While consumers using less energy during the COVID-19 pandemic made news, a greater source of potential energy savings builds in the background every day across industries: the nearly 63% of lost energy created for electricity, transportation, industrial, commercial and residential markets.
As companies evaluate their road map to meeting their net zero targets, this lost energy is “low-hanging fruit” that can spur momentum and immediate steps toward a vital sustainability goal.
Part of the energy created by a fuel source such as gas or coal, lost energy is tossed out or wasted—often in the form of waste heat, such as heat from a coal-fired power plant, a car’s engine or an incandescent light bulb. Research shows that within any industrial plant, nearly two-thirds (about 67.5%) of energy being input is lost before reaching its intended purpose—from fouling heat exchangers, poor combustion control, leaking compressed air systems or steam trap failures. The efficiency of our manufacturing facilities, cars and light bulbs determines how much waste heat is produced and how much fuel and electricity can be put to productive use.
Listen to Emerson Chief Sustainability Officer Mike Train explain the U.S. Energy Sankey Diagram.
Given the industrial sector accounts for 23% of total energy consumption and a typical industrial plant is spending 30% to 50% of its operating budget on energy, it is critical to focus on industrial energy efficiency to minimize energy loss. Emerson data shows industrial companies can reduce site energy usage 5% to 15% by using energy management technologies and software that provide better energy measurement, monitoring, targeting and reporting. Ultimately, these savings add up: One refinery customer saw energy savings of more than $20 million in one year.
Strong emissions management has a ripple effect, and, across the board, Top Quartile companies use 20% less energy and have less than half the energy intensity of those in the Bottom Quartile.
There are key strategies companies can implement to reach Top Quartile energy management.
Advanced digital technologies provide real-time visibility into energy performance so operators can take corrective action. Smart sensors, particularly wireless devices, have provided better monitoring of equipment for years, providing early detection of potential failures that could impact performance and result in more energy use. Digital twin technologies help optimize the design and operation of facilities, introducing new protocols to save energy without impacting plant performance. And even new LED lighting can save thousands in energy costs at massive industrial plants.
Probably the biggest advancement in recent years is what we refer to as the “fitness tracker for industrial energy”—an energy management information system (EMIS). Historically, industrial plants have reviewed monthly energy consumption data over time to monitor energy loss. An EMIS provides up-to-the-minute, meaningful information about a site’s energy consumption to better identify inefficiencies and irregularities, providing real-time data and analytics for decision-making, which can save millions annually.
Take Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq plants, which provide 15% of global oil production. Saudi Aramco implemented Emerson’s EMIS to optimize its operations and better manage its energy consumption. The system provided increased visibility of operations performance, significantly reduced problem-to-resolution timelines and identified the best values and set points—resulting in energy savings of $22 million per year.
While EMIS offers a comprehensive look at energy management, there are other highly specific applications that prove the old adage is true: You can’t manage what you can’t measure. When combined with software like analytics tools, measurements provide the data for better decision-making to improve energy efficiency, safety and reliability. Here are five key measurement priorities for energy management.
· Monitoring steam traps. Most industrial plants use steam heat to provide the energy that drives their operations. A typical plant’s energy bill can be $20 million to $30 million per year. The thousands of steam traps that let condensed water out of steam systems across these plants are too often overlooked. In steam systems that have not been maintained for three to five years, between 15% and 20% of steam traps have failed, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Costs here can add up: a power generation plant, for instance, found a leaking steam trap was costing them $2,200 per day. Usually manually inspected once a year, now steam traps can be acoustically monitored with smart devices, alerting operators to failed equipment. This lost energy can be captured by monitoring steam traps. South African petrochemical company Sasol Technology installed acoustic monitors on just 20 of its most critical steam traps and saved $42,000 in steam costs as well as $15,000 in maintenance costs annually. The smart monitors paid for themselves in less than three months.
· Measuring utility fluids such as water, air, gas and steam. While plant operators know how much natural gas they buy each year, they don’t always know how much is used by each process unit. Flow meters help detect leaks or unusual changes in energy usage, balance the flow of energy to use points and prioritize energy-saving actions. A New England pulp and paper mill implemented flow measurement technologies and now accounts for nearly all energy use within the mill. The project paid for itself in less than eight months, with savings of well over $1 million in energy costs in the first year.
· Measuring compressed air. Compressed air systems are major energy users and can also be main sources of leaks. Facing increased operational costs, a need for increased capacity and concerns about compressed air shortages, a South American chemical plant added flow measurement technologies and saw a 10% improvement in overall compressed air system efficiency and a $750,000-per-year reduction in electricity costs.
· Precisely controlling steam boiler water levels. The goal is to have boilers operate stably without costly cycles of shutdown, purge and restart. A paper mill in the United States was losing production and incurring increased utility costs due to boiler trips, but after advanced measurement technologies were added, the mill now enjoys increased efficiencies, minimized unplanned shutdown and increased production.
· Improving heat exchanger performance. Industrial facilities can have hundreds of heat exchangers that can foul over time, reducing production capacity and increasing maintenance costs and energy usage. Working with Emerson, Chevron has implemented a cloud-enabled monitoring solution for the heat exchangers at one of its refineries. Instead of manually checking heat exchangers, advanced measurement technologies provided Chevron operators with heat transfer, fouling and other degradation data to keep heat exchangers running at optimal performance.
Never before have industrial facilities had the software, data analytics and advanced measurement technologies to really understand real-time, dynamic energy optimization today that can significantly help companies achieve their net zero targets. If the industry collectively adopts these technologies, the impacts will be swift—and significant.
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