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How everyone can generate Negawatts

Energy efficiency initiatives, such as the concept of ‘Negawatts’, can greatly reduce variable production costs, writes Don Frieden.

Global energy strategies present some of the most challenging issues facing businesses and governments worldwide. The fate of energy sustainability has many different outcomes depending on ho is telling the story. However, two tenets are core in every storyline: energy efficiency and emissions management.

The good news is that both energy efficiency and emissions management go hand-in-hand. In most cases, energy efficiency initiatives provide for the lowest capital investment, lowest risk, and shortest implementation timelines for making impactful reductions in an organisation’s energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Energy consumption is not only an everyday topic on the evening news, it is also a key performance indicator (KPI) for many process and manufacturing companies. Companies often distil their energy consumption, or intensity, down to a unit of consumption per unit of production. These units are usually a kilowatt-hour (kWh) and a British thermal unit (BTU).

For example, a wastewater facility may calculate its energy intensity using the amount of kWh consumed per thousand gallons of water treated. The oil and gas industry will know how many BTUs are required to produce a barrel of oil or a cubic foot of natural gas. Regardless of the way an organisation chooses to calculate its energy intensity, it is likely the largest variable cost of production in its operation.

Thus, it makes sense that if energy consumption or intensity is the largest variable cost many organisations face, it also represents one of the largest opportunities for cost reduction resulting in increased revenues. In 1989, Amory Lovins introduced the concept of a ‘Negawatt’.

Much like the classic concept of using machines to generate electricity or a Megawatt, reducing demand side energy consumption increases the available supply-side generation capacity. This reduces the need for additional generation capacity while reducing the emissions from fossil fuels used in most electric generating technologies. This means that every organisation can be a ‘virtual power generator’ by generating Negawatts: the absence of consuming Megawatts.

An organisation can reduce its energy consumption in two primary ways. First, it can reduce its level of production. This option, however, is rarely attractive since one of the primary objectives for the business is to produce a product to sell for a profit.

However, sometimes market demand dictates that production levels are reduced, but this is not a consistent strategy that can be relied upon. The second, and likely most effective, method for reducing energy consumption is retrofitting existing assets and modifying current work processes.

As an example, a utility may choose to retrofit turbines with power augmenting devices. A chemical manufacturing plant may choose to perform more focussed maintenance and optimisation on the hundreds of large pumps and motors in its facility. This focus on energy efficiency not only reduces energy consumption and carbon emissions, but it also reduces the corporate risk of volatile energy costs and the ever-increasing environmental compliance regulations.

Enterprise energy efficiency

Though many organisations have hired chief energy officers, vice presidents of energy optimisation, or similar management positions whose primary role is to optimise energy usage, many organisations still overlook the low-hanging fruit that might be right in front of them.

Buildings today have ‘smart’ systems that optimise air conditioning — computers configured to turn themselves off after a period of inactivity — and many have even optimised their production processes and achieved gains in that area as well. However, few put the same effort into monitoring the ‘necessary equipment’ that is part of the larger overall energy efficiency process.

It is important to understand the current situation, before anything can be improved upon. This usually requires a large amount of information and analysis. In process industries, much of this information is stranded in the field where providing expensive telemetry to field assets is seemingly not important enough. There may be mobile field workers inspecting or maintaining these assets already, but typically not with a focus on the aspects that would address your energy efficiency initiatives.

A familiar maxim, ‘What gets measured gets managed’, properly illustrates this challenge. Thus, the first step to addressing energy efficiency is to identify the potential energy impact of your assets and then to prioritise these based on the organisation’s business objectives.

Though the list of potential energy efficiency opportunities is created first, it most likely will be modified based on the second step in the process. A baseline for their current operations can then be established by gathering and integrating the necessary data.

Through leveraging your mobile workers to collect real operating data in the field using handheld devices, organisations can get a more accurate baseline view rather than simply relying upon OEM engineering specifications that rarely represent the real-world application of the asset. This baseline data set will shed new light on many of the opportunities on your previously-developed list, and almost certainly uncover a few additional opportunities that did not initially make the list.

Once a baseline exists and opportunities have been re-prioritised, an energy efficiency program must be developed. Mobile workers are literally passing by energy inefficiencies every time they take to the plant floor. While major opportunities are often on an inspections list, seemingly insignificant ones are not typically included. Empowering the mobile workforce to address issues within the plant is a low-cost, low-risk, and rapid-value realisation proposition.

Although field workers may not be savvy on techniques to assess and address energy efficiency, they can leverage hand-held devices they already use to deliver focussed advice and step-by-step instructions, enabling any of them to become energy efficiency experts. This proven approach ensures consistent and compliant efforts that will significantly contribute to the overall corporate energy efficiency objectives.

By capturing these ‘best practices’ in the mobile decision support system and deploying them to your mobile field workers, your organisation is then able to address the final piece of the energy efficiency loop, the ability to manage, integrate and mobilise your best practices to your field operations workers.

Pumps account for approximately 20 per cent of the global energy demand. More specifically, pumps consume 20 per cent to 25 per cent of energy consumed in process industries and 90 per cent of the cost of ownership for a pump is the energy it consumes.

Generating Negawatts

Most companies are accustomed to buying energy, however unpleasant the process may be. Organisations can now generate another product to add to their portfolio, the Negawatt. Very few corporations today are without energy- and emission-reduction initiatives. However, few are taking advantage of the low-hanging energy efficiency opportunities that are not discussed in the investor conference calls.

Is your mobile workforce equipped with the right toolset to help generate Negawatts today? Energy efficiency gains are not simply a one-time savings; they represent a recurring opportunity that can be realised monthly.

With so much riding on your energy intensity, solutions taking another look at your plant’s energy consumption can help your organisation generate cost-saving Negawatts.

[Don Frieden is Invensys’ vice president of mobile solutions.]

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