Rising energy costs are moving energy management into a new era of sophistication, capturing substantial savings for companies large and small.
Here’s the successful approach one engineering consulting group is taking to help its clients’ operations become more efficient. Could it work for yours?
By Jane Alexander, Editor, with Dan Brown, Cascade Energy, Inc.
Gone are the days when energy management consisted of the frustrated plant manager asking everyone to turn off the conference room lights after receiving the electricity bill. Today, facilities of all kinds are benefiting from high-tech and high-touch programs that unlock sustainable energy savings by diving deeper into engineering, tracking and application. State-of-the-art energy management is fast becoming a fact of life in industrial facilities where even small-percentage improvements quickly add up to large savings.
Based in Portland, OR, Cascade Energy (Cascade) specializes in optimizing the energy performance of industrial systems for clients across North America. As an independent consulting firm, it brings an unbiased approach to achieving sustainable improvements. Comprised largely of engineers, the company has consulted on a significant number of capital projects over the past two decades and applied its energy-monitoring and management skills in more than 400 facilities. Cascade currently manages programs for many Pacific Northwest organizations including Energy Smart Industrial programs through the Bonneville Power Administration, PacifiCorp and Energy Trust of Oregon.
Through its many experiences, Cascade has developed a comprehensive energy-management process that generates energy improvements ranging from 10-20%, and for some facilities, considerably more. This includes significant energy consumers such as those with industrial refrigeration, compressed air, chilled water, steam, oil and gas, process equipment, fans and pumps, hydraulics and lighting.
Cascade’s step-by-step approach for working with its clients
As noted in the accompanying chart, the Cascade approach involves establishing a system to monitor and predict future energy savings, providing on-location support for energy coaching and facility tune-ups to improve energy efficiency and supporting facility personnel with engineering follow-up and support for capital investments and innovations.
Predicting future energy consumption
When Cascade Energy begins a project, its first item of business is to create a model that establishes the baseline for how the client currently uses energy.
Baselining calls for the application of software, statistics and historic data to understand the conditions that influence energy consumption—ranging from weather to production to facility-usage schedules. Ultimately, Cascade’s consultants strive to create a mathematical model that can predict energy consumption in the future, based upon significant influencing variables and how those variables reflected historical energy use.
Unlike most energy-tracking programs, Cascade’s energy-engineering experience, application of deep technical rigor and fine-tuned engineering judgment helps them employ mathematical correlations that link energy usage to a reliable facility output measure such as units of finished goods. A predictive model tied to outputs helps these consultants set a benchmark for quantifying the savings of energy-efficiency measures going forward. It’s Cascade’s “secret sauce.”
Establishing a predictive energy model helps show a client’s workforce how facility energy use and energy savings are correlated to variables like weather, operations or production. This engages staff and management in a more sophisticated energy-management program and provides a framework for setting energy-management goals that link to business goals.
Monitoring energy usage requires the installation of hardware and software, and services. Hardware packages are customized for each facility. For main utility meters, pulse outputs can be recorded directly from the meter. For sub-metering applications, multiple options are available, depending upon existing wiring, budget and required accuracy and timeliness of the data. Energy-usage data is recorded and time-stamped by the hardware, then transmitted to energy-management software through cellular or Ethernet connections. A powerful suite of software is employed to collect data as a first step toward understanding how and where energy is consumed and how energy use can be optimized (see Sidebar, page 34).
From modeling to management
In many cases, electricity rates for industrial customers are based not only on the total amount consumed, but also on when it’s consumed (peak vs. non-peak) and the maximum rate of consumption (peak demand). Therefore, in order to minimize electricity cost, it can be important to monitor and control electricity usage in near real-time.
Energy monitoring can be done at a facility-wide level by measuring and reporting the data from the main utility meters feeding into the facility. Monitoring can also be deployed on a distributed level within a facility in order to determine energy usage by specific processes and subsystems. Distributed monitoring—often referred to as sub-metering—commonly requires installation of additional meters specifically for this purpose.
Monitoring systems can be set up to monitor consumption of all types of energy, including electricity, natural gas, propane, fuel oil, steam, etc. In addition, some companies also monitor water, effluent and other parameters.
Cascade’s energy-management programs are customized to meet specific customer needs, but usually include three key elements:
- Energy monitoring. Cascade provides energy-monitoring hardware and a powerful Web-based software package to determine baseline performance and measure improvement over time. This data is available to our customers on a near real-time basis with “dashboards” and graphs that can be easily customized to individual preferences. Cascade also performs sophisticated analyses to normalize data for variables such as outside temperature, facility size, type of operation and throughput. This allows for fair comparisons of energy efficiency over time and also between sites of varying sizes, types, locations and activity.
- Facility tune-ups. Similar to automobiles, industrial facilities require periodic maintenance and adjustments to maintain optimum operating efficiency. Cascade performs facility “tune-ups” with an experienced energy-efficiency engineer and technician at a customer site—working closely with facility operations and maintenance personnel. Tune-ups typically take from three to five days of intensive effort and result in some immediate efficiency improvements and a list of low-cost/no-cost actions that can be implemented over six to 12 months.
- Ongoing support to facilitate continuous improvement. Cascade has found that an ongoing dialogue between an energy-efficiency engineer and customer operations personnel yields great benefits in terms of facilitating continuous improvement, addressing issues and providing continuing training and education. The consultants generally plan for one to three hours per month per customer site for ongoing support over the life of a program.
Return on investment
Energy management is typically a multi-year program aimed at continuous improvement. In the initial three-year phase, Cascade’s customers typically see reductions of 10 to 20% in total energy usage—and sometimes substantially more. Payback on an energy-management program based on reduced energy expense is typically one to two years (and can be less if there are incentives available from utility providers or government agencies). In addition to the simple financial payback on reduced energy expenditures, there are other benefits that are more difficult to quantify, but may be of even more value. Some of these include:
- Providing the ability for a company to compete successfully for additional business with cost-sensitive clients… If energy is a significant portion of your company’s operating expenses, a reduction in energy costs can have a material impact on operating expenses. This may allow your firm to compete for additional business with cost-sensitive clients that would not have been feasible with a higher cost structure. Since large clients are often the ones who are most sensitive to costs, this could result in a very large amount of new business.
- Positioning a company as environmentally responsible… Many companies are seeing increasing interest (and sometimes increasing pressure) from shareholders, customers and others to lessen their impact on the environment. An energy-management program is an excellent way to demonstrate environmental responsibility and show measurable results. In addition, this may become a competitive advantage when pursuing new business as many of your potential customers may be interested in assuring that their supply chain is made up of environmentally responsible vendors.
- Improving reliability and reducing maintenance of plant equipment… A key element of an energy-manage-ment program is to assure that equipment is well maintained and operating properly. Since increased energy consumption is one of the early warning signs for equipment in need of maintenance, energy monitoring can identify potential problems and allow for appropriate maintenance procedures before serious damage is done. It’s also important to remember that a key part of energy management is to modify set-points and operating procedures to assure that equipment isn’t working any harder than necessary. Besides reducing energy consumption, this typically results in reduced wear and tear and can significantly extend equipment life.
Energy management in the future
Optimizing energy performance in industrial systems requires a continuous-improvement model that involves monitoring and tracking, active management and assessment and proper implementation of system changes. This approach provides sustainable and persistent improvements that are quantified from an established baseline.
Cascade Energy envisions a day when managing energy will be treated with the same respect and zeal as managing sales and cash-flow matters in industrial facilities around the world. Indeed, that time may be upon us much sooner than later. MT
Dan Brown is VP of Energy Management with Cascade Energy, Inc. For more information on the company’s services, telephone: (503) 287-8488; email: email@example.com; or visit: www.cascadeenergy.com.
Energy-Monitoring Musts: Leveraging the Power of Software
Cascade’s powerful energy-monitoring software is typically offered as a hosted service with Web-based access. All data remains property of the customer. Data is stored in a Tier 3 facility and backed-up daily. Access to all data and reports is password-protected. Cascade develops actionable information in the form of dashboards from its software packages that is relevant, easy to understand and timely; all adding up to a near real-time presentation of facility energy efficiency. It also allows for aggregation of data from multiple facilities to present corporate-wide results and normalized site-by-site comparisons. Furthermore, alarms may be installed to send alerts whenever excess energy is being consumed.
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