ClimateWire, July 23, 2014
Reprinted with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC.)

In 2010, Nissan was looking to save money at its manufacturing plant in Smyrna, Tenn. The 5.5-million-square-foot plant made SUVs and cars, including the all-electric Leaf.

However, it was the height of the recession. Cash was tight, and whatever the company spent, it would have to make back very quickly.

Under these constraints, the company turned to the Department of Energy's Superior Energy Performance program, which certifies industrial plants' energy management practices and points companies toward continual improvement using the ISO 50001 energy management standard.

After conducting a base-line energy assessment, Nissan tweaked its operations at Smyrna rather than buy new hardware or do expensive retrofits. The company used tactics like rescheduling work shifts, reducing motor speeds in industrial hardware, and improving startup and shutdown procedures.

Putting this together cost $331,000, but the program paid back the investment in just four months. The program now saves the plant $938,000 and avoids 264,000 gigajoules in energy consumption annually.

Energy efficiency is often the cheapest path to curbing emissions and, as this case shows, better energy management can be the cheapest path to efficiency, experts say. Doing more with less means lower costs and less greenhouse gas emissions.

"What's exciting about this is it's [ISO 50001] beginning to take off all over the world," said Paul Scheihing, project manager at DOE's Advanced Manufacturing Office.

2 key ingredients

Speaking on a conference call yesterday hosted by the Environmental Law Institute, Scheihing explained that the SEP program combines two components: a strong energy management standard and independent verification.

"The external verification and validation is a key part of the program," Scheihing said. "It provides the credibility."

The goal of these practices is to improve operations, keeping factories running smoothly and cheaply. "It's not about saving energy for the sake of saving energy," said Robert Bruce Lung, a visiting fellow at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Stephen Cannizzaro, the sustainability manager for General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems' Scranton Operation at the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant in Pennsylvania, said his facility has also made gains with better energy management.

Making ammunition requires lots of heat, electricity, water, refrigeration and raw materials, things that plant operators were already trying to use more effectively in their manufacturing.

'Near-instantaneous returns'

But an energy audit showed that some of the biggest energy hogs were in unexpected places. "We found quite a revelation when we tried to base line our activities," Cannizzaro said. "Some of the things like lighting and cooling towers, they were consuming a tremendous amount more than we were anticipating."

Making sure pumps, compressors and furnaces aren't running full tilt when no one is around helped chip away at the energy bill for the factory. Coordinating production schedules and anticipating variation in demand for ammunition also saved money for the company.

The new energy management strategy generated "near-instantaneous returns," according to Cannizzaro. Putting the new standards in place cost the company $255,000 but yielded a savings of $536,000 in a year.

This had major benefits for greenhouse gas emissions. "The reduction of our energy consumption results in the reduction of direct and indirect emissions of greenhouse gases," Cannizzaro added. "That's a trend line the corporate office loves to see."

With new greenhouse gas restrictions on the horizon, power plants can also deploy energy management practices that could help them comply with the new rules.