Why is industrial energy management so hard?

August 31st, 2016

Nick Balster works for Groom Energy Solutions and has cultivated a reliable maintenance strategy at his time with the energy business. Groom Energy has over 100 utility company partnerships across the U.S. and works with various manufacturing, distribution and industrial organizations.

He identified four components that make industrial energy efficiency so difficult:

  1. Size of opportunity – savings appear to be small
  2. Priorities – management allocates money to production over maintenance
  3. Complexity – often, savings require a procedural change
  4. Mindset – “We will get to it eventually.”

Nick’s approach comes in three different types:

1. Fast find and fix
This process involves a lot of customer feedback regarding which of their areas and systems may need the most work. Essentially, Nick’s team will analyze utility consumption and and previous studies, survey on-site with a group of professionals from different fields, including engineers and local utility representatives, and leverage Groom Energy Solutions’ toolkit and technologies, including UE Systems’ ultrasonic equipment. This large-scale data collection allows Nick and his team to work efficiently once they identify the correct course of action.

By finding current problems and fixing them at that time, the manufacturer gains immediate savings. Additionally, the survey will likely identify potential solutions down the road that can yield even more substantial results.

For example, during one fast find and fix situation, an Illinois plant had a 250,000-gallon fire suppression tank with a steam coil that was supposed to offer thermostatic control. However, when that steam coil failed, it fired live steam into the tank costing the company $43,250 per year.

Steam facilities have high savings opportunities.Steam facilities have high savings opportunities.

2. Metering
Metering recommendations are primarily based on findings from the fast find and fix. Primarily, the team will prioritize the long-term upgrade opportunities, develop and implementation plan, and start collecting meeting. That can come in a few different forms:

  • Provide the plant with metering on a temporary basis, sometimes during a specific event or intervention
  • Collecting data for discreet systems to recommend for clients
  • Establishing a baseline to which clients can compare new strategies for energy use

Metering data can then be itemized into an executive summary for decision making. The goal is to make the data as palatable as possible for manufacturing facilities from a returns perspective. This analysis will show Nick’s clients which bundles of equipment address which specific shortcomings, from steam to HVAC to processes and so on – all with minimal downtime.

3. Upgrades
This is self-explanatory – through a fast find and fix and metering, Nick’s Groom Energy Solutions team can target specific technologies, equipment and procedures that the facility should upgrade. But because of the vast amount of data behind these recommendations, and because of the savings demonstrated by any fast finds in the first step, it’s easy for facilities to see how valuable an upgrade can be both from an efficiency standpoint and from a financial perspective.

Typically, this three-step plan can happen over the course of a single year: In the first quarter, implement the fast find and fix; in the second quarter, begin metering and identify the best savings opportunities; in quarters three and four, fund the projects, order the materials and complete the upgrades.

Success stories
In one instance, a privately owned packaging company, was only two years old when Groom Energy Solutions entered. The facility seemed up-to-date and well-functioning, as it was practically brand new, but there were still ample opportunities for savings:

  • Interior and exterior lighting upgraded to LED
  • Wireless lighting controls
  • Sequenced compressed air system
  • Intelligent controls for RTUs

These and other savings added up to just shy of $207,000 dollars per year for a 54 percent return on investment.

In a second example, Nick detailed a $250 billion food manufacturer. This facility received a redesigned compressed air system, a state-of-the-art Atlas Copco steam system with waste-heat recovery, and the organization also qualified for a rebate from Alliant Energy.

Those upgrades saved the company 1.2 million kWh per year, 43 million gallons of water per year, and 6,000 MMBtu per year. All told, the company gained a 30 percent return on investment.

While identifying ways to improve energy efficiency, steam leaks and outdated steam generators can be a major area for improvement. Nick’s group uses that as one their focal areas, leveraging ultrasound equipment to identify the easy fixes right away and analyzing larger pieces of equipment through metering and other methods to determine if a facility can yield a strong ROI by replacing a piece of machinery.

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