Sustainability has become a linchpin for business strategies. Across the globe, private sector commitment to climate action is increasing, with net zero emissions a key goal for many organizations. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, more than 700 of the world’s largest companies have already committed to cut CO2 emissions substantially by 2030.
But with that date less than a decade away, how can industries jump-start their efforts to reach those goals?
Energy efficiency is one of the fastest ways to save money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet growing energy demand, particularly for process industries.
Energy efficiency – a cost-effective approach
“Energy efficiency is the process industry’s most cost-effective approach to reducing energy costs and decarbonizing a manufacturing plant’s carbon emissions,” says Paul Scheihing, principal of consultancy firm 50001 Strategies. Based in the United States, his company helps others understand and use ISO 50001 energy management systems, an international standard and best practice for establishing, maintaining and improving energy performance, including energy efficiency, security, use and consumption.
“With energy prices at record highs, there’s no better time to look for new energy efficiency opportunities,” he says. “The economics of energy efficiency projects that may have been delayed for various reasons may now be worth implementing.”
Industry has vast potential to improve energy intensity
At its core, energy efficiency means using less energy to do the same job.
There’s an old adage that the cheapest and cleanest unit of energy is the one you don’t use
“There’s an old adage that the cheapest and cleanest unit of energy is the one you don’t use,” Scheihing says. “That’s the essence of energy efficiency. Studies in the U.S. by groups such as the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy show that energy efficiency is substantially lower in cost than other electricity generation choices.”
In fact, energy efficiency programs are the least-cost resource option available to utilities, even more so than renewable energy supply options such as wind and solar power.
For the industrial sector, which accounts for 37 percent of total final energy use globally, the potential to improve energy intensity, which measures the energy inefficiency of an economy, is vast, provided an appropriate program is followed.
“In the U.S., the Department of Energy has offered many programs, including most recently ISO 50001 programs,” says Scheihing. “They generally show that companies can expect to improve their energy intensity by at least 2.5 percent per year, and as much as 4 to 5 percent if they establish the structured ISO 50001 standard with goals backed by management commitment with dedicated resources, people and capital.”
Progress calls for dedicated people
Change is coming, even if not fast enough. Companies around the world are taking action and establishing energy and carbon reduction goals using smart programs and better technology, but Scheihing believes more can be done.
“The pandemic slowed all types of manufacturing productivity projects, including energy efficiency initiatives, so that’s holding progress up somewhat,” he says. “But we have also found that the limiting resource for energy efficiency is staff and people assigned to find, design and implement energy efficiency projects. People dedicated to the implementation of a robust energy management system are the key ingredient to getting sustained energy performance improvement.”
Benefits of energy efficiency
- Environmental: Increased efficiency can lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other pollutants, as well as decrease water use.
- Economic: Improving energy efficiency can lower individual utility bills, create jobs and help stabilize electricity prices and volatility.
- Utility system benefits: Energy efficiency can provide long-term benefits by lowering overall electricity demand, thus reducing the need to invest in new electricity generation and transmission infrastructure.
- Risk management: Energy efficiency also helps diversify utility resource portfolios and can be a hedge against uncertainty associated with fluctuating fuel prices.
Good can always be better!
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