23 Mar 2023

Measuring and Implementing: how to progress in Energy Efficiency

For large companies, the scenario created by the Energy Efficiency Law sets them the challenge of having a Management System that covers 80% of their consumption and implementing measures to achieve the goals defined by the authority.

Energy efficiency is no longer just a good practice. With the publication in 2021 of the Law that promotes it, accompanied in the last year by a series of regulations and associated resolutions, large companies are on the countdown to implement the new law, which implies, among other steps, having energy management systems in place. 

So how can we achieve further progress in energy efficiency, what types of measures can we implement, and how do we identify them?

While there are many ways to achieve this, they all depend on an initial step: performing an energy diagnosis of our facilities or sites, identifying where, when and how energy is consumed within our processes. This will allow us to obtain a histogram that will help us understand where to focus, so that our initial scope covers at least 80% of our main energy consuming processes or equipment.

Once we understand the energy characterization of our facilities, it is necessary to identify independent variables on which energy consumption depends (e.g., production, temperature, humidity, data traffic, material characteristics, among others). This will allow us to build energy performance indicators (EPIs), which must be statistically validated (for example, using the International Measurement and Verification Protocol - IPMVP), allowing us to build a baseline (BP). It is on these indicators and baselines that our Energy Efficiency Improvement Measures (EEM) will act, improving the company's energy performance.

Range of options

What are some of the EEMs that we can implement, and how much do they cost and how do we prioritize them?

The detection of EEMs is also part of the initial energy diagnosis and they are identified through the historical information analysis of the plant and its processes, interviews with different actors within the organization and, above all, through field visits and measurements.

There are different types of EEMs. For instance, one of them is improvements in operational control, which is generally low investment, where what we seek to detect are areas for improvement in the way in which the daily activities of each site are carried out, such as stopping and shutting down systems that operate out of schedule or changes in the programming of control systems and their respective operating setpoints, which are often out of the ideal range. Another measure of relatively low investment is loss reduction, generally thermal losses in the processes, both for poor insulation and for heating or cooling levels higher than those demanded by the different processes. Last but not least, there are the EEMs associated with the incorporation of new technologies (generally higher investments) that allow us to improve process performance, such as control systems with variable frequency drives associated with variable demand, replacement of equipment with new, more efficient versions, heat recovery for preheating (boiler economizers or heat recovery from gases for water heating), efficient air conditioning and control systems with built-in freecooling, efficient lighting, among many others.

Considering the large amount of EEMs that we can perform at each of our clients' sites, it is very important to perform a technical assessment, both profile and pre-feasibility, to calculate the performance improvement impact (measured in % over the EDI, equivalent to an estimated annual energy quantity) and its economic impact. This allows us to analyze the cash flow of each project, prioritizing the different measures that meet the criteria defined by the organization in terms of NPV, Payback, IRR, among others.

It is important to highlight that these action plans (EEMs) must have a measurement and verification plan (M&V), for which there are methodologies such as the International Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP) that will allow us to corroborate the real impact of energy efficiency projects. This analysis will allow us to validate the investment, as well as to economically leverage other initiatives, initiating and maintaining a virtuous cycle of energy performance improvement over time.

In short, as major companies face the countdown to adopt the measures established by the new Energy Efficiency Law, it is time to be proactive and act.

Pablo Bustos, Gerente Energía Grandes Consumidores de Colbún Soluciones by Efizity.