Energy Audits: Starting Point for Sustainable Production

Energy audits permit tracking all water, air, gas, electric, and steam usage in a plant to help companies reduce consumption and improve the bottom line.
By Doug Burns and Marcia Walker, Rockwell Automation September 1, 2009
Using energy audit data to make operations decisions

The idea of creating a sustainability-driven business model is no longer simply seen as a means of being socially responsible—it has become essential for staying competitive in today’s turbulent marketplace. Although a number of forward-thinking companies tend to have a variety of "green" ideas up their sleeves, many are overwhelmed with questions when it comes to figuring out where to start.

An excellent starting place is an energy audit. Energy audits can be of value to several different types of companies:

  • Those who need guidance on how to structure and manage an energy savings program;

  • Companies that have robust energy programs in place and are looking for a fresh set of ideas on where to target their efforts;

  • Operations that need specialized skills, such as the ability to focus on industrial environments where engineering know-how is required; and

  • Manufacturers who wish to take advantage of government incentive programs related to energy reductions.

A "classic" energy audit monitors a facility’s utility spend by tracking all water, air, gas, electric and steam (WAGES) usage. The information gathered from the audit then helps companies identify a wide range of changes they can make to help reduce their consumption and improve their bottom line.

Engineers conducting an energy audit at the Brewery of Jagodina, Serbia. Source: Republic of Serbia Energy Efficiency Agency

Engineers conducting an energy audit at the Brewery of Jagodina, Serbia. Source: Republic of Serbia Energy Efficiency Agency
Engineers conducting an energy audit at the Brewery of Jagodina, Serbia. Source: Republic of Serbia Energy Efficiency Agency

Engineers conducting an energy audit at the Brewery of Jagodina, Serbia. Source: Republic of Serbia Energy Efficiency Agency

Bottom line benefits

If your company is using any WAGES resources, an energy audit can help you defend your business against economic and regulatory risk. In May 2008, San Francisco voted to tax local businesses 4.4 cents per ton of emitted carbon dioxide, setting the precedent for carbon fees in the U.S.

While the oil and gas, petrochemical, metals, paper, and food and beverage industries are the biggest energy consumers, manufacturing of any kind requires significant natural resources. With energy costs bouncing like a rubber ball—skyrocketing to a record $140 per barrel for crude oil one day and down to $63 a month later—they create genuine risk and uncertainty that affects a company’s bottom line. By regulating usage across the company, manufacturers can brace themselves for whatever highs and lows are to come while simultaneously improving the company’s brand equity.

Moreover, consumers increasingly want to buy products from socially responsible companies. With major retailers issuing carbon footprint "scorecards" to track a product’s environmental impact throughout the supply chain, it’s clear that sustainable production has become a new business imperative that manufacturers must start paying attention to if they aren’t doing so already.

How to develop an energy audit

The most effective energy audit should begin with an understanding that it is not a one-time project. In order to keep utility usage at a minimum and continue to realize maximum cost savings, audits should be conducted on a regular basis to identify how seasonality might affect resources, where surges and inefficiencies arise, and what changes to the manufacturing process are impacting WAGES consumption. Regular audits are also an excellent method for keeping employees motivated to continue effective savings programs.

Next, the company should set the scope of what should be tracked, what the metrics will look like, and what the key performance indicators will be. Some facilities might not want to look at all of the WAGES; some might want to focus just on electricity consumption. Others might want to focus only on their office facilities, not the manufacturing process. Still others might want to do a comprehensive audit, taking into consideration not only WAGES use, but other key components of sustainable production such as the company’s waste stream, product safety, and workplace safety.

Based on what the manufacturer decides to track, a team should be identified that represents each area impacted by the audit. The team should include at least one person who is intimately familiar with plant operations, the facility manager responsible for maintenance and utilities, and an internal sustainability champion or health, safety and environmental representative.

With a team in place, a certified energy manager (CEM), who has successfully completed the CEM certification exams administered by the Association of Energy Engineers, can begin to complete an in-depth analysis of the facility’s current energy usage. Using data collected on-site from the in-house team and a comprehensive review of all utility bills for the past two years, the CEM can generate an analysis output document that provides a broad, high-level overview of the company’s current energy usage.

After the current usage has been identified, the CEM and the in-house team should spend several days touring the facility to identify where there are energy-saving opportunities. This walking tour generally produces three types of energy-saving solutions:

  • Behavioral changes: Behavioral changes are simple, low- or no-cost solutions that can significantly impact the bottom line, like the decision the Rockwell Automation Milwaukee facility made to save $15,000 per year by powering up the high current lab at 7 a.m. instead of 10 a.m. Similarly, one Rockwell Automation customer noticed that, at the end of the second shift, the batteries used to power forklifts were almost simultaneously put on their chargers, causing a surge in power usage at a peak time. By simply staggering the times when the batteries were put on their chargers, the company could avoid utility penalties for peak usage.

  • Programming changes: Programming changes are relatively low-cost changes to the facility’s energy-consuming assets that can provide a quick payback. On the plant floor, these changes can take the form of improving controls or upgrading older equipment for more effective use of WAGES resources. For example, by installing a variable frequency drive on a constant volume air handler to help optimize energy usage, or insulating manufacturing equipment that uses natural gas for heat to reduce the amount of gas needed, companies can often see a rapid return on their investment in reduced WAGES consumption.

  • Capital investments: Capital investments can range from boilers with advanced process control that helps optimize fuel usage, to installing solar panels or other alternative energy systems to power manufacturing machinery, to building an entirely new, more be extremely rewarding.

Once utility-saving solutions have been identified, the final step in the energy-audit process is to prioritize, implement, and continue to execute the suggested changes. While many companies will maintain the solutions put in place for a few months or even a year, the most successful will continually examine and monitor their WAGES consumption on an ongoing basis to optimize their usage and related cost savings.

What happens next?

Instead of putting energy-monitoring solutions out of sight and out of mind, forward-looking companies can use an energy audit as a launching point for a comprehensive energy-savings initiative. By installing a dashboard that drills into the WAGES consumption of each aspect of the facility on an ongoing basis, companies can obtain a top-to-bottom view of their utilities expenditure and make ongoing tweaks to their processes to optimize usage (see sidebar on Rockwell Software’s RSEnergyMetrix for a description of such dashboard technology). In many cases, companies can use this information to identify relatively simple changes that can help impact their bottom line in a real and meaningful way.

Author Information
Doug Burns is practice lead and Marcia Walker is program manager, Sustainable Production, Rockwell Automation. For more information on energy audits, visit

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Using energy audit data to make operations decisions

As mentioned in the article, having a software dashboard application that allows users to drill into the WAGES consumption of each aspect of a facility’s operation allows a company to obtain a top-to-bottom view of their utilities expenditure. RSEnergyMetrix from Rockwell Automation is a Web-enabled, energy-management software package that displays the critical energy information gathered from an audit.

The RSEnergyMetrix Software Suite combines data communication, client-server applications, and Microsoft’s .NET Web technology in a way that allows companies to capture, analyze, store and share energy data across their entire enterprise via a LAN or WAN using a Web browser.

Using this dashboard technology, managers and engineers can solve ongoing, energy-related challenges by:

  • Correlating energy costs to production costs;

  • Viewing accurate cost accounting based on consumption;

  • Generating energy reports and charts for a process, department, facility or enterprise;

  • Optimizing energy procurement to help negotiate better rates;

  • Making decisions on electrical capacity;

  • Avoiding unscheduled shutdowns; and

  • Procuring and analyzing energy information with minimum capital investment.

For more information on RSEnergyMetrix technology, visit: