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Think You Can’t Lower Your Baseload Energy Needs? Guess Again

This assumption keeps us stuck in efficiency status quo, when in reality it simply isn’t true.

There’s nothing I can do to lower my baseload.

If you work at a manufacturing plant, I’m willing to bet that you’ve heard this -- or even said it yourself -- more than a few times. But here’s the thing: This assumption keeps us stuck in efficiency status quo, when in reality it simply isn’t true.

With the right approach, you can lower your manufacturing baseload and increase your efficiency in the process. To implement this at your own plant, start by following these best practices, developed through my decades of energy management work with manufacturers across industries.

Conduct night or weekend audits to find the “phantom” users.

I’ve seen energy teams reduce their baseload by 40% just by doing this alone. To get started with nightly audits, approach them in the same way that you would a railroad crossing: Stop, look and listen.

Bring a flashlight, infrared temperature gun, ultrasonic leak detector and camera. The ultrasonic leak detector will identify steam, air and water leaks that you are unable to hear normally. The infrared temperature gun helps you find equipment that is maintaining temperature even when it’s not in use -- another common source of energy drain. As you’re conducting your audit, don’t forget to take pictures of the surprises you find along the way.

Once you identify the culprits, make your repairs and log your corrective action. Then, repeat your nightly or weekend walk-throughs to make sure the phantoms don’t return. 

Review and revise plant and production shutdown SOPs.

What if I told you that 60% to 70% of your energy use occurs when no production is running? This might surprise you, but in many cases hundreds of pounds of steam are consumed on weekends when a plant is down. In some facilities I’ve seen, a 250 hp air compressor may run on weekends, only to maintain the leak load in the compressed air system.

Identify what could be shut off or turned down when production idles. Then, run a “Shutdown, Shut It Off” campaign to incorporate this best practice into your plant’s culture. Behavioral change is key to getting your organization on board and fully aligned with your goal of reducing your baseload.

Remember to also pay attention to your production scheduling itself. Are you running one line on an “off shift” when it could be run with other production lines? Combine shifts to spread more production over two shifts not three and save third shift baseload usage.

Get savvy about other sources of “phantom” waste.

Roughly 10% of your home electricity bill comes from appliances that have been turned off yet still draw power -- including your garage door opener. The same can be said for your manufacturing facility.

Once you begin looking for phantom load, you’ll be surprised to find it in unexpected places: in your flat-screen computer monitors, conference room coffee machines, projectors, one-person office refrigerators, garage door openers and more. When you develop a discerning eye for energy waste, it will become easier to find and remedy energy drains.

One of the first things I look at to identify whether an organization is energy-savvy is its lighting practices: Does its perimeter lighting stays on during daylight hours? Are unoccupied spaces still lit? I’ve found a lot of success in doing quick daylight walks to identify lighting that’s turned on but not needed.

Additional quick tips to lower your baseload:

As you conduct your audits, revise your shutdown plans and scour your plant for other hidden energy drains, keep in mind these additional tips:

  • WAGES: Energy costs lie in WAGES (Water/wastewater, Air, Gas, Electric and Steam)
  • Seasonal Changes: Pay attention to weather-related energy changes. Is your vestibule heating left on in the summer even though it’s no longer needed? Adjust air conditioning and heating to meet your actual needs and reduce energy waste.
  • Idling Equipment: Embrace a “getting ready to get ready” mentality. Are forklifts, trucks and cars idling when they could be shut off entirely?
  • Process healing and cooling: Are your temperatures and PSIs out of range? Get them back on track to reduce energy use.
  • Fixing leaks: When fixing leaks, check the repair with an ultrasonic leak tester. The leaks you hear with the human ear only represent 20% of the leak load; you’ll need a leak detector to find the other 80%. Don’t assume that your leak repair is free of leaks. In most cases, new replacement parts will need to be disassembled and taped to truly eliminate leaks.

Lowering your baseload might seem like an insurmountable task. But by starting with the small steps outlined above, your facility can make immediate progress in reducing energy waste. You’ll be surprised at how your efficiency improves right along with your energy use.

A seasoned manufacturing executive, Ed Birch’s expertise in organization change is rarely found in the energy management sector. Birch’s corporate turnaround and organizational change initiatives help Strategic Energy Group clients achieve persistent, organizationwide energy savings. Birch has spearheaded SEG’s continuous energy improvement programs for over 200 industrial and commercial organizations in North America. Prior to SEG, Birch served as Chief Operations Officer for Unicep Packaging and Litehouse Salad Dressing, Inc. Through these leadership roles, he implemented lean manufacturing strategies and instituted ISO standards while overseeing daily operations and logistics.

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