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Energy saving: a measure of success

29 July 2017

Energy efficiency is moving up the agenda as fuel prices and environmental concerns continue to have an impact on the food and drink manufacturing sector. John Grenville suggests a solution to mitigate this. 

The potential for savings in carbon production and energy usage in the food and drink processing sector is enormous. The Carbon Trust has, for example, estimated that the food and drink industry consumes nearly 37TWh – enough energy to power 125,000 homes for nearly 15 years – and emits around 11 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

A recent study of the food and drink industry by consultancy BDO, in association with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, revealed that 45% of the survey respondents employ strategies to mitigate changing energy prices. The most popular among these were arranging fixed price agreements with energy suppliers (70%) and to invest in energy efficient technology and machinery (65%).

Technology is not the only answer. Another way to boost a food factory’s energy performance is to use energy monitoring and targeting (M&T). This is a technique where actual energy use is compared with the standard or expected consumption and the information is presented to those responsible for using it. Targets can then be set for performance improvement.

There is a compelling reason for food factories to take M&T seriously – it will save money! Indeed, depending on the manufacturing processes and how energy intensive the business is, it is possible to reduce energy bills by around 30% this way.

There are other benefits. M&T allows food and drink manufacturers to make better informed commercial decisions. Implemented well, the technique will reveal the energy cost for each process or product, allowing managers to assess, for example, the fuel cost penalty involved in meeting the tight deadlines of a rush job.

Beyond this, it makes line managers visibly accountable for their energy usage. M&T can also reveal areas worth investigating further -  such as differences between shifts. It offers a method of checking the effectiveness of capital investment decisions and helps protect the environment – and therefore the business’s corporate image – by reducing carbon emissions and greenhouse gases.

It is impossible to be prescriptive about energy M&T; how it is implemented depends on the complexity of the particular factory and its processes. However, there are three general principles that always apply:

Gather information: Monitoring energy consumption tells food factory managers where they are and enables them to set targets for improvement.

Quantify energy use: This relates energy usage to a variable such as shift hours, production tonnage or degree days (a measure of the difference between inside and outside temperatures) and provides a baseline against which improvements can be judged.

Set a target: Finally, define an achievable improvement in performance. It can either be a percentage reduction on standard performance or can result from more sophisticated analysis.

In most cases, M&T techniques and supporting systems can be easily implemented, but it is just one of a series of steps that companies can take to improve energy usage. 

Good housekeeping measures can reduce the energy bill by 10% at little or no cost. Achieving a similar return from increased sales would require significant investment. So:

? Perform a simple survey to detect obvious signs of energy wastage around the factory.
? Ensure that existing controls such as valves, steam traps and thermostats are operating properly and are adjusted to suit the business’s needs.
? Employ tariff analysis to monitor maximum power demand to reduce electrical costs.
? Learn to switch off (and on) at times which will minimise energy consumption. Use tamper-proof time locks.
? Insulate the factory – the payback period can be impressively low, often two years or less.
? Maintain energy-consuming plant regularly.
? If it is affordable, install a plant-wide energy management system.

Information is power. It pays to build an energy management strategy with M&T as the foundation upon which managers are able to build an effective energy saving  – and profit generating – policy.

John Grenville is managing director of ECEX.

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