Power from the People: Behavior-based Energy Efficiency at Work

It’s no secret that people catalyze energy use. What if we could get them to give a little of it back? Power from the People. Though the idea may strike some as revolutionary, I’m not talking about marching on Washington. Instead, I’m talking about how changing people’s behavior around energy can add up to measurable savings.

Consider the Following Scenario:

A lead refrigeration operator—let’s call him, John—starts his work day checking in on the refrigeration system. He notices that two compressors are running, but the second one, a 200 hp compressor, is lightly loaded. John recognizes that he can raise the suction pressure on the system slightly while still maintaining temperatures and only affect his evaporator fan energy use a bit. He makes the change and immediately the second compressor shuts down. The change John just made nets a savings of 80 kW, or about $5 per hour.

Later that morning, John walks through the warehouse. He sees the light fixtures in the aisles switch on as a forklift passes below in a cross traffic aisle. John reminds himself to check and adjust the field of view on the occupancy sensor to eliminate inadvertent triggering of the lights. The impact of this change is smaller, but the savings still add up.

Around 4:00 p.m., John checks the frost level on an evaporator, as it is ready to go into defrost. The frost load is light, so he extends the defrost interval on his control system before he goes home. Another seemingly small change that, over time, means less heat is added to the room, so even more energy is saved.

Small Actions, Real Savings

It’s often small actions, similar to what John took in the above scenario, that add up to real energy and cost savings over time. Some low cost/no cost actions are one-time changes that can last for years without further adjustment. Others require small daily tweaks while another set may depend on an aggressive push to address.

At Cascade, we’ve always had a strong focus on achieving energy efficiency through capital projects. It took some time for us to become aware of how much substantial savings the smaller low cost/no cost actions could generate without capital investment. These “small” actions also help ensure that the large capital-intensive energy efficiency projects achieve their full savings potential. Nowadays, industrial tune-ups, operator coaching, and strategic energy management services are an integral part of our offering.

The central focus of these newer services involves a combination of pointing our clients in the right direction, motivating, enabling, and teaching our client’s staff to be aware of and take actions leading to energy savings on a regular basis—so they, in essence, get power from their people.

As you contemplate your energy efficiency programs for industry you may find yourself asking, metaphorically speaking, “Should I help my customers switch from a gas guzzler to a Prius?” That’s definitely a key question, but an equally important question is “Whether my customers have a gas guzzler, or a Prius, what steps can I take to help them minimize their energy usage?” Answering the latter question could lead to better planning of programs that, whether done in conjunction with a larger capital project or not, will lead to ongoing savings.

Even though industrial systems and processes can be quite complex, they can also be broken down into understandable, manageable, and fundamentally sound actions that lead to energy efficiency—driven by and through the behavior of people.