The Sustainability Buzz

Mapping Your Electrons: The Path to Smart Energy Conservation

The Path to Smart Energy ConservationHere’s a question for you—try to answer truthfully. Do you know how energy flows through your facility? We’re not just talking high-level here. Can you quantify just how much energy is being used by the myriad of energy-consuming devices in your facility? And if you run a manufacturing plant, can you quantify how much energy goes into producing a single product?

If you’re like most companies, the answer is probably no. The fact of the matter is that quantifying energy usage at that level is hard because energy is embodied in many different forms—electricity, compressed air, steam, hot water, refrigerant, just to name a few. All of these forms must be taken into account to fully understand how energy flows through your facility, and if you manufacture a product, how it gets embodied in that product.

That’s where energy process mapping comes in. Simply put, an energy process map is a holistic view of your major energy-consuming systems down to the individual components. Mapping your energy processes is an essential tool to make better decisions about where to get the biggest bang for your energy-conservation buck. So let’s talk about how it works.

At iSpring, we take a systems approach to energy process mapping. We start with a major system—the steam system, for instance—and map the generation, distribution and utilization components. This gives us, and our clients, a baseline understanding of how steam is moving through their facility. The underlying premise is this: if you don’t understand where it goes, how can you quantify it?

After mapping the flow, the next step in creating a complete map is determining how much energy is used by the components that have been mapped in the first step. This part is often the trickiest, especially in cases where there is a centralized boiler or compressor room that feeds multiple components at multiple points of utilization. However, this is the step that allows you to quantify just how much energy goes into a single product. Once you know how much energy each component of a production line uses, you can add up all the components’ usages to determine a single value for the product.

The systems approach is integral to the usefulness of the map because it is the only way that you can get a clear picture of the impact the system components have on one another, as well as which parts of the system truly are the major energy consuming components. Often the components we expect to be using the most energy aren’t really the worst offenders—a systemic energy process map will show you that. Additionally, if you are planning to modify that system,—by getting rid of a piece of equipment to save energy, let’s say—a comprehensive map allows you to understand how that change will affect the entire system. Will you be causing an unanticipated constraint by adding too much burden to another part of the system?

There’s another benefit to energy process mapping. It helps you understand how the major systems interact with one another. It’s like a transit map—where do the electrons hop off the steam train and take a refrigerant bus back to a compressor? Understanding how this works is crucial to helping you maximize your energy conservation efforts to save you money. Ultimately, energy process mapping puts you in a position to have better control over your systems in an uncertain energy future. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned that every smart business person wants, it’s better control.

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