Harness the power of information to efficiently manage energy needs

  • Organisations should be reducing the energy they currently use rather than waiting for future government mandates.
  • If a kiln of an industrial system suddenly stops working, the conveyor belts and fans will often keep running, even though the entire system is not in use.
  • Organisations that adopt a strategic approach typically achieve energy savings that have a significant positive impact on the bottom line.

 

If the world continues to consume resources at our current rate, by the mid-2030s we’ll need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyle. This statistic from the WWF might sound dramatic but isn’t surprising when you consider the world’s population has grown from 2.55 billion people in 1955 to almost seven billion in 2011.

Our expanding population is placing significant pressure on energy resources and is one of the key drivers behind the government’s decision to determine a start date for a price on carbon.

For organisations in Australia the message is loud and clear – reduce the amount of energy you consume or risk impacting your bottom line.

The challenge for businesses today is understanding how best to do this.

Tacke the energy challenge

Embracing renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar power has an important role to play in addressing the energy challenge. But it’s not a complete solution in itself. According to Climate Risk, nearly $100 billion of investment is needed over the next 40 years to make Australia completely dependent on renewable energy.

Although there’s some debate over the figure, given that level of investment isn’t viable right now there’s little doubt organisations should be reducing the energy they currently use rather than waiting for future government mandates.

The challenges faced in the manufacturing sector are similar, where a huge amount of energy is consumed unnecessarily.

Keep it real

For example, if a kiln of an industrial system suddenly stops working, the conveyor belts and fans will often keep running, even though the entire system is not in use. Simple improvements in sequenced shut off and PID control can reduce or eliminate additional energy wastage during plant stoppages or during periods where plants are running at reduced capacity.

The success of energy efficiency measures can only be as good as the insight that's used to inform them.

The success of energy efficiency measures however can only be as good as the insight that’s used to inform them. Without a detailed understanding into how energy is being consumed and where exactly it’s being wasted, any measures to improve efficiency will struggle to bring about long-term success.

Many Australian organisations have started to recognise this and are undertaking energy audits. Those achieving particular success are monitoring energy usage in real-time through SCADA systems.

These systems provide operations managers with a complete picture of how their organisation is consuming energy and present information in an easy-to digest dashboard.

Act in real time

This means, for instance, that a food plant manager can easily spot a faulty motor and shut down all other components being driven by the motor while it is being fixed.

When the opportunity is identified, then the control system can be modified to make this part of the automated shut down sequences over time.

Another area of reducing the utilisation of energy on larger plants and wide area systems is the integration of closed circuit television (CCTV) as part of a real-time energy management solution.
CCTV is particularly beneficial to the water and mining sectors where plants are often based in remote locations.

Control operations

With remote monitoring in place organisations can avoid the high costs of deploying members of staff in these locations full-time and manage, monitor and control operations from a central base. But it’s not just the location challenges facing industry that is bringing about an increase in adoption of real-time insight.
A new generation of engineers is also championing the technology.

Younger engineers entering the workforce are used to handling and digesting real-time information in their personal lives, whether through using the web at home or accessing data via a smart phone on the go. These professionals are used to having everything they need at their fingertips and expect the same at work.

As a result, they have an appetite to update the systems in place within organisations and are challenging legacy approaches.

Energy management

The time for talking about energy management is over. Rising energy bills and mounting government pressure, coupled with increasing consumer expectations mean today’s organisations have no time to waste in reducing their energy consumption.

Rushing into energy saving initiatives however is not wise.Organisations today must think strategically; measure their usage, fix the basics, optimise processes through automation technologies, and monitor continuously to maintain energy savings.

Our experience shows organisations that adopt this strategic approach typically achieve energy savings in the region of 30 per cent – savings that have a significant positive impact on the bottom line. With figures like these and the huge cost savings associated with energy saving measures, it’s surprising more hasn’t been done to improve energy management approaches before.

To avoid losing any more time, organisations must embrace an intelligent approach to energy management. Those that do and start ‘walking the walk’ will find they’re in a powerful place to address the energy challenges that face us in the months and years ahead.

Achieve real savings

Schneider Electric Industry Business has found that major industries – including mining, manufacturing and water – can achieve energy savings of at least 30 per cent by identifying and acting on opportunities to improve energy efficiency.

This is achieved by ongoing energy measurement and using that information as a powerful agent to bring about change to operations. These improvements include automating and optimising processes and can have a significant impact on the bottom-line. Take a water treatment plant, for instance.

Up to 70 per cent of a plant’s carbon-footprint and 90 per cent of a plant’s running costs comes from its consumption of energy, most of which is electricity used to drive large motors. In many cases this can be reduced by converting direct on-line starters to variable speed drives and adding specific power factor correction and harmonic mitigation measures.

These changes not only reduce energy consumption but improve the ability to control the process associated with the motors

[Scott Wooldridge is Vice President, Industry Business, Schneider Electric.]