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Energy Intelligence Report: Saving The Planet, One Facility At A Time

Tue, 08/07/2012 - 5:02pm
Mike Huber, P.E.

This article first appeared in IMPO's August 2012 issue.

You wake up one day and there you are, in facility management. You have finally achieved your dream career. You studied hard and worked even harder to get to the place you wanted to be. You’re now in charge, and you’re beginning to wonder why you wanted this responsibility in the first place. There are things they never told you about in school or on the job, which have suddenly become critically important.

Traditionally, facility managers have been rewarded for operational efficiency, throughput, labor savings, and workplace safety. But now there is a new item on the job review checklist: Environmental responsibility.

Integrating green thinking into manufacturing and other industrial environments requires a new paradigm commonly referred to as the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit. This article will help you apply a few simple principles to make a quick conservation impact to the most critical aspects of facility operation, as you transition to a sustainability model of facility management.

From the Top Down

There are few things less sustainable than a building envelope that is poorly performing against the outside elements, such as a short-lived leaking roof. For some mysterious reason, roofs always manage to start leaking at the wrong time: Christmas Eve, the day before you start your vacation... you get the idea.  Unfortunately, other than being a nuisance, roof leaks will reduce the sustainability of most buildings by increasing the energy costs of operating it.

The building’s level of heat or coolness retention will decline in proportion to the saturation level of its insulation as well as the rate of air leakage. To make matters worse, at some point the roof will become truly un-repairable, which dramatically increases adverse environmental impact by increasing landfill waste and the energy associated with roof manufacturing and replacement.

Along with water leaks, we need to also concern ourselves with air leaks. Thermal performance of the building envelope will have a major impact on the energy conservation of any facility. Heating and air conditioning costs are typically a large portion of a facilities operating budget. Notorious locations of air leakage are where the roof deck meets the wall, poorly insulated penetrations through the roof, and seals around doors and windows. Building envelope surveys and thermal scans can be a useful tool to remediate simple deficiencies that drain energy budgets.

Trust me. No roofs or walls lasts forever and neither can fix itself. Proactive preventive maintenance, routine cleaning and repairs, and periodic restorations are your best assurance of containing energy costs that would otherwise go “through the roof.”

The Energy Audit

Whether performed internally or by an independent third party, energy audits have become an essential part of environmentally responsible facility management. Even if you must go outside your organization to obtain a thorough assessment, involving your maintenance team in the process is the ideal way to get everyone thinking green. Managed properly, the energy audit process will allow your people to take ownership of sustainability enhancements, giving them the authority and responsibility to implement changes. Energy audits can have a far greater reach than HVAC controls and lighting upgrades.

Before hiring a consultant to perform an energy audit, make sure to define specific goals. Remember: no matter how brilliant your consultant may be, you and your people understand your operations best. Start out by asking your team to identify the key energy-consuming processes in your operations. Once you start, you will be amazed at how many not-so-obvious energy-consuming functions and processes are put on the table for consideration. There is nothing wrong with picking the low hanging fruit first.  You may decide to categorize them into phases, tackling those consuming the largest amounts of energy first. The audit should monitor not only power consumption, but power loss, in order to identify a full spectrum of savings opportunities. 

A Case In Point

In our own organization, the transition to green thinking started on the product side of our business two decades ago, and went viral throughout our research, development, and manufacturing facilities over the last few years. Towards the end of 2008, we commissioned an energy assessment audit. An internal team representing our various departments was on board with the program from the start. Within months, that enthusiastic team of early adopters began implementing the first phase of sustainability upgrades.

Motion sensing lighting was installed in our warehouse and the plant offices adjacent to it, improving worker safety while saving an estimated $4,000 (over 11,000 kw) annually.

Seven inches of insulation was installed around a heated pipeline connecting to our mixing tanks, replacing the original 1.5 inches of insulation. Although assessing the precise savings from this initiative is difficult, the added insulation has allowed us to reduce heating energy for the system since heat is being retained more effectively.

The traditional V-belts in our electric motors were replaced with synchronous belt drives. It is known that synchronous belt drives provide an efficiency of 98 percent across a wide load range with little or no degradation over time. As an added advantage, the new belts require less maintenance and less frequent re-tensioning. In contrast, V-belts have a peak efficiency of 95-98 percent at the time of installation, with efficiency degrading by as much as five percent over time.

Realizing that leakage in our air compressor system was wasting energy, the decision was made to repair the existing air leaks and more aggressively respond to new ones as they occur. This resulted in an annual savings of $5,732. Subsequently, we were able to reduce the pressure in the air compressor from 120 psi to 110 psi, for an additional annual savings of $723.

Several incandescent light fixtures were replaced with TB fluorescent fixtures, for a combined annual savings of $6,706.

Through a combination of retraining and equipment upgrades, we were able to reduce the scrap rate on our rolled goods line by 1.01 percent, which translates into a reduction of  several thousands of tons of scrap annually, which does not have to go to a landfill, and a savings of $6,360 per year.

We applied a highly reflective coating to the roof of a manufacturing area where heat build-up in the summer months had always been an issue.

The plant’s interior walls were painted a gloss white to increase reflectivity and thereby reduce lighting-related energy requirements while increasing worker safety.

Perhaps most telling of all, the success of these incremental initiatives has inspired material purchasing to encourage our material suppliers to internalize environmental sensitivity within their own organizations. To better align ourselves with suppliers who share our philosophy, we have added eco-sensitive operations to our supplier evaluation profile for 2011.

Conclusion

With so much attention being given today to designing environmentally responsible products, talking the talk is sometimes easier than walking it. Once the seed of awareness is established inside your organization, the shift to a people, planet, profit facility management model will organically migrate across departments, transforming your facilities into a model of sustainable business practices that will continue to evolve and improve over time. It's good for your people, good for the planet, and great for your bottom line too!

With a background in structural, environmental, and construction, Mike Huber has been a professional engineer since 1994. As director of engineering for The Garland Company, Inc., he is a member of the Garland Speakers Bureau and a popular presenter of an American Institute of Architects (AIA) accredited course on the engineering and design of metal roof systems. He holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from Miami University and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Purdue University.

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