Businesses can find waste, cut costs with energy audits
by Lynn Lofton
Published: November 14,2005
As energy costs continue to climb, businesses are looking for ways to conserve those costs and help the bottom line. Energy audits are a way to identify wastes and find ways to cut rising costs.
Entergy Corp. offers audits upon customer request, according to spokesman Checky Herrington. The staff also matches customers with the energy division at Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) and the Industrial Assessment Center at Mississippi State University for additional help.
“Our account managers maintain regular contact with customers and do walk-through audits when requested,” he said. “They look for obvious ways businesses can save. It may be lighting, air conditioning, general equipment operation or scheduling.”
He says the company’s account managers are trained to identify waste and make recommendations. Sometimes more detail is required and customers are referred to MDA or Mississippi State University. Any equipment upgrade is the customer’s cost but the assessment is free of charge.
Baxter Health Care of Cleveland benefited from an Entergy audit and detailed attention from upper-level engineering students at MSU. Charles Gorman, plant engineer at the company that manufactures medical products, said the audit revealed 12 items for energy savings. “They vary from pre heating the air on boilers to rescheduling battery charging times for fork lifts to insulating our injection molding machines,” he said. “There were a lot of utility-type savings related to electric and gas consumption, too.”
A lot of energy at Baxter Health Care is machine generated. Because items they make must be free of contamination, the rooms are cooler than usual and workers wear garments over their street clothes.
Gorman said some of the suggestions, such as replacing steam generators for back pumps, have been implemented at the 900,000-square-foot facility and some are still being done. Some are more costly than others and have a longer pay-back time. Others probably won’t be implemented at all, but the plant is pleased with what they have done.
“Some are not applicable. It varies from project to project,” he said. “We had a $60,000 savings within a year from those we implemented.”
The plant engineer says he also likes tracking the usage of electricity at the facility on a daily basis and realizes a savings from that.
Donnie Thompson is staff engineer at MDA’s Energy Division. He works with existing businesses, industries, schools and hospitals interested in reducing their energy costs. “We do a walk through of the facility and talk about and identify energy conservation,” he said. “We send a follow-up letter that outlines those measures. We can work with them to a certain extent to help them implement these measures, but we are not regulatory and can’t force them to adopt our suggestions.”
This MDA division has been around for 25 years, and Thompson says the calls come and go as to frequency. “Right now we’re pretty busy with the high natural gas costs, but it’s pretty steady throughout the year,” he said. “With schools, hospitals or offices, the major energy wasters are the air-conditioning/heating system and lighting. With manufacturing or industrial facilities, it’s steam or compressed air generation. It’s more process oriented.”
Thompson dispels the energy myth about letting heating and lighting run at all times. “The major energy waster with an air-conditioning/heating system is not setting them back during unoccupied times. We hear that myth all the time,” he said. “At least turn back the equipment or turn off the lights when no one is there. Why would you want to cool and light an unoccupied building?”
MDA also hears that its suggestions help save energy costs. A plant employing 200 people was considering shutting down because of its high costs of operation. Now, after implementing saving suggestions, that plant is in an expansion. Thompson also cites an industrial site that had the combustion efficiency of its boilers tested and realized a $10,000 to $15,000 savings each year.
“We’re here to serve the businesses, schools and hospitals in the state,” he said. “Call us.”
Mississippi Power Company also provides energy audits and works closely with customers to help them conserve, according to spokesman Kurt Brautigam. “Some of our larger customers use so much energy that savings can be significant,” he said. “We have people in our marketing department who do that and work with businesses of all sizes.”
One of those people is Sherry Lesher, who works with commercial customers. “We definitely are seeing an increase in customers trying to save on costs,” she said. “We do promotional pieces, make suggestions and partner with as many companies as we can to provide our customers with as much help as possible.”
Air filter replacements, indoor lighting retrofits with more efficient light bulbs and replacing equipment are a few of the suggestions energy audits may reveal.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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