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How to Improve Industrial Energy Efficiency

Energy prices are incredibly volatile, especially in modern industry. This is due to inconsistent fossil-fuel costs, high-waste processes and dated equipment use. Innovative modern technologies are helping to remedy that problem, boosting operational efficiency for many manufacturers and organizations. However, this alone is not enough.

As a whole, industrial efficiency has come a long way in recent years. There are so many untapped opportunities, though — namely related to sustainable and renewable practices. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the industrial sector accounted for 35% of end-use energy consumption and 32% of the country’s total energy consumption in 2019. It should be managed now, before it becomes detrimental to enterprises and society alike.

Organizations looking to enable industrial energy efficiency measures have many places to explore, but some applications will provide a greater return than others.

Here are some lucrative tips for improved energy conservation in modern industries.

1. Create a Dedicated Management Team

Energy management, efficiency protocols and general conservation are all applications that require consistent attention if there’s any hope for improvement. That’s why organizations looking to boost energy efficiency should create a dedicated team for handling such responsibilities.

A team should consist of members from across the entire organization, spanning most, if not all, departments. They should meet regularly to establish energy conservation strategies, measure and report energy usage, and implement new ideas. They may also be responsible for or work with the team that performs energy audits.

2. Upgrade, Enhance and Replace Equipment

In some cases, old equipment may seem cost-effective, so organizations may keep them on the production line. Usually, though, that’s an illusion. From outdated components to high energy consumption, most older equipment is not sustainable or eco-friendly. Every organization should either plan or start a program to update and replace obsolete gear. In fact, it is one of the first and best steps that any company should take after deciding to adopt energy conservation practices.

Contrary to popular belief, it may not be necessary to replace equipment entirely. There are many instances where existing solutions can be upgraded or enhanced to improve operational efficiency and reduce energy usage. Industrial boiler retubing is an excellent example. By replacing corroded or scale-encrusted tubing, the life of an industrial boiler can be significantly enhanced. More importantly, it improves efficiency and helps to reduce waste.

Another example might include outfitting power-hungry equipment with smart energy solutions, like plugs that run on a schedule.

3. Swap to Smart Lighting Solutions

In most manufacturing and industrial facilities, the lights stay on all day and night, even when there are no workers on the plant floor. This consumes a great deal of energy because many lighting solutions are power-hungry. Even just replacing regular bulbs with LEDs and more energy-efficient solutions can vastly improve conservation and reduce costs.

Taking that a step further, smart lighting solutions can be configured to turn on and off on a schedule. They can also be synchronized with motion detection systems to turn on lights in areas where workers or vendors are present and then back off when everyone leaves. The type of lighting used in a business or workplace also has a direct effect on productivity levels.

4. Conduct Regular Energy Audits

Regular audits must be carried out to ensure and measure energy efficiency in manufacturing facilities. It’s always best to hire a team from outside the company to handle audits because they will often provide an unbiased and fair review of operational efficiency.

The process will quantify energy conservation and management solutions, giving a clear picture of ROI. It also provides much-needed statistics like peak usage times, where and how much waste is being produced, and avenues of potential improvement. The information should go to the energy management team, so they can create a proper action plan for dealing with issues or revising existing strategies.

5. Consider LEED Facilities

Leadership in Energy and Environment Design, or LEED, is an internationally recognized green building standard and certification. It denotes a facility that was designed and developed using sustainable and eco-friendly practices, namely when it comes to efficiency and energy conservation. The program sets forth a framework for building and upgrading properties so they meet the necessary standards.

Factors in LEED designs include site planning, water efficiency, energy usage, air quality and safety, and the materials used. It’s never too late to find a new property or facility that’s up to standard, or begin work with contractors to enhance existing facilities.

6. Kickstart Industrial Energy-Saving Projects

Besides lighting and equipment upgrades, there are quite a few additional projects that can be started to boost conservation:

  • Revisit insulation to improve cooling and heating system efficiencies
  • Consider tinting or shading windows and walls
  • Use air pressure to create a natural airflow throughout an office or facility
  • Optimize appliances by decreasing temperatures or power usage
  • Optimize on-site tasks to reduce worker-related waste, and allow remote work opportunities
  • Regularly clean and maintain equipment

7. Evaluate Compressed Air Systems

In nearly all manufacturing operations and beyond, many pieces of equipment rely on compressed air systems. Compressors, especially older models, are a huge efficiency killer when it comes to leaks. A leak can reduce a compressor’s effectiveness and cause the related equipment to consume more power, even for simple tasks.

All air-compression systems should be regularly vetted for leaks and performance loss. There are many ways to discern a leak, but ultrasonic detection equipment helps, as does an IoT or data-driven sensor that’s designed to look for performance fluctuations.

8. Make Use of Process Heating

Cooling is something that needs to be done with a power-based system, and there’s almost no getting around that.On the other hand, heating may come from many natural sources — generally, this is referred to as process heating.

Manufacturers can install and use heat recovery systems that use the warmth produced during other tasks, which would otherwise go to waste. For example, the heat from a forge can be repurposed to warm up the nearby area while it’s in use. Steam or hot water ejected from a particular machine might be used for another task entirely. It’s about recycling the materials and sources available to an operation.

Curbing Energy Consumption in Manufacturing Industries

While many of the tips here will help an operation improve efficiency and conservation, nothing can account for a reduction in overall consumption. The absolute best way to reduce consumption is coming up with strategies or processes that naturally use less power. It may or may not include replacing inefficient hardware, powering down systems or solutions, tapering production or making similar cutbacks.

One thing is clear: Operational and energy costs will continue to rise for organizations that choose to do nothing, and those costs may eventually become insurmountable.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over three years experience writing articles for the tech and industrial sectors. Subscribe to the Revolutionized newsletter for more content from Emily at https://revolutionized.com/subscribe/
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