outside energy experts can help with designing efficient energy controls and systems to purchasing competitively priced electricity, as well as assuming volatile risk associated with expansions, moves and local electricity market deregulation.
Jim Cherrie is vice president of marketing for Sempra Energy Solutions in San Diego, Calif. Contact him at [email protected] or call (619) 696-4606.