Putting industrial efficiency to work

Solar industry is set to overtake coal, with the nascent sector employing more US workers than coal

Maximising industrial efficiency requires around-the-clock monitoring systems and a pool of readily available operators to execute controls, conduct assessments or inspections, and provide system feedback or analysis.

In making the observation, a recently released white paper on energy efficiency noted that the main issue is not the 24/7 demand of the plant.

“Instead, in most cases, it is the human element that makes highly accurate and demanding industrial processes inefficient and wasteful,” according to the paper, entitled “Energy Efficient Practices, Applications and Recommendations for Industrial Sectors”, released by a US-based energy company.

It gave the example of an operator tasked to oversee a set of pumps and large injection moulding devices who face a difficult time manually managing all of the machines.

“While he or she is inspecting a pump motor at one end of the facility, another pump could be consuming energy in idle mode. It may take a couple of hours before the busy operator can address the idle- running pump, resulting in wasted energy. This is where industrial sensors and automation protocols enter the picture,” the report said.

What is the solution? The report suggested that simple energy monitoring devices connected to each machine, controlled over a private network, could provide real- time feedback about overall energy consumption of the facility.

“This would allow operators to view a set of machines simultaneously. Furthermore, he or she can execute commands in groups for proactive energy reduction. Automated solutions for industrial facilities are not limited to energy monitoring. It is also possible to automate the activation/deactivation or machines or switches, motor acceleration/deceleration, data gathering and meter reading,” it said.

This was one of observations made in the white paper released by Larson Electronics LLC which looked at the application of energy-efficient programmes through the use of cutting-edge equipment and new industrial technologies.

Since 1973, Larson Electronics has manufactured industrial lighting and power distribution products. Among others, it has built lighting products for the cable, telephone and electric utility industry.

In the solar area, the report also noted that solar-powered lighting products and systems can support industrial efficiency programmes and initiatives by leveraging natural sunlight.

The solar industry is set to overtake coal, with the nascent sector employing more US workers than coal in 2016, according to the 2017 US Energy and Employment Report.

“Despite utilising underdeveloped technology (current solar panels and batteries available on the market today still have room for optimisation), many companies in the industrial sector view solar power to be revolutionary,” it said.

Among the factors that have led to the increased adoption of solar- powered systems are subsidies and tax credits, spread of solar leasing programmes, increased performance of solar-powered products, long- term savings, decreased reliance on grid power and strong support of sustainable energy programmes.

“The reality is, solar power can be scaled for power-hungry plant operations,” the report noted.

Quoting the Solar Energy Information Administration’s Solar Means Business Report, the report said that manufacturing establishments in the US, which constitute the largest segment of the industrial sector, make up roughly 86MW of solar energy production, or known as photovoltaic.

To accommodate industrial facilities, solar installations are implemented on roofs, nearby fields or large bodies of water (floating solar panels). Furthermore, individual systems, such as light towers, emergency lamps and outdoor fixtures may incorporate their own set of panels and battery storage systems, the report added.

“An example of the successful implementation of solar panels to support large-scale manufacturing comes from Tesla Inc’s Gigafactory 1 facility in Nevada (929,000 sq m). The automotive manufacturing plant assembles electric cars and lithium-ion power cells (through a partnership with Panasonic Corp) at the location.

“The Gigafactory is powered by a 70MW solar array assembly on the roof of the building, which when completed will be the world’s largest solar installation on a rooftop. It is important to point out that the facility does not have a natural-gas pipeline connected to it, forcing the company to rely on renewable energy sources. The solar panels are equipped with a GPS (Global Positioning System)-guidance system to ensure proper alignment with the sun (true north). Tesla plans to instal wind turbines around the area to supplement its renewable energy goals,” the report said.

The report also highlighted the importance of non-energy benefits related to industrial efficiency practices. These include reduced labour requirements, noise reduction, comfortable work environment, increased process control, increased safety, increased convenience, decreased waste and reduced space requirements.

“From a cost perspective, it is important to measure non-energy benefits of industrial efficiency practices in order to realise its true potential,” the report noted. — TMR