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To be or not to efficient?

05 February 2015

Darren Halford, group sales manager of industrial automation parts supplier European Automation shares a few top tips for manufacturers who want to be more energy efficient.

Darren Halford

Which country do you think is the most energy-efficient in the world? Take your time and continue reading once you’ve decided on an answer.

The same question was addressed last year by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), who compiled an energy efficiency league table, featuring the world's 16 biggest economies.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Germany ranked first, with Italy and the EU as a whole in second and third place. China and France followed close behind in fourth place and the UK and Japan were tied on fifth. 

Even more interesting than the above rankings themselves, is the fact that the 16 economies from the study add up to 71 per cent of the world’s energy consumption.

The lesson is simple. A high GDP also means high energy consumption levels. So what makes the top ranking countries energy-efficient? Two common characteristics stand out: setting energy-efficiency goals and implementing policies and financial incentives encouraging the adoption of energy-efficient technologies. 

Like many research projects before it, the ACEEE study confirms the existence of a directly proportional relationship between levels of industrial automation and energy efficiency in industry. 

Regardless of whether we’re discussing energy-intensive industries like mining, metals, oil and gas, chemicals or general manufacturing, companies across sectors should be reducing their energy usage. European Automation has compiled a short list of top five tips for companies keen to become more energy-efficient.

Continuous analysis
The first step in becoming 'the Germany' of your sector is to put energy monitoring in place. You need to perform an initial evaluation of your company’s energy consumption to identify what are the most energy-intensive processes or equipment and where improvements can realistically be made. 

In fact, depending on the location and size of your business, the survey might be a legal requirement. For example, large enterprises in the United Kingdom need to comply with the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), which came into effect in 2014.  

To perform this initial evaluation, you can use existing equipment like smart sensors, data loggers and energy monitoring hardware tools. After collecting as much relevant data as possible, you need to find somewhere to store it and a method of analysing it. 

Realistic targets
After the initial evaluation, manufacturers must identify what energy savings can be made and where. Whether it’s on the premises - by revamping or purchasing new equipment - in the supply chain or in building maintenance, any energy-saving technique will count towards reducing production costs and improving a company’s carbon footprint and sustainability.

When setting an energy reduction target, it’s important to get feedback from all the parties involved, or you might end up with a set of completely unachievable objectives. If you’re not certain what you could achieve and what support is available, you can always research existing energy-saving schemes and incentives. 

Easy wins
There are a few changes you can make straight away. Take lighting, for example. In the US, it accounts for over a fifth of general electricity consumption. By replacing older incandescent light bulbs with new, energy-efficient ones, any business can significantly reduce its energy consumption. 

Another popular offender is the humble electric motor. Statistics show that about a third of electricity produced globally is used by these energy-hungry devices. Making sure you don’t over-specify motor requirements means a 10 per cent saving on electricity consumption before you even buy one. By purchasing efficient motors, such as IE3 and IE4 class units, and fitting older motors in variable speed applications with variable speed drives (VSDs), energy savings can go up to 60 per cent for each motor.

Intelligent industrial automation
After tackling some of the easy energy wins in your business, you might want to look at increasing factory and process automation in the long run. According to industry experts, up to 80 per cent of the savings a manufacturer can make come from improved automation – and many of these savings are a result of reducing energy consumption.

By implementing intelligent automation solutions such as lighting or building controls, remote monitoring and self-diagnosis systems, energy consumption can be drastically reduced. 

Plant floor equipment is gradually becoming more digitized and connected, able to perform high value asset and process monitoring and diagnostics. And the best thing about it is that this could all be available in real time across operations, facilities and even the supply chain. The Internet-of-Things scenario is still a few years away, but manufacturers should keep an eye open for existing or upcoming technologies that can help them reduce energy consumption.

Team effort
The final, yet most important point before engaging in the energy-efficiency debate is to get the entire team onboard. By promoting energy awareness within the company, you multiply your chances for success. If the people in your offices, in the supply chain or on the factory floor aren’t onboard with energy-saving initiatives, all your hard work will be wasted.

What is truly needed at the moment is a cultural shift. We need to start looking at everything we do through an energy-efficiency and sustainability lens. Here at European Automation we are certain this is one of the biggest challenges industry will face in the years to come. 

Imagine situation in which the ACEEE compiles a league table of energy efficient businesses. Now imagine that your business comes top. Would you be surprised? Not, I imagine, if you had already implemented these five measures. To be or not to be energy efficient? There is only one sensible answer.  

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