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Energy Efficient Facilities Make Good Business Sense

Making your plant more energy-efficient through low- or no-cost measures as well as capital improvements makes good environmental as well as business sense.

Dec/Jan 10
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Execution: What Are the Hot-Button Areas?
Although every case will be different, there are a few common areas where facilities find cost savings and consumption efficiencies.

The first is lighting. In many manufacturing plants, lighting has been long since forgotten. It's overhead and out of the way, and no one pays any attention to it unless bulbs fail and need to be replaced. Well, that old lighting system may be a gold mine for you in your efforts to improve energy efficiency and "go green."

New lighting technologies developed over the past decade can dramatically reduce your costs while simultaneously improving lighting levels and improving burn-hours. And think about lighting controls, too - these can typically reduce lighting usage by 30 to 60 percent based on occupancy. Not all lighting upgrades require new fixtures. As an example, nearly all fluorescent fixtures have retrofit options that can reduce wattage by up to 70 percent. In other cases, antiquated lighting systems can and should be replaced. In addition to cost savings, lighting-efficiency improvements can qualify your company for government tax deductions or utility rebates.

Case in point: One of the world's largest producers and recyclers of lead-acid batteries recently retrofitted the lighting system in its transportation distribution center located in California. The lighting system in this 28,000-square-foot facility had not been significantly improved since construction of the building in 1971. Lights in the office areas were inefficient fixtures containing T12 lamps and magnetic ballasts. The age of these fixtures meant light levels were severely diminished. Additionally, metal halide high-bay fixtures in high-ceiling industrial areas produced inadequate light levels, while consuming large amounts of power. Lighting experts engineered a lighting system for this facility with three goals in mind: to increase light levels throughout the building, to save energy by reducing wattage and operating hours, and to remove toxic PCB ballasts in old fixtures.

The project was completed in less than two weeks, allowing the company to benefit from savings quickly. Energy cost savings totaled the project cost in just over one year. The solution also enabled a rebate from Southern California Edison, which amounted to half of the original project cost, meaning the net simple payback was much less than a year.

The second, and most prolific area where efficiencies can be improved is in central energy conversion and delivery assets, the big pieces of equipment that convert energy from one form to another and move it around your plant. This includes anything from chillers, boilers, and air compressors to HVAC equipment. The idea is to get the most from your existing energy assets and systems - the infrastructure that makes your building work. When equipment or systems are reaching the end of their useful lives or are extremely inefficient, the best course of action is often to replace that infrastructure with new and often dramatically more efficient equipment.

Case in Point: A company was experiencing a great energy drain due to a condenser water pump that was overperforming to serve a minor component of the air-conditioning system. One pump was running continuously during after-hours periods, 12 hours per weeknight and 24 hours each weekend during the day, a total of 108 hours per week. By installing VFDs (variable frequency drives) on the two condenser water pumps, the retrofit would allow the company to control the start/stop and speed signals to the VFDs. It could also implement a lead-lag swap program, so the condenser water pumps would each have equal run times, reducing the wear-and tear on both.

Since installing the VFDs, the facilities have seen a significant reduction in after-hours electrical consumption. The measure has also helped lower pump run-speed during normal operating hours from a constant 100 percent to 95 percent. The annual energy and cost savings is nearly 200,000 kilowatt hours and 10.6 kilowatts in peak demand reduction, and approximately $20,000. In the long-term, this means extended pump life and reduced maintenance, which adds up to an even bigger cost savings.

Make It Count
Anything you do to streamline energy-efficiency practices is going to benefit your company in the end. This is one area where every step counts. It is the responsible thing to do, and evidence suggests that there will continue to be an emphasis on reducing our carbon footprint and increasing sustainable operations.

Change does not have to be intimidating. As stated, something as simple as a two-week lighting retrofit can add up to big savings - all without having to worry about downtime. There are undoubtedly other things you can do today to begin optimizing your energy consumption and "going green." Begin with the following key steps:

• Get an accurate snapshot of energy consumption across all operations.
• Establish a team to identify and implement changes and track success.
• Pursue both low- and no-cost improvements, as well as larger capital improvements.
• Create achievable goals that are important to the business and the people that work in it.
• Use new technology as a means of mitigating maintenance and efficiency challenges and reducing long-term costs.

George Plattenburg is senior vice president of sales and marketing at Servidyne and has more than 20 years of experience in energy-efficiency and sustainability.

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