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For the chemical company Dow, energy means both power and raw materials - like natural gas liquids and naphtha, which feed its chemical processes. In 2007 the company went through nearly 850 000 barrels of oil equivalents each day, and had a fuel bill of US$ 27 billion, accounting for nearly half of the company's operating costs.

The business case for energy efficiency at Dow is therefore simple: Saving energy makes the company money.

Between 1990 and 1994 Dow reduced the energy it used to make each pound of its product by 20%. It went on to set itself a series of 'stretch' targets: committing to reduce energy intensity by a further 20% per pound of product between 1995 and 2005, and by another 25% between 2005 and 2015.

To achieve these very public and ambitious goals, the company developed a comprehensive energy management system reaching from the boardroom into every site, plant and business unit. Key elements of this management system were leadership, targets, measurement and improvement:

• Leadership-Dow created a Strategy Board of very senior leaders, to drive energy efficiency within an overall approach to climate change and energy policy.

• Targets-Dow's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Management System makes energy efficiency and conservation a normal part of everyday work processes by ensuring that energy efficiency objectives are pursued as business targets at the corporate, business unit, site and individual level.

• Measurement-Every one of Dow's 120 sites and 685 plants and facilities reports on its energy intensity. Businesses use this to benchmark their plants, estimate potential energy savings and develop long-range improvement plans.

• Improvement-Dow uses the Six Sigma process, (problem measurement, rigorous analysis, focused improvement and controls to ensure that problems stay fixed to realize and sustain energy efficiency improvements) as its corporate-wide methodology to accelerate improvement in quality and productivity.

By improving the efficiency of power generation and chemical processes, installing and operating the most energy efficient equipment and recovering energy from waste, Dow managed to exceed its 2005 goal, cutting energy intensity by 22%.

The keys to this success were applying the focused, consistent and structured management system, pursuing energy efficiency opportunities with the same aggressive implementation as other business goals, and working with partners such as the USA Government's 'Save Energy Now' program to take advantage of external expertise.

However the ambitious 2015 energy intensity target of 25% reduction, on top of the 38% already enacted, may require more than 'more of the same'- In some processes, the company is already pushing up against thermodynamic limits. It recognizes that it will need to create game-changing innovations if it is to achieve its goals.

Dow has committed to investing a significant portion of its research and development into developing energy alternatives, less CO2 intensive raw material sources, and other breakthrough solutions to contribute to the necessary slow, stop and reverse of non-renewable energy use and climate change.

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