Energy Management: Small Steps Can Pay Big

March 26, 2013
Like Coins in the Couch Cushions, Savings Are There to Be Had
About the Author
Aaron Hand is the managing editor for Control Design and Industrial Networking. Email him at [email protected] or check out his Google+ profile.There's a growing interest in electrical energy management, and it's no wonder as costs continue their meandering upward path. Even as new resources are found, the cost to get to them and to get them to us remains high. Unpredictability, whether induced by weather, mandated reliability upgrades across the grid, time-of-use tariffs or other unanticipated conditions, appears to be the only certainty.

"If you get caught in one of those spikes, that's not good," said Shawn Rash, president of American Energy Solutions, who advocates a "reasonable" approach to energy management. "And a lot of times we don't know exactly what the end game is or where we're starting."

Instead, organizations need to do due diligence to know not only where they're heading, but also where they're coming from, Rash explained in a presentation at this week's ABB Automation & Power World event in Orlando, Fla. "Energy management is not just a single event," he emphasized. "It's ongoing."

As a service provider, American Energy Solutions focuses its efforts on reducing energy costs, reducing energy consumption, managing price volatility and providing sustainability solutions. Speaking of a typical customer relationship, Rash described first looking at an organization's energy rate, whether regulated or deregulated, then managing and reporting that on an ongoing basis. A rate optimization checklist would include an analytical review of compiled data, including cost and consumption, a detailed review of current and other available tariffs, a detailed review of existing purchase contracts and other elements.

"If you get caught in one of those spikes, that's not good." Shawn Rash of American Energy Solutions contends that just a little bit of attention to energy management can yield outsized returns.In one example, a company was able to save considerable money with a very low investment simply by auditing its bill management and reducing late fees. In another example , this one of a pet food company, a historical study of energy bills was able to uncover huge differences in the average cost of energy at the company's various locations, ultimately learning that some locations were needlessly leaving ovens on all the time, whether they were in use or not. Other efforts have included an infrastructure advisory for new construction, getting the utility company to move things around for better efficiency, negotiating a $650,000 reduction in utilities for a food processor, and finding a seven-year refund and ongoing tax exemption for a grocery store.

American Energy Solutions was able to save ABB's plant in South Boston, Va., $104,700 annually, amounting to a 20% reduction in energy costs. After that initial success, the same ABB plant decided to evaluate its lighting. With a switch to LED lighting, ABB saved more than $45,000 just from the Energy Policy Act (EPAct), and another $21,000 through a retirement-of-current-fixtures tax benefit.

In addition to the tax and energy savings, the ABB plant saved more than 5.6 million pounds of CO2 emissions. Although it was a greater initial investment, switching to LED lights rather than an interim fluorescent move saved more than a million pounds more of CO2 emissions.

Rash contends that choosing the right partner can help you find the energy savings. "You can start picking off five or six projects that you can do," he said. "And then the next year, there will be an even better payback as energy prices go up and material costs go down."