Facility energy optimization isn’t only about improving energy efficiency and reducing energy use, but also about optimizing existing energy use in order to minimize or eliminate related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While it may seem counterintuitive, this may mean actually using more electricity instead of less in order to replace fossil fuel use. So why is energy optimization important and why use more electricity?
Traditionally commercial and industrial facility energy efficiency audits (please see Energy Efficiency Auditing for Commercial & Industrial Facilities) and studies have looked at total consumption of kilowatt-hours of electricity and Btu’s of fuel (e.g. natural gas, oil, etc.). These audits also review the equipment and how it is used with a goal to identify ways in which consumption may be reduced. In general this approach is cost driven with the primary goals of identifying equipment and process changes, and other measures that will reduce overall energy consumption and therefore overall consumption costs. Like most energy efficiency and energy auditing companies, over the past 29+ years Bridgestone Associates has conducted energy audits of industrial and commercial facilities with these goals, namely reduction in overall energy consumption and energy cost as the primary objectives. But given the increasing awareness of the impacts of carbon emissions on climate change, improving energy efficiency and reducing energy use is only part of developing a more holistic energy optimization strategy. In addition to studying and developing approaches to lower existing energy use and improve efficiency, energy optimization requires evaluation of the types and sources of energy being used and development of energy utilization and procurement strategies that minimize overall carbon emissions.
Why is energy optimization important? With increased focus on carbon emission reductions because of the impact of greenhouse gases (GHG) on climate change, many purchasers and consumers of products and services are looking to significantly reduce or eliminate their carbon emissions. This includes their direct emissions from owned and controlled sources collectively termed “Scope 1” emissions. It also includes indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling (“Scope 2” emissions), and all other indirect emissions that may occur in a company’s value chain (“Scope 3” emissions.) A significantly reduced or zero carbon footprint is not just the goal of “new age” companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook, but also many long-established companies like Ford, 3M, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Volkswagen, Bank of America, BMW, and General Mills. This means that these companies will look to all sources of emissions, those that are directly within their control, and those from indirect sources such as energy purchases and purchases of materials and services in their supply chain. So even if a material or service supplier doesn’t have its own specific sustainability, carbon reduction, and energy optimization goals, its customers may. So as part of a customer’s supply chain, the supplier may need to develop and implement an energy optimization plan to remain competitive. And, more importantly, these plans and the results that they produce need to be communicated effectively and accurately to current and prospective customers.
Improving energy efficiency and reducing energy use is only part of an energy optimization plan. It includes more than the traditional energy efficiency measures of replacing lighting systems, motors and other equipment with more efficient but similar equipment, or changing manufacturing processes and the way things are made and handled in order to lower energy use and improve energy efficiency. Energy optimization requires investigation of the sources and types of energy used, and a reduction or elimination of fossil fuel use. While it may seem counterintuitive, an energy optimization strategy may result in an increase in electricity use. But if that electricity comes from renewable or low-carbon sources and helps eliminate fossil fuel use, then it achieves the objective of energy optimization and therefore GHG reduction or elimination.
In some cases energy optimization, when coupled with aggressive energy efficiency and process improvements, may be achieved with little impact on bottom line costs. For example, in a recent study, Bridgestone was able to develop an energy optimization strategy that almost eliminated a company’s Scope 1 and Scope 2 GHG emissions without increasing operating costs. An old fuel oil fired steam boiler needed replacement. An energy efficiency study determined the steam system could be converted to a more efficient high temperature hot water system throughout except for a small steam requirement in one process area that could be provided by a local electric steam boiler. A new electric boiler would then produce all of the high temperature hot water required for the remainder of the facility. Renewable electricity would be purchased for the new electric boiler and for all other existing facility uses. Total electricity consumption would increase but the added costs would be offset by savings in fuel oil, maintenance costs, insurance and permitting costs, as well as improved overall efficiency. With this energy efficiency improvement coupled with energy optimization, fuel switching to all renewable electricity would avoid the fuel oil and the non-renewable grid-purchased power related to GHG emissions and almost totally eliminate Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions for the company.
Two useful tools Bridgestone uses that are helpful in determining existing emissions and in developing energy optimization models and strategies for clients are:
The US EPA’s Power Profiler is a source of information on emissions from electricity production in each of the eGRID Subregions in the USA. Emissions data for electricity production in the relevant subregion can be obtained and then used in the EPA’s Simplified GHG Emissions Calculator, which is a downloadable Excel file. This calculator can be used to develop a baseline of existing GHG emissions for a facility. It can then be used as part of the energy optimization strategy development to quickly assess the impact on GHG emissions of any energy efficiency improvement, process change, or fuel switching alternative.
As more emphasis is placed on GHG emissions and their impact on climate change, more and more commercial and industrial companies are looking to how they may reduce or eliminate carbon in their operations. Importantly this includes the carbon footprint of their supply chain. So energy optimization, whereby fossil fuel use and other sources of GHG emissions are reduced or eliminated, is becoming increasingly important for suppliers of materials and services of all sizes in order to remain competitive for their customers.
For more information on commercial and industrial facility energy optimization, or to discuss your project needs, please contact us.