Energy auditing may sound like an intimidating process, but following the guidelines provided by the EPA’s Energy Star program makes it easy to decrease energy consumption and begin reaping the benefits of energy efficiency.
In today’s tough economy, a main objective for many companies has become to decrease operating costs without decreasing production or compromising the quality of their product. With several fixed expenses, such as freight rates, the cost of raw materials and payroll, it may seem like cutting costs anywhere is out of reach.
Utility costs, however, are one of the largest variable operating costs, and energy management has recently become a popular way for companies to decrease overhead. There is a wealth of information, tools, resources and government programs available to the grain industry to help them identify what can be done to achieve greater energy efficiency.
In some cases, simply replacing old motors and bearings can make a huge difference in the utility bill. Other pieces of equipment such as conveyors, pellet mills and grinders can be energy hogs if they are outdated or not properly maintained. But an effective energy management strategy doesn’t rely solely on a string of projects. It requires dedication from all levels of personnel, gathering and analyzing data, and checking progress regularly to stay on task.
Planning an energy management process
An energy management process is a combination of initiatives and actions taken to decrease energy consumption. The EPA’s Energy Star program has outlined a series of steps to guide companies through the process. The first step, “make a commitment,” is more mental than results-oriented, according to Jaron Vande Hoef, senior project engineer of Interstates, Sioux Center, IA. He says that in the beginning stages of implementing an energy management plan, it’s essential for upper management to create a culture of energy awareness.
“Some companies never reap the potential gains from an energy reduction project because they didn’t make energy awareness and management a part of their culture,” he says. “Top levels of management must create an atmosphere of energy consciousness, so when they announce initiatives and projects to improve efficiency, it will make sense because it is consistent with the company’s culture.”
The next step is to “assess performance.” This involves gathering and analyzing the past five years or so of utility bills to look for trends. This step serves as the starting point from which to measure progress and aids in formulating future energy consumption goals.
The breakdown of the charges is the most important factor to look at for this portion of the energy audit. Vande Hoef says usage fees should be around 60% to 70%, while 20% to 40% should be the demand fee (the amount the utility company charges for your peak usage in the past month). The remainder of the bill will consist of additional fees and penalties. If any of the percentages are far from what’s expected, that’s something to further investigate.
After that, search for any inconsistencies from month to month to identify which times of year the facility reaches its peak energy use.
If there are multiple facilities within the company, compare the bills for each to reveal locations that need improvement, and focus resources on the facilities that truly need it.
Based on the information gathered in the audit, a company can begin outlining goals and defining benchmarks. Goals can be expressed as a specific quantity decrease in energy use, such as a 10% reduction, or as a threshold requirement, the minimum acceptable level of performance. Assigning a date or time frame for achievement is also recommended by the EPA, such as a 25% reduction in total energy use from 1999 levels by 2010, or 20% improvement in energy performance within five years.