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Energy Efficiency is Everything

What can plant managers do to improve energy efficiency?

Around ten percent of the average household’s electricity bill is made up of lighting. Making the simple switch to LED bulbs can cut this by up to 90 percent. This is because typical lightbulbs only emit a small amount of light — the remainder is wasted as heat. Here, take a look at why a manufacturing facility’s energy efficiency is so important and what plant managers can do to improve it.

A typical incandescent bulb produces light because current passing through a filament heats it up and causes it to glow. In contrast, LED lights don’t have to be hot to produce light, which allows them to shine just as brightly using a lot less electricity. This means that a simple change of lightbulb can lead to significant savings on a facility’s energy bill. Who knew it was so easy?

The Importance of Energy Efficiency

If the current trend of energy use continues for the next 5,000 years, it has been predicted that sea levels will rise 216 feet. If this prediction comes true, London, Bangladesh and most of China would no longer exist. The environmental impact, combined with the potential savings to a company’s energy bill, should be enough to convince plant managers that it is worth improving energy efficiency.

The UK government is also incentivizing businesses to cut energy use. From April 2018, regulations state that non-domestic privately rented properties must have an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating of at least an E. These ratings, which are determined by property inspection, take into account CO2 emissions, fuel costs per year, and energy performance related features such as wall insulation, windows and heating systems. 

In the European Union, the industrial sector accounts for 27 percent of total energy use. Keeping a factory within regulation will therefore be essential for industrial plant managers, who will have to maintain good energy efficiency in their facility and its equipment to remain compliant, cut costs and protect the environment. But, what can plant managers do to improve energy efficiency?

Insulating Equipment

Just as a light bulb releases excess heat, so does industrial equipment. For machines that require heating, plant managers should consider minimizing this heat loss using insulation. This can lead to savings on an energy bill — if equipment loses less heat, it requires less energy to replace it. It’s particularly important to insulate equipment with a high internal temperature, as heat loss will be greater where the gradient between internal and external environments is large.

In residential environments, insulation of 350 to 500 millimeters is a regulatory requirement. Interestingly, power plants are only required to have 100 millimeters, despite the fact that they have greater heat losses. It could be argued that this requirement isn’t sufficient, as the potential to increase efficiency and improve performance is so large.

In many processes, parts of a system are poorly insulated, typically including valves and flanges. To improve insulation in demanding environments, plant managers should ensure that the system has the required thermal and mechanical properties including water resistance and corrosion. This keeps the heat in the system, reducing wasted energy in the long term.

Submetering

To measure a building’s energy use, plant managers can use submetering, which monitors the electrical consumption of equipment in a building, including heating, ventilation and air conditioning, lighting and more. This can be viewed as a breakdown per system or per building, giving good visibility into system performance. The resulting information explains the actual energy usage, rather than relying on estimations.

Using submetering allows facilities managers a specific insight into the facility’s efficiency and performance. Using this detailed understanding, a plant manager can make decisions to save energy and therefore cut costs.

One way plant managers can use data from submetering to save money is by minimizing energy use at peak times. This is because energy suppliers often implement peak demand management, whereby they charge extra per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy at the time when consumption is highest.

Variable Speed Drives (VSDs)

The majority of electric motors run at their maximum speed – manufacturers can alter the output by changing fuel flow. This results in a lot of wasted energy and is one reason why electric motors account for 43 to 45 percent of all global electricity consumption. A VSD can reduce a motor’s energy consumption by up to 60 percent, which can lead to dramatic increases in energy costs for a continuously running motor, particularly if a plant manager is operating several.

Currently, 90 percent of electric motors are not fitted with variable speed drives. This provides an opportunity for all industries to equip the motors that would benefit. Improving the uptake of this technology is sure to improve the energy efficiency of systems around the world.

Some industrial plant managers may be put off by the initial investment in energy efficient technologies, the same reason that may put consumers off LED bulbs. However, in both cases, opting for the more expensive, but more efficient option tends to work out cheaper. This is because of the savings to the energy bill over time.

Manufacturers can benefit financially from technologies that reduce wasted energy, by incorporating insulation, submetering and VSDs into production facilities. The technologies can cut energy bills, ensure regulatory compliance and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Oh, and you might as well change the light bulbs to LEDs while you’re at it.

Jonathan Wilkins is marketing director of obsolete industrial automation parts supplier EU Automation.

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