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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Powering Down: Reduce Operational Costs by Conducting an Energy Audit


For individuals, finding ways to reduce energy consumption is usually a choice — resulting from a decision to be more environmentally conscious, an effort to save a few dollars each month, or both.

For most manufacturers, however, energy efficiency has become a must-do measure. Why? Nearly every aspect of a plant, from overhead lighting to powering and cooling machines, requires energy. And as the oil and gas markets continue down a volatile path, the energy that’s used burns money that could otherwise be reinvested in the company. Instigating a large-scale energy reduction plan may seem daunting, but there are ways to make the process easier — and well worth the effort.

Determine Current Energy Usage
Small steps can help reduce your plant’s energy consumption, such as reminding employees to turn off the lights when they leave a room and keep doors closed when air conditioning is running. But to make larger cuts that will truly benefit your bottom line, you need to review your plant’s current power usage data.

Relying on your on-site meters may not give you accurate readings, especially if your local utility provider hasn’t recently calibrated them. Instead, ask your provider for a report that contains your hourly usage. This report can help you pinpoint where and when you’re using the most energy.

Conduct an Energy Audit
A gap may exist between your energy consumption and production demands. An energy audit can pinpoint ways to close that gap by identifying power consumption that can be cut when not directly contributing to productivity.

Conducted by a third party, an energy audit consists of an inspection of your plant’s facilities followed by a detailed report on how you can reduce energy consumption. This analysis usually includes suggestions for behavioral changes, such as powering down machinery when not in use; programming changes, including the incorporation of systems that control electrical current; and capital investments that can reduce long-term energy costs, such as equipment insulation.

Keep in mind that, even though some gas and electricity providers offer energy audits, many manufacturers typically seek the assistance of energy consulting companies. Utility-provided audits often are free, while the cost of an audit from a private consultant will depend on the size of your manufacturing operation. A less-expensive audit will be more cursory, yielding fewer suggestions, while a more-costly audit should dig deeper into your operation and result in more personalized, cost-saving advice.

Among dozens of other suggestions, an energy audit report may advise that a manufacturer:

  • Repair leaks in machines powered by compressed air, such as motors, pumps and fans,
  • Reduce cooling tower operation time,
  • Install a second, separate HVAC system for IT equipment, which must be cooled 24 hours a day, and
  • Run certain pieces of equipment during off-peak hours.

Additionally, an energy consulting company can help your company get the best rates from your energy provider. For example, if your plant is located in an energy-deregulated state, where competition for the sale of gas or electricity is permitted, the consulting company may be able to recommend the most cost-effective energy supplier for your needs.

Once you’ve received the results of your audit, remember that the physical updates to your plant are only one part of a larger energy-reduction plan. The agreement and enthusiasm of your employees is just as important, because they’ll be responsible for running new machinery, upholding the behavioral changes listed in the audit and making additional energy-saving suggestions as time goes on.

Make Energy Savings a Reality
It’s easy to assume that, by using less energy, you’ll spend less on gas and electricity. An energy audit will tell you how much you can save — and exactly what you can do to make those savings a reality. By significantly lowering your energy costs each year and boosting your plant’s efficiency, you’ll streamline operations and have more cash on hand to grow your business.

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