How to cut environmental emissions and energy costs

Reducing environmental impact and driving business efficiencies have become the dual role of energy management systems today, and therefore a major item on the business agenda. Steven Kratsis writes.

TODAY we are witnessing a potent combination of factors, which together are driving organisations to optimise their energy consumption. 

With energy often the largest component of operating expense for manufacturers, coupled with restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, these issues are combining to be major items on the business agenda.

This trend is further strengthened by the ongoing global economic downturn.

Improving energy efficiency saves costs with no negative impact and therefore represents a particularly attractive option for businesses to follow at this time, especially given that in the near future many companies will also be faced with having to buy CO2 emissions credits. 

Being more energy efficient therefore has a double impact on the bottom line – it reduces both operating expenses, and expenditure on CO2 credits.

However one of the key issues they are facing is that there are many different ways to reduce energy costs. 

With the United Nations COP15 conference held in Copenhagen in 2009, interest has been growing in the role of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in driving the reduction of CO2 emissions for energy intensive businesses. 

The need to cut environmental emissions is certainly urgent. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that by 2030 demand for energy will increase by 50% compared to today. 

The increased demand will drive up carbon dioxide emissions and heighten the climate change problem, making the efficient use of energy key to resource conservation.

It is true that CCS has great potential as a method of addressing these issues. This is underlined by the fact that leading companies in the energy sectors are engaged in piloting programmes using technology.

One of the key challenges in CCS is carbon capture and many leading companies are using process modelling solutions for carbon capture modelling to find ways to make carbon capture viable and cost effective in the shortest amount of time. 

However, the pilot programmes are in early stages and it will take time for these programmes to demonstrate commercial viability in meeting the carbon capture challenges. 

The way in which organisations interpret energy management varies. Typically, the key challenge is to identify the combination of improvements that best meets the demands of the existing production processes and utility systems and maximises potential in line with business objectives. 

An integrated approach to energy performance management can achieve significant savings in energy costs and hence greenhouse gas emissions both within the manufacturing units and in the utilities systems that support the manufacturing units. 

An important component of the solution is provided by model-based energy management systems, which can be used to help take advantage of potential savings which have hitherto been largely unexploited in addition to providing optimised and consistent information about a site’s key processes and facilities for decision-makers.

This knowledge can be useful both in long-term, strategic decisions and in concluding energy supply contracts, in preparing budgets and in drawing up investment plans, as well as in optimising the energy costs of ongoing operations – based on current demand, costs and plant availability.

Adopting best practice here can have a major bottom-line benefit since savings of between 5-10% can be obtained using operations planning and optimisation without needing to make any significant capital investment, even in the most sophisticated plants. 

By implementing an energy management program with elements focusing on both supply and demand, organisations can achieve significant returns – often over 15% of their annual energy costs with very attractive payback on the capital invested.

[Steven Kratsis is Country Director, AspenTech Australia.]



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