An air flow controller in manual mode … steam leaking from a few traps … a heat exchanger that has become a bit fouled. None of these typical plant issues scream out for senior leadership attention on their own. But over time, they can add up to millions of dollars in wasted money. And that’s enough to make the senior leaders do the screaming.
Waste in energy conversion, distribution, and consumption was easier to ignore in an era of less competition and price pressure. But reducing these losses is one of industry’s biggest opportunities to enhance bottom lines, and that’s why many eyes are on energy performance.
If energy use isn’t a top priority in your plant operations, you’re wasting money, which reduces profitability and impacts shareholder value. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, the energy used by U.S. manufacturing plants costs the nation an additional $180 billion annually, while improving energy intensity by 20 percent or more is typically available. That could add up to savings of about $45 billion a year. In today’s reality of competitive markets and thin margins, losses of this magnitude should not be tolerated.
Find and Plug the Energy Holes
“The power of today’s instrumentation and automation technologies is unprecedented,” said Robert Sabin, consulting engineer at Emerson Process Management. “In many cases, industrial sites have invested significantly in ‘smart plants’ and have transformed many aspects of safety and operations. Yet many still are not taking full advantage of those investments and are missing out on other opportunities.”
Similarly, many previous energy improvement programs have also yielded nominal results as improvement techniques are largely efficiency-based rather than transformative.
But a well-conceived and managed energy improvement initiative will help operators achieve Top Quartile Performance in their industry by uncovering sizable opportunities to boost energy performance. Even better, they can soon be self-funding through the savings that are created. Here are a few examples:
- Steam traps in a typical refinery can cost $4 million annually in evaporated steam, which has to be regenerated because the leaks go undetected.
- Outdated combustion methods based on 1920s fuel-to-air curves severely limit a plant’s reliance on low-cost fuel sources due to BTU variability. With contemporary real-time BTU value analysis, the combustion of low-cost fuel sources becomes dependable and cost-effective.
- Unreliable equipment on the process manufacturing (energy consumption) side of the house can cause excess header pressure which must be vented or gases flared…emissions which not only represent evaporated investment but also increase risk of regulatory fines
Here are the top three ways that executives can address the most egregious energy wasters:
- Make smart use of smart technology: Powerful software controls and “smart” instrumentation are commonly installed in industrial plants, but this technology is often not fully implemented or integrated into operating methods and maintenance practices. When the plant’s staff cannot or does not coordinate technology tools to maximize them, your investments are wasted, and so are many of their maintenance efforts. Ensuring that your installed technology is fully leveraged to optimize energy performance will save energy costs and will also likely improve other performance metrics such as quality and throughput.
- Monitor in real-time: They say hindsight is 20/20 but it’s also behind the times. If you are pulling reports from the past day, week, month or even shift to search for energy spikes, you’ve missed an opportunity to identify and rectify the issue immediately.With real-time monitoring, your personnel can see when energy use rises outside of target norms, and take immediate corrective action, saving you money. And this goes beyond the powerhouse. Real time monitoring of consumption is available today and a secret weapon against wasted cost. Think about your home – imagine receiving a real-time alert when weather stripping around a door in your home allows heat (or air conditioning) to escape? This technology is available now for your plant which allows you to act immediately.
- Remember that little things become big things: In the course of monitoring for the big issues, it’s easy to overlook the smaller energy wasters that can add up to big bucks. But these minor issues, when taken in aggregate, result in substantial energy loss. When relatively small issues are never addressed, it can lead to “workarounds” that are costly or wasteful, which directly impact the bottom line. Make sure you have deployed tools and practices that find, control, and fix even the minor energy losers – and that your staff is trained to give them significant attention.
“Process control, operating, monitoring, and maintenance practices are often dated and not fully coordinated, but existing industrial operations can begin to realize better energy performance when leaders focus on these three areas and build an ongoing comprehensive energy improvement program,” Sabin said.
Those who are building new plants have an even better opportunity: they can address these areas at the outset to ensure that inefficiencies aren’t baked into the new site.
By implementing fully automatic process control with integrated energy optimization, deploying granular real-time energy monitoring, and training site personnel to work with these tools, business leaders can drive energy cost out of industrial sites – greatly impacting the bottom line.
For additional articles related to Emerson’s energy consultant Robert Sabin, visit the Emerson Process Experts blog.