Save Energy, Save Money, Save the Planet

July 24, 2008
Bruce L. Taylor, manager of business process integration for Suncor Energy (USA) Inc., brought his unique blend of nearly 30 years of IT and process industry experience to bear on the problem of reducing Suncor’s carbon footprint. He presented his progress and his surprising findings at this week’s Siemens Automation Summit.

While Suncor is best-known for being the pioneer in oil extraction from the Alberta oil sands, it also operates twin refineries in Commerce City, Colo., and a smaller refinery in Sarnia, Ont., Canada. All of Suncor’s oil extraction processes are heavily energy-intensive. In the case of the tar sands, the energy required to extract a barrel of oil is significantly more than that required for normal oilfield extraction. Suncor is developing means of extracting oil from shale that require less energy, especially a project the company calls “slurry at the face,” and trying to find ways to make the SAGD steam extraction process less energy-intensive. The company has a great vested interest in energy management, having begun corporate programs for energy conservation more than 10 years ago. So far, its efforts have resulted in 61 million tons of carbon dioxide prevented, a 25% decrease in company-wide greenhouse gas emission intensity and a 44% decrease in oil-sands greenhouse gas emission intensity.

With fully visible support from Suncor’s executive management, Taylor and his team set about to produce a viable energy management system. “We don’t want this to become another set of lagging indicators. We want this to be real-time decision support.”

“We started building awareness,” he said, “that energy is not a fixed cost. There was an ‘abundance’ energy mentality with aggressive focus on production growth. Our energy and carbon dioxide costs were not fully valued. Our energy budgets would more than double if fuel internally consumed was assigned a cost. There was distributed accountability for energy management, and there was a lack of linkages between targets and performance.”

Taylor said his mission is to produce clear, transparent, integrated energy targets, standards and tracking from operations to the CEO/COO. To accomplish this mission, Suncor set up a dedicated cross-company, cross-functional energy management team. This team did a benchmark study across many companies, including some in the non-energy sectors. The team determined, Taylor says, “just from shaping behavior, we can impact a 3% to 5% annual improvement in energy costs, culminating in a cumulative improvement of 25% to 30% in carbon footprint.”

Using Siemens’ Simatic IT XHQ toolset, Taylor and his team have produced a set of visualization tools that lets users easily build role-based dashboards and populate them from existing data sources. These sources are varied and include applications from OSIsoft, SAP, Baytech and others, so it was essential to have tools that could connect to a variety of data sources.

In addition to the energy management benefits it expects to see, Taylor’s team found bonus benefits in safety, asset, quality and production management. “We’re no different than anybody else,” he said. “We’re losing our most experienced people. I can talk to an operator with 30 years’ experience, and he can spot the energy hogs in the refinery instantly. Younger operators cannot. We’re going to be able to minimize the effects of workforce attrition. We’re even going to be able to mitigate user ERP interface issues,” he concluded.

Suncor has set up a continuous improvement activity that includes employee engagement to reinforce behavior modification. “We want operators who, when asked ‘Can you change that cut rate?’ will reply, ‘Sure, but should I? What’s the energy cost and the net benefit to Suncor?’”

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