Energy Intelligence for Industry
Industry accounts for about 22 percent of US primary energy use. Minnesota's industrial sector ranks 14th in state consumption, using about 577 trillion BTU each year. Utilities have successfully reduced energy use in large industrial facilities, but the smaller customers have been difficult to reach. Kevin Bengtson joined CEE from Xcel Energy (and previously Moorhead Public Service) to manage our new Energy Intelligence pilot program. In this interview, he explains how providing consistent feedback and visualizing energy data could help engage the small industrial market in efficiency programs.
Anna: How did your experience with electric utilities inform your perspective on Conservation Improvement Programs?
Minnesota’s been a leader in energy efficiency throughout the 90s and early 2000s, and utilities are being challenged to meet our 1.5 percent savings goals. We’ve done such a great job that it’s becoming more difficult to save energy. We’ll need to bring new ideas and mechanisms to the customer to find the next generation of how we deliver energy efficiency.
Anna: How do you envision those future programs?
I think that next generation will focus less on equipment, and more on benchmarking and education to shape behaviors. Like smoking, which was completely acceptable in the 60s. As time went on, it went from being cool to unhealthy to a bad habit to something socially unacceptable. The public health field completely turned the whole social norm around. Could that be the next thing to happen in energy behavior? The social norm could become “you’re not doing your part to save energy,” and CEE’s Energy Intelligence program could be a starting point to help them turn things around.
Anna: By establishing that benchmarking for small industrial customers?
Yes, by helping measure their electric usage so they can see where they’re at and manage it.
Anna: Which pieces of information do you think will drive energy decisions? Could you tell me more about the interface you’re developing for participants?
We’re going to focus on 15-minute interval data to give each customer as close to real-time electric feedback as possible. The interval data on their electric demand provides insight into their bill. Rather than being surprised by a high bill at the end of the month, they can check their consumption on a daily or weekly basis. If they see spikes, they can ask the production crew what was going on. A bottleneck in the production line? Extra pieces of equipment?
Anna: Will you track additional metrics like employee shifts or weather that might inform energy consumption?
The dashboard trends temperature and humidity. While it doesn’t normalize the data, it does help customers understand how the weather might affect their building systems and energy use. An industrial customer’s consumption should primarily be driven by their production - how many widgets they’re making on any given day. And what kind of widgets they’re making, because they may make more than one style. They may make a complex one that requires more energy per widget than their simplest model. Yes, we are going to attempt to track additional metrics.
Anna: Looking at examples, I’m not seeing a consistent load shape between sites. How well do we understand patterns of industrial energy use?
There’s no one-size-fits all for an industrial customer. They’re going to have different energy intensities, depending on how large the customer is or what product they manufacture within that industry. I think we’ll see some similarities within types of industries - the plastics or the metal fabrication industries for example. But energy consumption will be driven by shift and output.
Anna: I’m curious what other pilot programs are targeting the small industrial market.
There aren’t many. Utilities have had success with the largest managed industrial and commercial accounts, and with the residential market, and with mid-market commercial businesses. But the real gap has been small-to-mid-sized industrial customer. This segment has been difficult to engage, but in order to keep meeting their efficiency goals, utilities are going to have to find a way to serve that market. The Energy Trust of Oregon completed a very small pilot program to engage this segment. They were pretty successful in doing that, but I’m not sure if they ran any cost-effectiveness tests or if it’s become a full-fledged program.
Anna: Besides monitoring data and electric bills, does the pilot include an audit component?
Yes. Our engineers will be feet on the ground, engaged, working with each customer at the site. We’ll use data as a diagnostic tool combined with equipment assessments and audits to find ways to reduce energy use by 10 to 15 percent.
CEE has the expertise to assess their equipment and understand how the key pieces operate individually. We’ll try to match it up with demand spikes by keeping in touch with each customer to find out how they’re operating on a day-to-day basis. I think that’s a key value-added component to this program.
Anna: What are the major challenges of engaging this segment?
They don’t have a lot of time; they don’t want anything to be invasive or disruptive to their production. We’ll have to be careful how we offer this program to make sure that it’s customer-friendly.
Anna: Are you targeting specific types of industrial customers?
We’d like to work with a wide variety. The traditional definition of “industrial” is to take a raw product and use machinery to create a finished product. For example, plastics, chemical manufacturing, metals, food processing, pulp and paper, printing, textiles.
Anna: Are there any non-energy benefits for factory owners?
The major motivator will be saving money on their energy bills. When you approach these customers, they want to know right away “what does this mean for my bottom line? What reduction will I see in operating costs?” Any secondary benefits will depend on what’s done in the facility. Energy improvements could also reduce maintenance costs. We see that in lighting technologies a lot: improved productivity from higher lighting quality. Other benefits could include reducing maintenance, eliminating waste, and improving safety.
Image credit: Seattle Municipal Archives and caribb via Creative Commons.