Understand Energy Management Basics

Five key activities can help reduce energy use.

By Ven V. Venkatesan, Energy Columnist

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Effective energy management can help achieve more efficient use of energy without reducing production levels, product quality or employee morale, and without compromising safety and environmental standards. It should not only address higher-efficiency generation, energy conversion, distribution and utilization, but also explore lower-cost energy alternatives. Simply put, energy management is optimizing the energy cost per unit of product output.  

Energy management is a proven tool; during challenging economic times, this competitive edge can help plants survive. When economic conditions are favorable, energy management can further boost the plant's profitability. The best energy management programs essentially cover the following five activities:

1. Analysis of continuous energy supply (its cost, alternatives and flexibilities to energy supply) and an energy-efficient layout.
Both long- and short-term use of continuous energy should be evaluated. Consider the infrastructure costs of large-scale transportation of fuels. Selection of fuels should also be based on long-term sustenance.

In addition, a compact layout and optimized manufacturing processes can reduce material handling, energy costs, and in come cases, capital needs. Evaluate and install energy sources closer to energy "users." For example, in a power-intensive process such as graphite manufacturing, furnace bases are located as close as possible to the rectoformer housing. In a steam-intensive units, like ammonia plants, all process equipment and steam generating boilers are located in a compact manner to minimize distribution losses.

2. Identify and incorporate energy-efficient process technologies and devices. Evaluating the energy cost per unit of product output has a significant impact on a plant's operability. For example, membrane cell technology for chlor-alkali plants is significantly more energy efficient than earlier diaphragm-type electrolytic cells. Membrane cell technology uses lower voltage across the electrodes of the cell, consuming 20% less electricity — about 2,800 kWh/ton of chlorine production, while the diaphragm cells consume nearly 3,500 kWh/ton of chlorine. Also, steam use to evaporate the caustic lye is substantially lower in membrane cells compared to diaphragm cells. Hence, many chlor-alkali manufacturers have modernized their units, replacing the diaphragm cells with cells using the membrane technology.

3. Identify and incorporate energy-efficient operating practices and methods. Where applicable, energy-efficient retrofits may be necessary to take advantage of technological developments. Installing economizers and combustion air preheaters to fuel-fired furnaces and boilers, and adding blowdown heat recovery systems to medium-sized boilers are common retrofits. In addition, providing additional energy-efficient operating guidelines is an effective way to reduce energy costs.

Effective management can help lower the energy cost per unit of product output.

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