To improve their competitiveness, over the last few years companies have operated in the most different fronts. The will of reducing costs and wastes has also resulted in adjustment activities of too energy-eating industrial processes. Integrated actions, aimed at a productive improvement whose good result needs professionalisms able to match different technical skills.The difficult business trend that has affected the industrial sector over the last few years has imposed rigorous policies to companies, all focused on the reduction of costs and wastes. A scenario that includes also the delicate aspect concerning the energy that any productive reality must compulsorily use for its processes. All that without forgetting that we are speaking of electrical energy: each Italian entrepreneur must cope with the fact that the Italian boot is one of the places where it can be obtained at the highest price. Owing to the high level of the electricity prices in Italy, our enterprises must recover a competitive disadvantage in the order of 20-25% (with peaks even approaching 30%) in comparison with the other big European producer Countries. Without neglecting that, to comply with both national and international regulations and targets for the environment protection, also requests of technological and process upgrading, just aimed at the energy saving, are imposed to the same enterprises. In this context the managing of energy sources in activities of industrial type is regulated by the law 10/1991 that, at the article 19, provides for the presence of the energy manager, wherever there are relevant consumptions. As well known, the Italian industrial fabric is however characterized by small and medium enterprises that could anyway greatly benefit from the consumption rationalization, thus becoming, in short, more efficient and competitive. Through cost-effective interventions they could in fact achieve (even relying on small budgets) important savings in time. Interventions that can be managed just by the energy manager, granting an enhancement of the possibilities of technological investment and of possible savings in energy-eating processes. To analyse the possibilities of improving this situation, we met Dario Di Santo, director of Fire (Italian Federation for the rational use of energy), to whom we have asked some questions.
Three areas to enhance energy efficiency
What are the opportunities and the benefits that an energy manager can bring to a company today, taking into account the scenario that, as already stated, confirms for Italy an energy cost not certainly ranking (in Europe) among the best, and with a general situation that imposes radical and drastic interventions suitable for optimizing productive processes?
«The measures for the energy efficiency improvement», stated Di Santo «can be subdivided into three areas: elimination of wastes and optimized management of plants, replacement of some technologies diffused in all industrial processes, like for instance electrical motors, pumps and compressors, lighting and so on, with other more efficient actions targeted to the industrial process. The first typology is almost always present and allows achieving some percentage points of improvement at essentially zero cost, especially in companies that haven’t taken care of the energy matter over the last few years. The second is equally always available, but its concrete application must be assessed case by case and also in this case only some percentage points are at stake. The third can lead to the most relevant saving and match the requirements of competitiveness pursuit of industrial organizations ».
In all situations, the role of a clever and skilled energy manager is absolutely determining to obtain good results. Since energy is a horizontal matter in an organization and considering that it concerns various internal functions, to achieve the best results it is advisable that the company is provided with a business management system in compliance with the ISO 50001 regulation, where the energy manager himself performs responsibility functions.
«International experiences», added Di Santo, «show in fact that an energy management system allows obtaining growing consumption reductions over the years. And if in Italy the high energy cost actually represents a handicap for companies, likewise it contributes in making the energy efficiency even more convenient. Therefore, even more so, it is important to pay attention to the theme and to rely on an experienced and competent energy manager».
From the legislative obligation to the growth strategy
Know-how and competences of skilled professional figures who however do not always arouse immediate feedback and interest where a direct legislative obligation does not exist. Do Italian companies still deem, then, strategic for their growth the implementation of actions oriented to the energy efficiency enhancement? What the return times?
«Our companies», further explained Di Santo, «still deem this type of approach strategic for their growth. The answer is then positive, obviously provided that the company in question still believes in a future in this Country. Those that are driven by a medium term vision, but also by a short term strategy for some interventions, can nothing but consider the energy efficiency as a valid ally. The matter changes for those that are living very serious troubles calling for a drastic change of direction, for instance new productive processes for new products. In this case the energy efficiency should not be neglected at the time of deciding new machinery buying».
Just because in our Country energy costs a lot, it is essential that purchasing departments, in coordination with the energy manager, draw up purchase specifications assuring the use of low consumption components. Once chosen, in fact, it is difficult and more expensive to face retrofit interventions and higher use costs should be borne, against a lower initial spending that is hardly justified by a vision compliant with Lcca Life cycle cost analysis, (or Tco, Total Cost of Ownership), economic instrument that allows assessing all costs related to a determinate component or system, since its birth until its disposal.
«Return times for the replacement interventions of horizontal technologies», underlined Di Santo, «are often inferior to 2-3 years, therefore they are generally acceptable, even if it is worth underlining that there are cases not exceeding 12 months. The interventions on the process can have equivalent characteristics or take more time, depending on what is changed and on the exploitation of the process itself».
Sometimes, rather than the return time, we should consider the NAV, net annual value, as well as the IRR, internal rate of return, economic indicators able to provide a more correct indication of the profitability of the investment in question.
Skills in synergy
The added value that the figure of the energy manager can offer in terms of higher efficiency and competitiveness is clear. If for big size companies that professional figure is (almost) mandatorily present for obvious reasons, in smaller size enterprises that might not be true. But more in general what are the advantages for the company and what the use possibilities in case the energy manager holds the role of employee or of external consultant?
«In general», pondered Di Santo, «it is advisable to have an internal energy manager, who might not be a technologist, but it is important that he has a sufficiently high business position to permit him to have frequent contacts with top management and executives. Obviously, if he is not expert in energy management he will avail himself of experts inside or outside the company. The choice of an external energy manager, provided for by the law 10/91, makes sense only for small organizations. Especially in industry, in fact, an internal resource knowing the business dynamics can make the difference and couple smart energy use with industrial processes».
Concerning the profile of this professional figure, it is in any case important that he supports technical competences with fundamentals of economy (this to highlight the economic impacts of the efficiency improvement interventions), ecology (for the obvious synergies between energy and Co2 emissions) and communication (the matter is complex and it is important to transfer it correctly to decision-makers).
[box title=”THE REGULATION BETWEEN CRITICALITIES AND OPPORTUNITIES” color=”#48bedf”]
The Italian regulatory framework does not certainly stand out for simplicity and immediacy. Also for this reason we have still asked to Dario Di Santo, director of Fire (Italian Federation for the rational use of energy), to express some considerations on the matter. That’s to say whether what today in force and/or binding on the matter is deemed properly structured to facilitate the rational use of energy or it shows improvement margins. What then the criticalities and what the points in favour?
«To boost the energy efficiency in industrial uses», specified Di Santo, «white certificates are available, a very interesting instrument for industry in this phase. Benefits with regard to the investment cost are variable, but it is not difficult to find cases in which you exceed 30%. The mechanism has been successfully used by steel mills, cement plants, paper mills, glass factories, companies in the ceramic sector and so on. There are however lots of cases in which that opportunity has not been considered, as people were not informed about that. A skilled energy manager can help to exploit these opportunities, considering that for some months it will be still possible to obtain the incentive for interventions accomplished over the last few years as well as for new implementations».
We remind that white certificates, more properly defined energy efficiency certificates, are documents that certify the energy savings achieved by implementing specific efficiency-oriented interventions. Implying therefore the allocation of an economic contribution, they represent an important incentive to reduce the energy consumption in relation to the distributed good.
«A significant aspect that it is worth underlining», ended Di Santo, «is that to accede to this and/or other incentives, as well as to achieve the best results in terms of energy management, it is essential to make use of detailed measures of energy consumptions for the main consumption centres. This often represents a problem, considering that lots of companies have not invested in monitoring systems over the years. We should not be amazed, then, if wastes are consistent and if we have never noticed the intervention opportunities. Nowadays the development of ICT technologies makes in fact available some monitoring and automation systems permitting to manage at best the industrial production in its whole, and energy among punctual aspects. A suitable Kpi, Key performance indicator, system is essential both for competitiveness and for energy efficiency».
[box title=”FIRE, THE ASSOCIATION IN BRIEF” color=”#48bedf”]
Fire, acronym of Italian Federation for the Rational use of Energy, is an independent no-profit technical-scientific association, established in 1987, whose mission consists in promoting the efficient use of energy, supporting sector players through delivered institutional activities and services and backing a positive evolution of the legislative and regulatory framework. Since 1992, Fire has been managing, on free-of-charge behalf of the Ministry of Economic Development, the network of about 2,600 energy managers identified pursuant to Law 10/91, acknowledging their appointments and promoting their role through various initiatives. The association membership that consists of about five hundred subjects including companies, bodies and physical persons is one of the strong points of the Federation, since it involves representatives of the whole energy chain, from the producers of vectors and technologies to service and engineering companies, from energy managers to medium-big size energy end-users.
[box title=”THE TASKS OF THE ENERGY MANAGER” color=”#48bedf”]
The main tasks that an energy manager might be expected to perform, depending on the size of the company where he operates, concern:
- consumption assessment, through constant monitoring and control;
- optimization of these consumptions through a correct regulation of plants and their appropriate use from the energy point of view;
- buying of electrical energy, natural gas and other fuels in the free market;
- promotion of virtuous behaviours by employees and/or holders of energetically conscious structures;
- proposals of ameliorative investments in favour of more efficient processes;
- promotion of the energy generation from renewable energy sources