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Making energy management a priority

10 October 2021

David Carroll puts forward arguments to explain why it is important that food producers consider the energy consumption of their processes. 

Protecting the environment has become a major global objective in recent years and while there are steps that consumers should take to minimise their impact, real change needs to come from large corporations. 

Manufacturing – including the mass production of food and drink – is an energy-intensive industry, accounting for 16% of total energy consumption in 2019, so actions in this space must be taken to reduce carbon footprints whilst also making production cost-savings. 

Sustainability is also becoming more of a priority for potential customers and partners when choosing which businesses to work with. Organisations are realising that beyond product quality and price, reputation and accountability are now also factors that need to be considered, providing further impetus for businesses to move forward with their decarbonisation journeys.

Poorly controlled processes are a leading cause of unnecessary energy consumption in manufacturing. Often, food businesses are aware that their processes are inefficient but fear changing them could compromise output. 

This mindset must be challenged, particularly as the Carbon Trust estimates that with better process control, manufacturers can save between 5 and 15% of process energy.

Manufacturers can start by analysing their processes to identify areas where improvements may be made. Even small improvements can reduce consumption, improve safety, and lower production costs.

Optimising air compressors
Electrically produced compressed air can create high amounts of energy wastage. At a minimum, air compressors should be switched off when not in use – even an idling compressor can use between 40% and 70% of its maximum energy requirement. 

Air leakages also account for wastage. Manufacturers must perform regular tests on distribution pipework with leaks immediately repaired.

By scheduling production shutdowns and powering off machinery for periods of minimal activity, energy costs can be significantly lowered. Powering up all machinery at the same time can create spikes in energy demand, so it is beneficial to stagger the operating times of different equipment and schedule the use of high energy consuming machinery for off-peak hours.

Boiler efficiency can be markedly improved by upgrading insulation and heat recovery systems. Inadequate insulation of distribution systems accounts for around 10% boiler heat loss. Ensuring efficient steam generation and distribution through proper control and maintenance can save up to 30% of the energy produced by boilers.

For producers requiring high temperatures to manage production, furnaces constitute a major proportion of energy consumption. Using benchmarking data, furnace performance can be measured against other manufacturers and areas for improvement identified. 

At floor level, simply reviewing the way furnaces are charged and unloaded, improving scheduling, and carrying out more intensive maintenance will help to improve overall efficiencies.

The road to net-zero
Manufacturers that have implemented the above measures can complete the next phase of their journey towards carbon neutrality in several ways. 

Procuring renewable energy: Even where a manufacturer limits energy consumption on the factory floor, if the energy consumed is derived from fossil fuels, net-zero will remain a distant goal. 

Today, switching to renewable energy is an attractive option. Whether gas or electricity, renewable energy can be sourced alongside certificates that guarantee the  energy consumed has been generated from a renewable source. Renewable Electricity Guarantees of Origin (REGOs) or Renewable Gas Guarantees of Origin (RGGOs) can be used to demonstrate sustainability to customers and investors.

Onsite power generation and battery storage: Generating power on-site and developing battery storage capabilities gives more control over the journey to net-zero, and any surplus power generated can be sold back to the grid at optimum times to create additional revenue streams to reinvest in green projects. Manufacturing plants often have vast roof space, which could be used to install solar panels, for example. The power generated by the installation of solar panels will go some way to a reliance on the grid.

Carbon offsetting: Carbon offsetting can reduce a business’s carbon footprint and is a compelling step for manufacturers reaching towards net-zero goals. It should primarily be used as a way to neutralise any unavoidable emissions whilst on the journey.

Emissions are offset by purchasing carbon credits from certified carbon reduction projects, with each emission reduction unit representing the removal of one ton of carbon dioxide equivalent produced by an organisation’s activities.

Electric vehicles (EVs): The upfront cost of EVs can be higher but is usually offset by lower running costs. For example, driving 100 miles in a petrol or diesel car costs around £15 in fuel – up to four times more than the cost of charging an EV. EVs also have a zero rate of the vehicle excise duty and, where they meet the Euro 6 emission standard, are exempt from the London congestion charge and subject to lower charges from clean air zones. When the time comes to update the company fleet, EVs should be seriously considered alongside more traditional alternatives, with EV technology continuously improving.

As the global climate continues to warm and with COP26 taking place in November, food and beverage manufacturers should be exploring how they can reduce their carbon footprint. Decarbonisation will not happen overnight, but as sustainability moves further up everyone’s agendas, taking the small steps to limit emissions will bring both environmental and business benefits, which shouldn’t be underestimated.

David Carroll is senior corporate account manager at Gazprom Energy.

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