How to achieve water, electric and refrigeration efficiency that translates to long-term ROI
Energy costs typically account for 30 percent of a facility’s operating budget. That means nearly a third of all the money you funnel into your plant goes straight to the utility bill.
We already know about the popularity of green building and sustainable practices, but is it possible to go too green? In short, yes. You don’t want to go so overboard with efficiencies that you’re overspending on unnecessary improvements.
So how do you achieve eco-friendly harmony? Let’s look at six factors that you should assess for possible tune-ups.
1. Utilize your utility bills
Analyzing your utility usage year round can give you a comprehensive understanding of how your plant is using energy and water. The most efficient way to evaluate your efficiencies (or lack thereof) is to examine your bills over a 12-month period, so you can identify trends and follow your plant’s operations through all four seasons.
Ask questions like:
- Are there energy spikes in some months versus others?
- Are there differences in operations during these times?
- Are there system inefficiencies?
- How is the plant being operated during these months?
Use this information to establish a baseline for your energy goals this year.
2. Assess the facility’s thermal envelope
Your building’s thermal envelope is essentially the outer shell that separates the conditioned interior of the building from the outside environment — everything from doors and windows to the ceiling and insulated wall panels. Weaknesses in the thermal envelope are one of the most common causes of energy inefficiencies.
Just as a tiny leak can sink a big ship, something as seemingly small as an improperly designed door opening can erase a significant portion of energy and utility efficiencies. But an airtight envelope isn’t just important to reduce energy costs — it keeps out pollutants and helps prevent cross-contamination.
There are several factors to consider when evaluating your plant’s thermal envelope, including:
- Air or vapor leaks
- Frosting issues
- Ceiling and wall insulation
Keep in mind, facilities gain the most heat through their walls and ceilings, so the quality of your insulation and the materials that make up the building’s envelope impact how well your mechanical systems work, as well as your refrigeration and electrical efficiency.
3. Identify ways to conserve water
Between processing and sanitation, food plants use a lot of water. Especially with the rising cost of water and sewer fees, conserving water is more important than ever.
Obviously, small flaws like leaking water hoses or leaking pipes are quick fixes that can go a long way. However, adjusting your processing can often yield some of the greatest results.
Most water loss occurs during the sanitation process. Examine your cleaning practices and look for optimization opportunities such as reuse systems that treat water from waste streams and reuse it for non-potable applications in the plant. These modifications and flow restrictions can greatly reduce the amount of water used and lost during washdowns.
4. Save electricity through strategic placements
Consider the location of your equipment. Where your equipment is placed can greatly affect its lifespan. For example, locating electrical equipment either in production spaces or adjacent areas with little protection typically results in failure at one point or another. Where is your equipment located in wet-type process areas with heavy washdown requirements? What about dry, dusty areas of your plant? Failing to maintain all your equipment could cost you if a process line — or your entire plant — has to shut down for a period of time.
5. Optimize your lighting
Lighting can sometimes be taken for granted. We turn them on and off every day, but when was the last time you took a light reading of your entire plant?
When looking for optimizations, be mindful that certain fixtures are a better fit for certain areas of your facility. For example, LED is ideal for warehouses and processing areas, while cheaper fluorescent is best for employee areas and packaging. Consider the age of your lighting system, placement, controls and light levels.
You can’t forsake safety in the name of energy efficiency, though. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a minimum requirement on lighting. If you want to save on electricity, you still must ensure your lighting levels comply.
6. Don’t overwork your refrigeration
Did you know: Industrial refrigeration systems can account for up to 60 percent of a manufacturing facility’s total energy expense. Are your refrigeration systems unnecessarily running at full capacity? All aspects of refrigeration equipment can affect a refrigeration system, including:
- Proper equipment selection
- Proper system setup
- Strategic application of VFDs
- Correct control system programming
You can reduce the temperature in your refrigeration room — and thus, reap energy savings — by improving lights and engines, installing proper doors and facilitating minimal foot traffic. Don’t forget to inspect the air handling units on your roof. It’s expensive to cool, filter and dehumidify outside air, so don’t overwork your systems.
Evaluating all of these facets across your facility can be overwhelming, and an outside perspective can help. A comprehensive facility assessment can help you walk through each step to discover optimizations that save you money, mitigate risks, improve ROI and build your business.