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Eye on Energy: Harnessing the Latest Energy Tracking Technology

Energy usage continues to be a critical issue in the manufacturing sector, due to concerns over energy costs as well as the need to meet corporate sustainability requirements. But with advanced energy management technology, manufacturers more easily can meet their energy goals.

This article originally appeared in the digital supplement iPurchase: High Tech Manufacturing, a collaborative effort between Food Manufacturing, IMPO, and Manufacturing Business Technology.

Energy usage continues to be a critical issue in the manufacturing sector, due to concerns over energy costs as well as the need to meet corporate sustainability requirements. But with advanced energy management technology, manufacturers more easily can meet their energy goals.

In a tight economy, manufacturers are always looking to cut costs, and identifying the most efficient methods to monitor and manage energy usage can be a simple way to do so. However, many companies are concerned that reducing energy usage will negatively impact their production output.

Not so, says Kevin Klustner, CEO of Powerit Solutions. “With advanced energy demand management technology, even manufacturers with very complex and sensitive processes can reduce energy costs while maintaining production output.”

Manufacturers have available to them a variety of energy management technologies which can both reduce their electrical bills and, in some cases, increase their revenue. Klustner says energy cost savings can be significant, especially when applying core cost-saving strategies such as demand control. Demand control systems predict when times of peak energy use occur and automatically reduce consumption during those times, all while ensuring facility processes maintain a consistent level of output. “[Powerit] users typically reduce their electrical bills 5 to 10 percent through demand control, which adds up when you’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on electricity,” Klustner says.

Companies also have the opportunity to earn up to tens of thousands of dollars when they participate in demand response programs, in which a plant turns down its electricity when its electrical provider is in short supply. Programs such as this can be highly profitable, but can be risky as advanced notice of a demand response event can be as few as 10 minutes. Providers such as Powerit Solutions and Energy Curtailment Specialists, Inc. (ECS) offer demand response products, which implement pre-defined control schemes to maintain production levels during demand response events, reducing the risk for manufacturers.

Some companies, including ECS, reduce risk even further by offering their demand response programs at no cost. “We offer our services at no cost to the customer and we do not charge any fines for not meeting 100 percent performance during the time of a demand response event,” says Kristopher Settle of ECS.

Big Benefits for Small Businesses

Automated energy management systems are an efficient way to monitor energy usage and reduce costs for manufacturers, but they can be expensive, with some systems costing $10,000 to $50,000. But that does not mean smaller manufacturers cannot reap the benefits of energy monitoring equipment. More cost-efficient solutions include data loggers, which are designed as a stand-alone solution for companies of any size, whether they are looking to monitor their entire building’s energy use or a single machine.

Scott Ellis, product marketing manager for Onset, says the versatility of data loggers — which can monitor everything from energy use to temperature — make them an ideal tool for smaller manufacturers searching for a more affordable method to reduce their energy expenses. “A lot of facilities that are 100,000 square feet or above, they should have [building automation systems] in place,” Ellis says. “It’s the smaller facilities where it’s a pretty big investment to buy one of these systems. This is where [our data loggers] come in to play.”

Manufacturers of all sizes can reduce energy costs by collecting data on the energy usage of their facilities’ largest systems, such as HVAC equipment and lighting, and making adjustments accordingly. Ellis says understanding the occupancy patterns of a plant is also crucial. Companies should take time to assess when buildings are occupied by production workers, cleaning staff and other employees to determine when lights and temperature control should be operating. Taking simple steps such as switching out lighting fixtures and implementing LED lighting can save companies significant dollars over time.

Choosing an Alternative

Reducing electrical usage can make a dent in manufacturers’ energy costs, but selecting an alternative energy source can supplement electrical reductions. “Manufacturers can gain many benefits from implementing alternative energies such as reduced energy costs, increased energy source reliability, reduced waste disposal costs and potentially reduced environmental permit compliance costs,” says Zach Platsis, CEM, CMVP and LEED AP O+M for SSOE Group.

Providers like SSOE Group offer many alternative energy solutions well suited to the manufacturing sector including:

  • Photovoltaic (PV) energy, which uses materials to convert sunlight into electrical energy
  • Solar hot water systems, which utilize solar heat to deliver hot water throughout a building
  • Wind energy, which can be used to generate electrical power, mechanical power, and even pumping or drainage, depending on the system
  • Combined heat and power (CHP), or cogeneration, which is the process of using a heat engine or power station to both generate electricity and useful heat, so that no heat energy is wasted
  • Waste heat recovery (WHR), which utilizes an energy recovery heat exchanger to recover heat from hot streams, such as steam from cooling towers or waste water from cooling processes
  • Waste stream utilization as a source of electricity, heat or steam

Platsis says some alternative energy solutions may work best for specific types of manufacturers. “Plants with large and consistent hot water or steam loads are the best candidates for cogeneration projects. Food facilities tend to have solid waste streams that may be conducive to energy production systems.”

Monitoring Goes Mobile

The use of handheld and mobile devices continues to increase in manufacturing plants, and a growing number of energy monitoring solutions incorporate the ability for users to view their energy usage and processes on the smartphones or tablets.

Some energy technology providers offer their customers the ability to receive alerts on their phones or tablets when an unusual event occurs, and energy usage and equipment performance can also be monitored remotely. “This allows managers to take quick action when problems come up and to stay on top of how things are working without always being on the floor,” Klustner says.

Mobile handsets and applications are constantly changing, so mobile methods of energy monitoring are likely to improve as they evolve. For now, Settle says such technology is best for gathering data through the smart grid, which includes “getting electric information and meter reads from a utility in near real-time, along with accessing metering portals during demand response events from a demand response provider.”

One Step at a Time

For manufacturers looking to implement energy management technologies into their processes, it is important to follow a series of steps to ensure the proper solution is matched to each facility, says Luke Facemyer, director of design for Stellar. Facemyer recommends companies take the following steps to help reduce energy costs:

  • Audit – Identify deficiencies and establish a baseline usage.
  • Energy recovery – Capture waste energy and reuse it.
  • Maintenance – Regular maintenance checks show dirty filters, broken sensors, failed insulation and other malfunctions that could be wasting energy.
  • Monitoring – Know how much, when and where energy is being used. Install alarms and monitoring systems to identify inconsistencies and trends that could be wasting energy.
  • Operations – Optimize set points or put in controls to do it automatically to better manage processes and efficiency.

Once a facility begins monitoring its energy usage, it may become evident that some equipment may be less energy efficient that other systems. In some cases, it may be worthwhile to replace certain equipment to reduce energy costs long term. “Replacing an outdated system can have a significant impact on your bottom line,” Facemyer says. Newer systems manage the control and sequencing of all equipment to maximize energy efficiency.”

Implementing the latest energy management protocols and systems into manufacturing plants can have a significant impact on energy costs, and can help companies maintain a high level of sustainability. With the appropriate energy monitoring technology in place, workers are able to paint an accurate picture of their facility’s energy usage, and identify ways to reduce costs — all while maintaining consistent production levels.