Save money and enhance operational sustainability at your precast plant.
By Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP
How great would it be to find a way to reduce your energy use, save some money and enhance your operational sustainability? It may be as easy as flipping a switch.
Columbia Precast Products of Washougal, Wash., found that retrofitting their plant lighting would save almost $2,000 per year in utility bills. Their local utility company also offered to cover 29% of the installation cost. This resulted in the project paying for itself in four years and a return on investment of more than 25%.
Finding ways to lower costs while continuing to maintain product quality and sales volume can be challenging. But many National Precast Concrete Association members have discovered that looking at energy use can yield significant results.
The first step is to establish your energy awareness. How much do you really use? This involves a thorough study of your utility bills over the past several months. How does your usage fluctuate during the year? Identify the peaks and valleys. Your energy provider is a great resource to help with this exercise. Many are willing to assist you in your conservation efforts and will offer to visit the plant to perform a free audit.
You can also look at programs such as the Department of Energy’s Industrial Assessment Centers, which may be able to offer no-cost assessments to smaller- and medium-sized facilities.1 IAC teams are located at 24 universities throughout the United States. They typically identify $130,000 in potential annual savings opportunities for every manufacturer assessed, nearly $50,000 of which is implemented during the first year following the assessment. Table 1 depicts typical results of IAC assessments.
Another option is to hire an energy consulting firm. These energy experts can analyze your energy consumption and provide consultation services including negotiating, contracting and monitoring supply. Some of them can also offer employee training. One NPCA member benefit is a consultation service provided by APPI Energy, a nationwide energy consulting firm. APPI helps many NPCA members save money on their energy bills through its consulting service. Visit appienergy.com for more information, and if you partner with APPI, tell them you are a member of NPCA.
Research shows companies that perform well adopt a structured approach to energy management. They establish policies and procedures for long-term results, have senior management’s support, allocate staff and resources, establish goals, develop management structures that empower staff to address energy efficiency issues directly and adopt a philosophy of continuous improvement. This may include setting up an energy team or an energy “champion.” This person or group of employees can be the core of a successful energy program. Building this team engages and empowers your employees to plan, implement, monitor and evaluate your plant’s energy management program. The team could also be responsible for training and communicating results to staff.
Where to start
The low-hanging fruit of any industrial-scale energy management plan is lighting. Only a small part of the energy used in a lighting fixture results in lighting – the remainder is lost as heat. Even when lighting is a relatively small part of a plant’s energy use, it may be possible to save considerably on energy by using more efficient lighting systems.
Lighting demand is measured by the quantity of lumen of visible light needed at a certain point of time. The quantity of electricity (in watts) needed to supply the demand for lighting (in lumen) is expressed as the efficacy of the light source (in lumen/watt).
Table 2 shows typical performance of various lamp types.
For example, if your plant still uses T-12 lighting tubes, be aware that they can consume a significant amount of electricity. T-8 tubes have about twice the efficiency of T-12 tubes and can last 60% longer. Energy savings of T-8 over T-12 can be around 30%.
Other areas to consider are curing systems and light trucks. These are typically some of your highest consumers of energy, depending on your plant systems and yard layout.
Also examine your HVAC systems. Leaky ducts can waste a significant amount of energy and are generally easy to repair. According to a study by Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory, repairing duct leaks in industrial and commercial spaces can reduce HVAC energy consumption by up to 30%. The study also showed that duct tape should not be used for leak repair. Aerosol sealants are preferred.
Compressed air systems can also consume a high amount of energy. If you use a lot of compressed air, know that many systems can have very poor efficiency – typically about 10% from start to end use. If compressed air is used, it should be at a minimum quantity for the shortest possible time.
Getting to it
Lowering energy use may not take as much energy as you think. It all starts with awareness and developing some benchmarks. Then, it’s developing a plan and sticking to it. If you want to start but are unsure what to do first, please contact Claude Goguen, director of sustainability and technical education, at [email protected] or at (317) 582-2328.
Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, is NPCA’s director of sustainability and technical education.
- “Energy Efficiency Improvement and Cost Saving Opportunities for the Concrete Industry,” December 2011, Katherine Kermeli, Ernst Worrell, Eric Masanet, Energy Analysis Department, Environmental Energy Technologies Division, Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720