By Jane Alexander, Deputy Editor
If you work in a small or medium-sized manufacturing (SMM) operation in the United States, you have plenty of company: According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), about 90% of manufacturing establishments fall into that category. While these types of enterprises only account for roughly 50% of today’s industrial energy use, many of them could be missing out on a range of important energy-saving—make that “cost-saving”—opportunities. Do I have your attention?
Most plant managers have heard, many times over, that manufacturing is responsible for approximately a third of the primary energy consumed in the U.S.—and they are no doubt well aware that their facilities are being constantly pushed by states and utilities to meet efficiency targets. Energy-efficiency-program providers, however, seem to have traditionally focused on helping large manufacturing enterprises (the 10% responsible for close to 50% of industrial energy consumption). All well and good, but that’s not the whole story.
Despite using less energy than their larger counterparts, small and medium-sized operations are also good candidates for energy-efficiency programs. As ACEEE explains, significant improvements can be harvested across the SMM landscape. “Not only do they pay higher prices for their energy and are less likely to have dedicated onsite energy managers, but smaller energy-savings projects tend to save a higher percentage of total consumption.”
So what’s preventing the SMM segment from fully picking what could be a vast amount of remaining low-hanging fruit? ACEEE sums up the barriers that many small and medium-sized enterprises often face as “a lack of staff resources, capital constraints and a dearth of expert information on energy efficiency opportunities.” Sound familiar?
A recent ACEE report* entitled “One Small Step for Energy Efficiency: Targeting Small and Medium-Sized Manufacturers” discusses those barriers and the various ways energy-efficiency programs have typically attempted to serve the manufacturing sector, including energy audits, prescriptive and custom rebates/incentives and training and support to build in-house plant expertise, among others. But as noted by the report’s author, Daniel Trombley, Senior Industrial Analyst at ACEEE, even successful models can be improved upon. He acknowledges the fact that some program providers have changed their interactions with SMMs and developed new offerings or redesigned existing ones to overcome the barriers inherent to smaller operations.
For example, with regard to boosting SMM enthusiasm for and participation in energy-efficiency-program efforts, the report points to the need to streamline processes and reduce transactions costs. To address those needs, several successful programs have taken what they’ve learned from working with large energy users and translated it for SMMs. One strategy involves a “cohort approach” that treats individual recruited SMM clients as a group, thus reducing the costs of training/educational events for all of them. Allowing program staff to address several SMMs at the same time can lead to peer networks for sharing best practices and benchmarking. Another attractive strategy for SMM clients involves sharing energy managers. Trombley cites the example of a manufacturer that was able to provide the equivalent of one full-time staffer to manage the energy use of six of its sites by hiring a consulting firm.
There’s more to this ACEEE study than I can cover here. Whether yours is an SMM operation or a larger energy-using enterprise, I encourage you to go to the following link and read it for yourself. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work with shoes: We shouldn’t expect it to work with energy-efficiency programs. MT&AP