Energy improvement offers enormous potential for variable cost reduction and improved environmental performance. These types of improvements can be fast-tracked and amplified via cloud-based collaboration, but there is a risk that outsourced services can lead to a hollowing out of site expertise. Other potential issues include failure to account for the impacts of energy improvement projects on process throughput, yield or reliability. A new generation of collaborative services with first principles engineering models and analytics addresses these issues by simultaneously taking into account both process optimization and energy use reduction to improve plant and human performance.
Most process plants don’t operate at peak efficiency, resulting in substantial added costs and increased emissions. One of the main areas for improvement is often energy use. For a typical refinery or petrochemical plant, energy costs are $200-300 million per year, so expected savings often amount to tens of millions of dollars. Unlike investing in additional capacity or changing product mix, both of which entail risk due to reliance on predictions of market conditions, energy savings always increase profits. In addition, energy systems often constrain processes and throughput, a hidden cost which can be considerable.
For example, process compressors can be limited by a turbine drive’s capacity and efficiency. Steam and condenser operating conditions, or degradation of the turbine, can mean the drive reaches its limit before the compressor does. In another example, unit throughput can be limited by the amount of heat a process furnace is able to deliver. Energy-related bottlenecks often constrain throughput of high-margin processes by 2-3%.
Process plants often struggle to address these and other issues due to a lack of skills or awareness, or simply inadequate bandwidth due to fire-fighting day-to-day problems. This can prevent improvements from being identified, realized or sustained. Operating companies have typically turned to internal or external consultants to perform studies, which deliver some value but often have a patchy record of long-term sustainment and improvement. But a new generation of cloud-based outsourcing services are gaining prominence.