Energy management benefits two large manufacturers

November 14, 2011

Large plastics manufacturers use many different types of energy in every aspect of business, from building or plant management to plastics production, product development and even shipping. It's unlikely every activity is as efficient as it can be, leaving many opportunities assess and improve energy usage. A number of manufacturers have created energy assessment groups to not only look for ways to improve efficiency and save money within their operation, but to also be on the lookout for favorable outside opportunities that not only can reduce costs, but can even generate revenue.

Even smaller companies without dedicated energy management staff may be able to take advantage of the types of opportunities these larger companies are finding by taking a more energy-aware mindset when developing new operations or evaluating existing ones.

3M bids to cut energy usage 15%

3M's corporate energy management program helps operations become more efficient and have a more positive impact on the environment at each facility in 65 countries worldwide. An energy team leader at each site helps meet corporate goals of reducing energy use by 15%. The corporate group provides guidance on what the sites should be doing, tracks energy usage at each facility to see if goals are met, and recognizes sites with celebrations when they are.

A good example is a 3M packaging tape and post-it note manufacturing facility in Kentucky. The energy team there found it important that the team participates with the utilities department and production areas, who are end users, so everyone feels included in the process. To meet the corporate goals, Steve Schultz, 3M's Global Energy Manager, discussed how they've approached saving energy.

Awareness: People are encouraged to make suggestions on how to save energy at the workplace. "Many people don't treat energy use at work the same as they do at home," says Schultz. It's just as important to turn off equipment when it's not being used or turn off the lights when leaving a room as it is at home.

Energy-saving Practices: High energy-use equipment in the facility is identified, and it is ensured they operate at the highest capabilities.

Projects: Replacing existing equipment with newer and more efficient versions is considered.

The Kentucky facility's combined energy management strategies, including replacing systems for process heating and compressed air, have improved energy usage at the plant by more than 20% over last 5 years, according to Schultz.

Another recently completed 3M project spanned multiple manufacturing facilities. Removing pallets from some products that are delivered on trailers enabled more efficient packing, so fewer trucks were needed and fewer miles were driven. This project alone saved an estimated $1M and reduced miles driven per year by 1.75 million.

The company as a whole implemented 169 energy projects in 2010, saving $8.1 million and more than 542,000 mmBTUs.

ROI? Rhodia's solar energy installation now earning revenue

Rhodia is a specialty chemical and plastics manufacturer and member of the Solvay Group with more than 14,000 employees and 60 locations worldwide. At a facility in central France they recently completed a solar energy installation project that is now actually earning the company revenue.

The recently completed rooftop photovoltaic array is expected to produce 2 million kWatt-hours per year, and is the first solar installation for Rhodia and currently the largest installation on an industrial rooftop in France. Power production at the Rhodia Belle Etoile facility began in September and sales to the grid began in October.

Rhodia's solar panel array
Rhodia's solar-panel array on its Belle Etoile manufacturing site is actually making the company money, with unused energy sold back to the local grid.

Hubert De L'Hermite, Strategy Marketing Director of Rhodia Energy Services, explained the goals of Rhodia's Energy Services Group: to minimize the amount of energy consumed at Rhodia, minimize energy costs, look at costs to build energy efficiency, and also to explore new solutions and new business models to improve climate care in general.

In 2009, at the project's start, the group was able to locate and secure a guarantee that the French government would purchase all electricity generated by photovoltaics at their Saint-Fons facility with a favorable rate for 20 years, making the project profitable. The feed-in-tariff (FIT) rates have since dropped as the country is encouraging other renewable energy modes, but the fact that Rhodia has a group of employees dedicated to looking for favorable opportunities such as this one paid off.

"Despite the expected payback time of the system being quite long, and the fact that the level of profitability is acceptable but not high, Rhodia finds the controlled level of risk and safety of the investment acceptable, according to the risk profiles and the level of security given by the FIT. The French feed-in-tariff was not only favorable, but quite good," according to De L'Hermite. "Using the FIT to sell the electricity, the project has an acceptable profitability. If it is sold using the market price, then the project isn't profitable" he says.

Getting or already started? We want to hear

If you're just getting started or are considering an energy management program, the U.S. Department of Energy's voluntary LEADER Program or the EPA's Energy Star Program can assist. They provide basic outlines that companies of any size should consider as well as guidelines for energy management that aren't difficult to follow.  The biggest obstacle, however, can be getting commitment at a company's top level. If energy management makes sense and becomes a management objective, that's a big first step.

Have you made improvements that affect your bottom line or energy goals? How are you staying tuned in to local energy opportunities? What would "success" mean relating to energy management in your company? Benchmarking and sharing best practices with other companies helps everyone be more successful. Let us know - we'd love to hear about your projects done in the name of saving energy.

About the Author: Debbie Sniderman writes, owns, and consults with VI Ventures, an R&D and manufacturing consulting company for renewable energy products and technologies. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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