Simple Steps to Make Your Facility More Sustainable

The word “sustainability” means different things to different people. In business, making a profit is vital to keeping a company sustainable and open for business. From an environmental viewpoint, sustainability means protecting the earth by reducing the use of natural resources and waste.

These two perspectives come together when a company looks at ways to reduce its energy consumption—which saves money and is good for the environment.

The essence of sustainability is doing more with less. As the saying goes, “waste not, want not.” So let’s look first at making your facility more sustainable by reducing your energy costs. After all, the cheapest kWh of energy for your plant never used.

Conduct an Energy Audit

Start reducing your energy consumption by performing an energy audit. ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) has set standards for conducting three different levels of audits.

Level 1 is often called a walk-through analysis of a facility by an experienced professional. The goal is to identify opportunities to save energy.  This usually involves a review of utility bills, interviews with key staff, and a walk through the facility to spot obvious areas of energy waste or inefficiency.  Afterward, a report is prepared that details any no-cost or low-cost solutions the plant can take immediately, areas that may need further study, as well as potential capital projects that should be considered if a more detailed audit is conducted.

Level 2 builds on the Level 1 audit by providing a more detailed analysis of energy efficiency measures that require spending but are relatively low cost.  This audit includes estimates of energy savings and capital costs, which allows plant management to prioritize any capital investments.  A Level 2 audit can also suggest operational improvements that will save energy.

Level 3 audits provide a detailed financial and engineering analysis of capital intensive projects and modifications. Field data is typically gathered, and some equipment may be metered to determine energy consumption patterns.  This helps establish an energy baseline for comparing operations before and after project implementation.

What Your Audit Might Recommend

Here are some of the best ideas for harvesting the low-hanging fruit on the energy tree.

Reduce peak power demand: If your utility bill includes “demand” charges based on the maximum amount of energy used during a short period time during the billing period, reducing these peaks can save you money.  One simple way to do this is to install variable speed drives (VFDs) or soft starts on large motors, such as pumps, compressors, or fans, to reduce motor  peak demand.  To learn more, go to How to Lower Your Facility’s Electric Bill.

Reduce your power factor penalty:  Plants with large motors loads, or other inductive loads, typically experience low (lagging) power factors.  Utilities penalize power factors that are less than 90 – 92%, and these penalties can be significant.  Adding power factor correction capacitors or replacing older motors can improve the power factor and reduce the utility penalties.  This also is a good time to look at your facility’s harmonic footprint as well.

Use variable speed drives (VFDs) to reduce energy consumption on pumps, fans and other motors that do not have to continuously operate at 100% capacity.  For example, a fan motor on a VFD is a better method for controlling air flow instead of a throttling damper.

Upgrade older lighting systems by switching to bright and energy efficient LED lighting. Also consider more task lighting, as well as daylight harvesting, occupancy sensors, and enhanced lighting controls to reduce overall energy use.  And minimize lighting when no one is working.

Waste heat capture: The exhaust from ovens, air compressors and other hot operations could be used for facility heating, oven make-up air, pre-heat air for a dryer or another operation.

Compressed air improvements: Think smaller.  Examine your facility compressed air requirements.  The best goal is to reduce overall compressed air requirements.  Replacing a large central system with smaller distributed systems may be a better fit for your facility. Piping system improvements and leak reduction can significantly reduce the compressor duty cycle.  One client commented that his budget for air system improvements is the cost of one mechanic for one year because he has the equivalent of one guy chasing air leaks in his plant full time.  Reducing the piping may be as significant as compressor improvements.

Other Sustainable Actions That Can Save Your Plant Money

If you are buying water, take a close look at reusing it before discharging it. Some plants pay $30,000 a month or more for water—and would benefit greatly from a reuse & recycle project.  Cooling tower installations or improvements can both reduce the water usage requirements and improve pump and motor performance.

Electric solar cells may be cost effective depending on your electrical usage and pricing. While the cost of solar cells has dropped by half or more in the last 10 years, the government tax credits have all but disappeared.  Still, it may be worth considering, even with its long payback, because its ROI is fairly consistent and its impact is immediate.

Finally, involve employees to explore more ways to save energy and reduce waste. Together you can make your company more economical, more sustainable, and an even better corporate citizen in your community.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation, engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our sustainability and multidiscipline engineering, contact Doug Medley, PE, Senior Project Engineer, Power, Instrumentation, Control Department.

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