MRO Q&A: Building a Successful Energy Cost Savings Program

Nov. 8, 2011
MRO Q&A is a Food Processing series addressing maintenance, repair and operational issues in food plants.

Q. How can I build a successful energy cost savings program and get all areas within the organization working together on this critical effort? What have others organizations found to be the quickest items for results?

A. As with any major cost reduction program, data is the key to understanding your critical success factors. You must start with a plant-wide energy usage audit to help you understand two basic elements.

First, you need to gain an understanding of where you are consuming energy by measuring the various energy centers of your operation. Second, you need to clearly understand the cost basis for the various forms of energy you are using. The most important part of your audit will be maintaining the ongoing records of use and cost, and this will require a long-term commitment to your energy program.

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By providing up to five years of historical data regarding usage and cost, you will have a more complete understanding of your overall energy profile. You also will need to record any major changes made to your operation and report on the corresponding changes to energy usage.

You need to remember that while energy costs are growing they will never be your primary cost drivers. Raw and packaging materials as well as labor cost should always remain your primary focus. Nevertheless, to gain a more positive footing for your efforts, you need to develop a strategic view of energy and understand it will remain for the near future a strong external factor in the cost of doing business. You will always consume a significant level of energy in producing your product. The program focus should be first on the everyday items, which all members of the operation can participate in, and not just the big energy-sensitive items that may require major operational and engineering effort. That said there are several immediate areas you can look to for quick impact.

  • Facility lighting is one of the most common energy-related elements in any plant. Many manufacturing facilities were designed using a common level of lighting throughout the facility. Lighting can provide major savings and link your energy program to your overall operating plan by including all areas of your operation and allowing every department to provide results for the program.
  • A second major area for review is your basic building environment. Addressing this area means a plant-wide review of air leaks, department to department, and poorly maintained external and internal barrier surfaces. This review can provide insight into better control of heating and cooling operations, which can save on the use of major energy units. 
  • These efforts should naturally lead to measuring and improving indoor air quality and climate control, which can improve your operational focus on this critical area of quality while providing savings in energy use. 
  • Measuring water and chemical usage can focus the organization on reducing wastewater discharge, and this can greatly improve the energy cost per unit of production. 
  • Establishing a program focused on upgrading the various motors used in your plant to the newer more energy efficient types of motor and drives can lead to surprising results in energy efficiency.

Items like these have provided many organizations with the early team win/win results required to make any program a long term success.

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