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Energy Saver: Behold The Impact Of Human Behavior

Aug. 16, 2021
Saving energy starts with conscious effort and corporate awareness

Where should we look to find opportunities to save energy in our industry? The engineers among us, including me, tend to turn immediately to technical options, such as new process designs, more efficient equipment, and more sophisticated control systems. However, many of the best savings come from behavioral changes. These can take many different forms. At a very basic level, do you routinely turn off unneeded lights in your house, or when you leave your office? If you do, you are acting on your awareness of the need to save energy. This awareness can readily be transferred to other areas of your life and your work — for example, by turning off process equipment when it’s not needed, or thinking through operating strategies, or even making physical changes in the plant that will result in energy savings. In other words, behavioral changes often lead to technological changes. The two approaches are complementary; they do not — or should not — compete.

Appropriate strategies within companies can harness and multiply positive behaviors. At the highest level, most companies have energy policies intended to integrate energy efficiency into the corporate culture. The policy then flows down to various departments and disciplines in the company for implementation. This can lead to a wide range of new practices and behavioral changes, both on a corporate and individual level; for example:

  • Engagement of executive level support for corporate energy-efficiency activities.
  • Enhanced data collection and analysis to support the development of energy strategies and the deployment of energy management systems.
  • Engineering standards and procurement rules that require premium-efficiency electric motors, enhanced insulation, and other measures that minimize energy use in new plants and revamps.
  • Allocation of funds specifically for energy efficiency projects, or allowing a lower rate of return for projects that reduce energy consumption than for other types of projects. These measures can result in implementing energy-saving projects that would not otherwise meet the company’s financial rules.
  • Implementation of site energy audits, pinch studies, and other programs designed to identify and implement energy-saving opportunities.
  • Employee awareness programs (e.g., energy fairs and competitions) designed to raise interest in energy and environmental matters.
  • Training of existing personnel, recruitment of new personnel, and/or use of contract labor, to support energy efficiency priorities. This can include specialized technical and engineering personnel, maintenance staff, and others.
  • Making energy efficiency an evaluation criterion for executive compensation and employee bonuses.
  • Identification and sharing of best practices.
  • Use of external resources. This includes, for example, resources from commercial entities, government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Administration, and the ISO 50001 international standard for energy management systems.

Energy policies often are accompanied by energy goals, either in the form of absolute energy savings or improvements in energy intensity. For example, in 1995, the Dow Chemical Company set a goal to reduce its energy intensity by 20% in ten years. They bettered the goal, achieving a 22% reduction by 2005.

The company then set an even more-aggressive goal in 2006 — to reduce energy intensity by a further 25%. This goal has proved elusive; Dow is not alone in this struggle. A combination of factors, including economic slowdowns and market instability, extreme weather conditions, and the Covid-19 pandemic, have all resulted in periodic production cuts over the past few years; this has adversely affected energy efficiency. In addition, U.S. natural gas prices have declined significantly since peaking in 2005, making it more difficult to justify projects that save energy. Nevertheless, corporate energy-saving goals serve a useful role in drawing attention to an important target. Without that focus, energy intensity across the industry would almost certainly have deteriorated. As discussed in a recent column (“Drive Energy Efficiency with Decarbonization,” July 2021), energy efforts now concentrate on decarbonation, which is part of an even larger ESG (environment, social and governance) movement in the industry. However, energy efficiency remains an important piece of the puzzle, and continues to be a priority.

For further information see, Alan Rossiter & Beth Jones, ‘Energy Management and Efficiency for the Process Industries,’ AIChE/John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey, 2015, pp. 25–55. 

About the Author

Alan Rossiter | Energy Columnist

Alan Rossiter is a former contributor for Chemical Processing's Energy Saver column. He has more than 35 years of experience in process engineering and management, including eight years in plant technical support, design and research with Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI, United Kingdom) and nine years in energy efficiency and waste minimization consulting with Linnhoff March, before starting his own business. In 2019 he joined the University of Houston as Executive Director, External Relations for UH Energy. He is a chartered engineer (U.K.) and a registered professional engineer in the state of Texas. His latest book, Energy Management and Efficiency for the Process Industries, coauthored with Beth Jones, was published by John Wiley & Sons in 2015. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and a Past Chair of the South Texas Section of the AIChE. 

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