Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Energy Efficiency & Management Links

Please take advantage of the 250 newly-updated energy links on my webpage. The main headers are:

Appliances, Applications, & Technologies
Case Studies
Corporate Energy Management
Energy Audits
Incentives, Rebates, & Tax Deductions
Info by Industry/Building Type
Maintenance & Recommissioning
Organizations & Forums
Tips & Best Practice Checklists
Tracking, Accounting, Benchmarking, Calculators
Weather Data

My current "favorite" is www.realwinwin.com, which features rebate reports.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Energy Audit Help for Small and Mid-Sized Plants

(Editor's Note: Don't let the word "audit" scare you. Call it an "assessment" or a "profile," if you must, but the idea is simple: you can't manage what you don't measure!)

The U.S. Department of Energy's Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs) and the National Institute for Science and Technology's (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) are dedicated to helping small and mid-sized industrial plants meet their unique energy efficiency challenges. Now, they are joining forces in a new partnership that will offer an expanded reach of services to improve the energy efficiency, environmental performance, and global competitiveness of these plants. DOE Assistant Secretary Karsner stated, "Approximately 200,000 small and mid-sized plants in the U.S. pay a total of $50 billion per year in energy costs. This initiative has the potential to help these manufacturers reduce enegy costs in some cases by up to 30% per year." Through this new collaboration, IACs and MEPs will assist plants through plant assessments, technical tools and information, and training opportunities. ITP's university-based IACs conducted more than 500 plant assessments last year, identifying about $150 million in energy, waste, and productivity savings. In 2006, MEPs assisted nearly 25,000 manufacturers through technical expertise and services.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Energy Management Business Tools: Risk, Time, and Money

Over time, I've learned to introduce energy management as some mix of three resources: risk, time, and money. You can minimize the use of any two of those three, but it will be at the expense of the third. For example:

Minimize your investment of time and money. This means you assume greater risk by simply not dealing with the root causes of energy waste and volatile energy prices. It means doing little, cheap, one-time projects, and switching fuels or fuel suppliers. In other words, by doing as little proactive energy management on your part as possible, you remain at the mercy of market forces external to your organization.

Minimize your risk and investment of time. You can do this primarily by pursuing big, capital projects (assuming that new equipment can do the work so people don't have to). But of course, the big project approach takes big money.

Minimize your risk and investment of money. You can do this if you are prepared to invest a lot of time. If for some reason the budget won't support the purchase of new, more efficient equipment, then you need to focus on the way people use and maintain current equipment. In short, this approach requires culture change. Be prepared to spend a lot of time boosting staff awareness of the energy cost consequences of their daily work habits. Be prepared to encounter resistance ("That's the way we've always done it.") You'll need to persuade and influence people, fostering and promoting success stories whenever they can be cultivated.

Risk, time, and money-- you can optimize two out of three. I offer no scientific proof to back up this concept, but simply ask you to accept it as a truth that is self-evident.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Energy’s Unintended Value

Any industrial organization that wishes to control its energy costs must overcome a few significant hurdles. The most commonly understood hurdle may be the cost (and payback performance) of energy-efficient equipment and technologies. But hardware is only part of it. There are human choices—made daily on factory floors—that not only drive energy expenses, but also adversely skew the financial payback of energy “projects.” Through time and habit, human organizations develop and depend on a variety of unintended uses for energy. Recognizing these unintended uses may be critical to reducing energy costs while also improving the payback on efficient equipment.

An industrial engineer thinks of energy primarily as the source of heat, pressure, and motive power needed to refine raw materials into the final products we consume. Energy is also used to condition the space where work is performed. But keep in mind that the people who design and select equipment are usually quite different from the people that maintain and operate the equipment. Maintenance and operations personnel have a variety of responsibilities, needs, and motives for making the choices they do. These choices become institutionalized over time, as evidenced by the common refrain, “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” People begin to use energy in ways that engineers and other technicians never anticipated. These “services” represent industry’s unintended demand for energy. Here are some examples:

Proof of effort.
In today’s competitive, cost-sensitive economy, a worker’s survival depends on keeping busy, or at least appearing to keep busy. This may explain why many operators prefer to leave certain machines running, even when there is no work in process. Motor drives, pneumatic tools, and other factory machinery all make a distinct racket. A manager can, after a time, detect what machinery is running without having to look—it can simply be heard. The sound implies that “yes, we are busy.” The energy wasted by machines that run unnecessarily is of no consequence to the worker—the energy cost is not reflected in his or her paycheck. However, energy provides a valuable service to the operator who wishes to maintain the appearance of keeping busy.

A similar example is the excess venting of steam plumes. In at least one instance, a facility routinely vented excess steam through the roof. This practice was condoned by the front office because these plumes were evidence that “everything was up and running.” While this practice was extremely convenient from a communications standpoint, it failed to recognize the fact that the money spent on generating this steam was literally “going up in smoke.”

Budget defense.
Unfortunately, many organizations maintain the fiscal habit of developing next year’s budget based on the previous year’s performance. In other words, the department that successfully decreases its expenditures this year can actually be penalized with a smaller budget next year. While few managers actively promote waste, many more simply won’t challenge it. They can then confidently prop up their funding request for the coming year’s budget. In terms of energy use, this again means running machines unnecessarily, using fuel-rich combustion settings, and ignoring losses attributable to steam or compressed air distribution leaks.

Comfort and convenience. Here’s an example: workers may use compressed air, which is a very expensive plant utility, to perform work that could be just as effectively performed by a brush or broom. In some instances, a less expensive utility such as flash steam could supplant the use of compressed air. An egregious example comes from one clever factory employee who “air conditioned” his workstation with streams of compressed air, which he enjoyed by simply tapping several nozzles into overhead air distribution lines.

Lighting obviously contributes to the safety of working environments. We also use lighting “services” to make a space more welcoming. We develop a habit for leaving lights on regardless of the space—storage rooms, break rooms, and worse, in rooms that are perfectly lit with natural daylight. As power becomes more expensive, we are forced to rethink these habits. Sensors and programmable controls are readily available to make the decisions that we humans can’t (or won’t) make.

The take-away is this: attempts to control energy use will almost always run afoul of someone’s dependence on the service that energy provides. Energy managers need to understand the unintended value of energy use in a facility. On one hand, this implies finding ways to compensate for “services” that are compromised by reduced energy use. On the other hand, there’s nothing like high energy prices to rethink our priorities and reduce wasteful practices.


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