Plants Find Powerful Ways to Boost Energy Efficiency

UT Austin, Tyson Foods and FuelCell Energy Tell How Technology Helps Them Cut Energy Consumption

By Paul Studebaker

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All the information from the five systems was integrated with GreenPrint to feed its dashboards, and standards were established for each system based on production rates and historical information. Dashboard displays are coded green/yellow/red so anyone can see immediately how well they're doing, and can drill down as needed for real-time process information. "Very quickly, we are able to tell how we are operating against our standards."

Variance reports give details on cost, production and energy intensity, so "Unit operations managers know how much it's costing them to not perform," Hamilton said. "How much I consume is important, but I want to know how much I should be consuming."

The pilot identified major pain points in the compressed air and steam systems with paybacks of less than 12 months that reduced utility costs $300,000 per year. The system is going live at a second plant in December of this year, and Tyson is developing an enterprise-wide rollout.

Hamilton said energy managers need to clearly define their process and objectives, and to implement a continuous improvement process with continuous monitoring, real-time dashboards, feedback and opportunity tracking. He also said they should plan on some capital investment to get started: "We budgeted 20% of the annual energy spend to get this implementation."

Fuel Cells Becoming More Competitive

Another potential way to save energy while providing electricity and process or district heat is to install a commercial-scale fuel cell power plant, said Ben Toby, vice president, FuelCell Energy, Inc. High-temperature fuel cells have been used in commercial applications since 2003, and his company has installed more than 120 MW in commercial and industrial facilities around the world. "High-temperature cells run on natural or biogas at 1600 ⁰F, which allows reforming of methane and high efficiencies with lower CO2 emissions. In combined heat and power applications, fuel efficiency is about 90%."

The power plants aren't for everyone. They cost $7 to $12 million, so they generally must be financed by power purchase agreements (PPAs). Installed costs run 14 to 15 cents per kilowatt-hour with natural gas prices at $6 to $8/mmbtu, which makes them generally only attractive in states with high electricity costs and significant subsidies for using fuel cells.

Toby expects prices to fall to about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour as production volumes rise but even now, his company is finding takers among hospitals and companies such as Gill's Onions, which uses biogas from onion waste to feed fuel cells that provide a significant portion of the company's electrical power requirement. The fuel cells also can serve as back-up generators to sustain operations in the event of a grid outage.

The Power & Energy Management Forum also included a presentation on regulatory issues facing power- and energy-intensive industries by Diane Fischer, air quality control services leader, Black & Veatch, reported in yesterday's newsletter.

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