It's money in the bank, April 1999

01 Apr 1999Archived News Energetics in the News


Ever understood the saying, less is more? Think about energy saving and it begins to make a lot of sense. Because of Australia's cheap power supply it is true that energy is probably not the biggest factor in your overall production costs, unless you're running an aluminium smelter. But any savings made do go straight to the bottom line. And the good news is that those savings are often easily and cheaply come by.

Gordon Weiss, an advanced control specialist with Orica (formerly ICI), agrees that energy is a relatively small variable costs for most companies, but argues it has a very high controllable component. According to Wiess, if you wan high energy efficiency the first thing is to make sure your plant is running effectively - not just focusing on energy, but on all aspects of its operation.

"Get that right, achieve better control of your core processes, and the energy efficiency will immediately improve," Weiss said.

"Better control means you make sure things don't get too hot because you forget to turn them off at the right time, or process conditions go up and down all the time because your plant control system is a very cost effective way of improving energy efficiency. It can be as simple as just tuning the controllers."

Weiss said that in becoming more efficient manufacturers might find their energy bill remains the same but that energy per unit product will reduce as the company starts making much more product. More for less.

Sceptical? Weiss' advice is to measure your consumption and find out how much it is worth to you. To do this you don't require an expensive audit or new machinery, just read your bill and measure against your production.

"Firstly, look at the monthly or quarterly energy consumption bill from power companies and divide those figures by the amount of product produced in that quarter. Then see what was the best you've done, accounting for any long term trends, and you can then see how much it is worth if you achieve your best every time," Weiss told Plantline.

In many cases you will not need an automatic control system to control energy. "What you need is to make sure the right people have the right information at the right time."

"The right people are the plant operators or whoever's actions affect the instantaneous consumption of energy. They need to know the consequences of their actions," Weiss said.

Governments in Australia are becoming more pro-active in supporting energy efficiency projects in partnership with business as greenhouse gas emission reduction deadlines loom.

In Victoria this is organised through Energy Smart. In NSW, it is the Sustainable Energy Development Authority. Companies sign a memorandum of agreement with SEDA to implement energy-saving changes over five years if there is a 20% or better return on investment.

SEDA then organises an outside energy consultant to identify areas of savings. The focus is on quickly finding projects to implement. For its part SEDA advises what equipment to purchase and where, and identifies any grants or savings available. The energy consultant cannot be involved in remedial work so there is no conflict of interest.

Energetics is one consulting company used by SEDA in the manufacturing sector. Stuart Moulder, an energy and environmental consultant with the company, told Plantline the whole focus of the SEDA Energy Smart Business program is to implement greenhouse saving measures that make good business sense.

"The process starts with speaking with management and plant operators, and a detailed inspection of the processes to identify energy efficiency opportunities. Once identified the savings are quantified in energy, dollar and greenhouse terms," Moulder said.

"I find it is good to get started with demonstration project - something the staff can readily see, something to convince them the company is committed to doing something about energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction."

Moulder was employed by SEDA to work with Cerebos Foods at its Seven Hills plant in NSW.

Four years ago Cerebos had Energy Australia conduct audit that led to an upgrade of a bottle cooling tunnel. This saved the company tens of thousands of dollars a year in energy and inspired them to look for further savings.

Charles Drummond, environmental management systems/projects engineer with Cerebos, told Plantline that the company monitors its energy use very closely by measuring against cases produced.

"Once you've got a handle on how that's going it puts you in a position to identify if there is a problem with your power supply," Drummond said.

Through close monitoring, the company noticed its capacitors had played up over a couple of months, which had bumped its bill up considerably. The company also discovered it needed power factor correction.

"More recently we've signed the SEDA agreement and that's been excellent, and has fitted in well with our environmental management system and our training. The SEDA program has been a great help in providing the resources."

"Some of the things we've done are basic, like getting people to activate the energy star function on their PCs but we've also done an amenities upgrade where we've put in natural lighting and a lighting management system."

"We've made a commitment through setting up an environmental management system to look at ways we can reduce our energy consumption and clean up production practices. Going through the SEDA proposal seemed like a great opportunity, there wasn't much at stake for the company and if decent projects were identified then it would benefit us to progress with them."

SEDA sent its proposal in the middle of last year and the company signed a memorandum of understanding. Energetics sent Moulder to the site and he selected the services area as the first point of action to begin raising awareness among the staff.

Cerebos is now looking at its steam and compressed air systems.

"We've had our air supply system and steam supply system checked and from that we've identified a lot of potential energy savings that we will implement. We haven't done the upgrade of the compressed air systems as yet, but the costing shows an energy saving of about $15,000-a-year. For the steam upgrade we're looking at about $5,000-a-year savings."

Drummond said getting employees on side is crucial. So too is training and encouraging people on the shopfloor to identify things like leaks in the compressed air system so they can be repaired quickly.

"We no longer have problems with machines being left on over lunch breaks or a compressor left on over night. Just changing attitudes towards those sorts of things has led to big savings without any expenditure at all."

Companies like Orica and Cerebos - and many others - are not only boosting their bottom lines today through saving energy, they are positioning themselves as good corporate citizens, which could be worth a whole lot more to them on the morrow.

Some easy pickings for industry to start with

It is widely recognised that 20-25% of compressed air is lost through leaks, yet because people take compressed air for granted nobody checks to see how much it really costs to generate. This is the same with leaking steam, which is often easy and inexpensive to fix. Insulation pipes and replacing poor lagging is always cost effective. Lighting is another candidate for quick cost effective savings, especially if you can employ natural light.

For more information contact SEDA on 02 9291 5289 or Energy Smart Business on 03 9655 3244.

Frank Noakes - Plantline, April 1999

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