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Electricity price hike is driving energy cost reductions

17 May 2011

UK manufacturers are being forced to address their energy spend through greater energy efficiency. Yet the massive savings offered by variable-speed drives and high efficiency motors is still not reaching everyone, reveals an ABB sponsored survey from Benchmark Research. Now in its third year, the survey continues to reveal UK manufacturers preference for changing energy supplier and turning out lights, ahead of far more lucrative ways to save energy.

However, there is far greater awareness of the cost of energy, with 52 percent having experienced price hikes in the past year. This has triggered an increase in the desire to find energy saving alternatives with 36 per cent of survey respondents managing to reduce their electricity prices within the past year. The most popular energy saving tactic was turning off lights whilst switching to motion sensor lighting was also highly rated. Despite this, some 30 percent of respondents have no specific targets for annual energy reduction.

“It is highly encouraging that manufacturers are looking at ways to reduce their energy bills. However, many are still only scratching the surface in terms of the savings that are achievable.” says Steve Ruddell, energy spokesperson in the UK for ABB Limited. “Reducing lighting costs is highly commendable, but the reality is that the real savings exist by reducing energy use within manufacturing processes.”

When it comes to saving electricity costs, 30 percent of manufacturers thought the most effective way would be to change electricity supplier. Clamping down on non-efficient lighting and compressed air leakage was also favoured by manufacturers. Investing in equipment that makes industrial processes more efficient came further down the list.

“This list is upside down,” says Ruddell. Most companies can save thousands of pounds worth of electricity and some can even save hundreds of thousands of pounds by upgrading existing industrial processes, often at comparatively low cost.

“It concerns me that the people tasked with allocating the resources in industry are not more aware of how electricity is used. If equipment is purchased on the basis of first cost alone but at the expense of high running costs, nothing is gained. Additionally, process efficiency in industry needs to be addressed in order to get CO2 emissions down. 65 percent of electricity in industry is used by electric motors, but approximately only 10 percent of motors have efficient speed control,” Ruddell says.

Most processes in industry are designed for a worst-case scenario that only occurs infrequently, if at all. Yet, motors tend to be left running at a fixed speed which is much higher than what the production requires. Most motors can be reduced to 80 percent speed without any negative effects on the process - a 20 percent reduction in speed can save nearly half the energy.

“The potential energy savings in industry are staggering. Realising these savings could help to substantially reduce CO2 emissions. However, our survey suggests people are looking for savings in the wrong places,” Ruddell concludes.

More manufacturers are embracing the low carbon agenda with 78 percent of those surveyed indicated they were measuring and monitoring carbon emissions. The adoption of carbon management strategies have also grown in popularity to 37 percent – a rise of three percent since 2009.  However accessing information on low carbon energy alternatives is a struggle for many respondents; 41 percent branded resources poor or very poor, this may be one reason why many have yet to move forward with carbon cutting initiatives. Firms also failed to become early adopters because emission reduction strategies are seen as a distraction from day-to-day business activities.

Referring to the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, many organisations feel that without clearly defined goals in place, there is no point in wasting resources on meeting the scheme’s requirements. Out of those organisations who qualify for the scheme, almost 50 percent said they measured energy use and 33 percent recorded CO2 output.

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