Among the energy efficiency actions carried out on industrial processes, those involving the replacement of machinery or machine components, for example motors that consume less energy, are the most natural: their technical dimension corresponds to the culture of most industrial environments. But these actions are rarely carried out with a systemic dimension because each machine has its specialist to whom it is easy to delegate its replacement with specific objectives.
Let’s take a look at more complex process optimization actions.
These actions must be permanent to maintain a level of performance despite all the hazards of production and to adapt to constant changes in processes. They are no longer the mission of a task force, a project organization or a temporary organization but must be part of the day-to-day operation of the manufacturer.
All industries cannot afford to pay an “Energy Manager”, sort of project manager mandated to convince the “fortresses”, that are the various workshops, to make some efforts in terms of energy consumption. The concern for energy savings must therefore be integrated by the teams in place. It is even more delicate that they are often overloaded by their daily life. Continued and genuine interest and support from their management is a necessary condition for success.
Energy optimization of process control assumes data … but not just any data!
Experience has shown that data acquisition points determine the vision and understanding we have of a process. Including or excluding auxiliaries from one machine does not provide the same information as does different “segmentations” of a manufacturing line by sub-metering devices.
The relevance of the data, and therefore of the metering device, is gradually being discovered and is the result of successive adjustments: the fixed, widely used, sub-metering systems, wired in switchboards, are totally inadequate for this purpose.
Non-intrusive metering systems deserve to be carefully considered and feed this iterative process of optimizing results by optimizing the location of metering points.
Including in such a process is demanding for an external energy service provider: it requires humility, competence and an almost permanent dialogue with the customer. On the other hand, the benefits for this provider are numerous: he establishes a new relationship with his client, which is closer, more faithful, as requires a work with industry. He can also detect many additional service opportunities: reducing consumption peaks, enhancing and valuing flexibility …
As for the industrial consumer, he gradually discovers, as energy optimization of his process, that the energy data give him a new angle to look at his installation and allow him to discover new sources of productivity. These benefits, more than the energy savings themselves, will reward his investment.
Energy consumption data acquired on a process quickly reaches large volumes. Once, and only once, a first step of optimization of the metering device managed successfully, once the dialogue necessary for understanding and a first exploitation of the data set up, it becomes essential to have a software support to derive maximum value from this mass of data.
Energy data is rich in information, not only to reduce consumption, but also as regards the use and life of equipment, the predictive maintenance required or the shortening of the start-up or shutdown phases of the process (which translates into direct productivity). Artificial intelligence technologies are boosting these software platforms and paving the way for significant performance levels. But do not forget that they remain a means, support of a work process that should be implemented, in any case.
These few lines illustrate the complexity but also the wealth of energy efficiency actions in the industry. The first service providers who manage to master this highly demanding exercise will open up a large market by its size and attractiveness.
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Eric Morel is a worldwide recognised expert of energy transition and digitalisation. In the past, he has served as VP Corporate Business Strategy and VP Global Smart Grids and Energy Efficiency at Schneider Electric as well as CEO of Ilevo, a telecommunication start-up. He is a founding member and a former Board member of the Gridwise Alliance, the main professional private/public association dedicated to Smart Energy.