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Energy Grid

When Your Energy Strategy Is in Need of a Jolt

June 1, 2021
Too many manufacturers lag in conservation and the substantial cost savings that follows it.

Industrial manufacturing is one of the most carbon-intensive sectors in the U.S. It uses a combination of energy sources across the value chain: natural gas and hydrocarbon fuels as feedstock, power from the grid and captive plants for manufacturing processes, and industrial heating and lighting. In addition, energy is consumed both directly and indirectly in global supply chain and logistics operations.

The operational, competitive and environmental costs of this magnitude of energy consumption are massive. The consumption of a humongous amount of energy increases greenhouse gas emissions, effluents and waste, compounding not just costs, but risk. U.S. manufacturers need to adopt a holistic energy conservation strategy that solves for environmental concerns and cuts costs.

Using Data to Set Goals

Analytical solutions leverage data to help reduce energy consumption.

An energy audit of manufacturing facilities, for example, provides insights into fuel consumption, carbon emissions and sustainability risks across the value chain. It provides an accurate assessment of the environmental cost of production, giving a reference point for responsible production. Energy scorecards help manufacturers capture real-time data, compare consumption across plants and benchmark sustainability metrics with global standards. Scorecards also identify excessive energy use and areas for potential efficiency improvement.

Data-driven programs align enterprise dynamics with the energy quotient of processes, equipment and products to set intermediate and long-term goals. Moreover, data enables manufacturers to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of energy options: introduce renewables into the mix, retrofit process equipment, optimize Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems, prioritize responsible suppliers, support low-carbon transportation and facilitate recycling.

Digital Tools Help Hit Targets

Digital technologies can help achieve sustainability goals by integrating energy management into operations. Sensors, internet of things (IoT) and predictive analytics help monitor energy usage and sustainability metrics across the product lifecycle—from suppliers and the production floor to end users. There are several cost-effective measures to minimize energy consumption and carbon emissions, which account for 81% of GHG emissions.

1. Predictive analysis of energy data from process machinery, HVAC systems, lighting, steam systems and waste streams is used to generate insights to improve efficiency and help guide programs such as preventive equipment maintenance and waste heat recovery.

2. Analytical platforms reduce the energy footprint of industrial facilities by optimizing parameters, such as temperature and heat flow rates, and identifying uses for recycled waste.

 3. A digital twin of the plant can be used to identify operating issues that affect energy efficiency and restructure energy-intensive processes. Further, AI/ML platforms enable self-optimization of energy management systems.

4. Finally, sensor-enabled equipment, like automated controls for pumps, compressors, and boilers, can alert maintenance teams of excessive levels of consumption. Occupancy sensors in rooms, intelligent control systems for office equipment, and cloud IT infrastructure further rationalize energy usage.

Engage Stakeholders for the Circular Carbon Economy

Energy efficiency can be achieved even without process interventions or capital expenditure. Manufacturers can drive the movement towards a circular economy by instilling a low-carbon culture among the workforce, suppliers and consumers.

Manufacturers can start by adopting Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and driving reverse logistics to ensure consumers return goods at the end of their life for the development of new, repurposed or recycled products.

Additionally, training in energy management can teach teams to evaluate energy-efficient design concepts for plants, incorporate energy metrics in equipment specifications during procurement, undertake energy audits and prioritize energy efficiency upgrades.

Finally, introducing an energy agenda establishes accountability and reinforces behavioral changes. By introducing an integrated energy strategy, manufacturers can drive continual stakeholder engagement and facilitate a collaborative approach to resolve energy-related issues and achieve goals.

Green technologies, real-time data, and advanced analytics empower industrial manufacturers to minimize their environmental footprint. A commitment to conserve energy, produce efficiently, and consume responsibly is good for the environment, and can be even better for business.

Jasmeet Singh is executive vice president and global head of manufacturing, Infosys.

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