MRO Q&A: How can I lower my energy costs?

MRO Q&A is a Food Processing series addressing maintenance, repair and operational issues in food plants.

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Q: I am in charge of an older facility and need to make it more financially competitive. Energy is my biggest cost. How can I lower my costs?

A: The basic steps for analyzing and reducing utility costs are: optimize system design, maximize equipment energy efficiency and minimize consumption.

Several things must be done to optimize each utility system design and maximize energy consumption. You will need to prioritize each utility system by total costs. Then you will need to map each system. That consists of detailing each system (e.g., pipe sizing, pressures, equipment CFM requirements, pipe lengths/sizes, etc.). In newer facilities this information is available from drawings, but if not, it is essential for the analysis.

Metering and collecting usage data for each utility system at critical usage points must be done for a period that represents a complete production cycle. To collect this data you can utilize temporary data logging monitors and move them to the next utility system once you have data from the first system. In large systems you may want to consider using an energy monitoring system to reduce the time needed to collect data, but they can be very expensive.

Once completed, utilize in-house expertise to analyze the data on each specific system and make recommendations or bring in experts to do it. You may need experts on each utility system. It is rare to find someone who is an expert in all utilities. Either way, you are now set for data-based system optimization and maximizing equipment energy efficiency.

Now you’ll need to concentrate on minimizing energy consumption. This is best done by forming a plant-wide energy management team, made up of operators, mechanics, supervision and top leadership of the facility. Standard operating processes need to be developed about how and when to start up equipment, set cleaning water temperatures, report air leaks and set weekend walk-through schedules and responsibilities. Each job description needs to include an energy conservation component. Weekly reporting and metrics must be developed by this team as well.

Saving energy needs to involve engineering, maintenance and production and should be a collaborative effort if it is to be successful. As energy process costs continue to rise, this effort becomes more critical. Take your time and do it right.

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