An Energy Diet for Industry?

Industrial plants have long been considered the villains in the battle with the forces of eco-friendliness. They’ve been known to consume as much of whatever energy resource is necessary to meet production goals. End of story? Hardly. Regardless of the type of facility, where lots of energy is consumed, there is energy to be saved. In industrial facilities, the opportunities lie in how to manage energy usage and waste. And you don’t have to be an avid environmentalist to want to save energy. Energy costs are rising and availability is increasingly unpredictable. It’s time to take a serious look at industrial sustainability options.

Peak shaving strategies
Energy demands usually peak midday when the air conditioning and the machinery are running hard. This can generate peak demand surcharges from the energy supplier who wants to level energy production to make best use of its facility and maintain a steady flow of energy in the power grid. Industrial companies can even out the peaks and create a more constant level of energy usage to avoid these penalties.

One example of how companies can “shave” their peak cooling load down to near baseline usage is by storing ice. At night, when the energy use is lowest, the company expends energy to make ice in a storage vault. During the day, the ice is used for cooling which reduces the amount of daytime energy needed to bring temperatures down. Depending on the location and type of process going on in the plant, a cooling load typically occurs all year round. The cost of the controls and ice-making equipment can be recovered in a short amount of time.

Alternative energy sources
Buying green power can mean subsidizing alternative energy installation and production in some far away location. Although this benefits the environment, the local impact seems negligible. To create a more direct benefit, companies should consider installing an on-site alternative energy source. Current combinations of federal and state tax incentives are reducing the cost for installing solar power to about a 10-year payoff. In addition, for the subsequent 10-15 years of service life, the generated solar power is “free.”

If the amount of area available for solar power collectors is limited, they may not generate enough power to run an industrial process, but it may be adequate to support front office operations: computers, lighting, office machines and the like. Futher, the installation of solar power can provide an additional benefit by safeguarding the office from power fluctuations that can create chaos for computerized operations.

Depending on the location and amount of land available, wind power is another resource worth considering. Like solar power, a company may qualify for federal and state subsidies, grants, or tax abatements. Many factors need to be considered when determining whether wind power makes fiscal sense even if the company has the land to dedicate to windmills.

Each industrial environment has unique problems and opportunities when it comes to saving energy. Even if a company is committed to the tenets of sustainability, the challenge is to determine the best solutions and how to implement them. To develop workable options requires an interdisciplinary team—one that can examine your specific industrial process and facility from multiple perspectives: alternative energy systems, mechanical engineering, industrial process engineering, electrical engineering, architecture and others.

That is exactly the approach that SSOE takes. We work with clients to assess areas for energy savings, determine the payout and design and support solution implementation.

More and more, our people and our institutions are making the effort to lessen their impact on the environment. Companies that can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability are gaining favor in their markets. In this way, doing the right thing by the planet, is helping business.

[The next article in this series on the greening of industry will cover Waste Not – converting waste to energy, and Want Not – turning waste into raw material.]