Upgrading and New Projects for Better Energy Performance

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Completing potential savings in a refinery, the other 70% are upgrades that imply investment. Most of the investment in energy efficiency is based on well-established and common use technologies whose payback is guaranteed. But applying new technologies can bring competitive advantages, especially if it can significantly reduce energy costs, and as energy prices rise, these opportunities for payback can become more attractive.

Large savings may be accomplished with high return rates and fast payback. And good management of selection and implementation of energy efficiency projects can make the difference by achieving real enduring and competitive enhancements. This is accomplished by a combination of choosing the right opportunities with adequate corporate attention and some use of new technologies.

Opportunities that are prioritized for investment must follow the magnitude of potential savings, which come from energy balance analysis. So among main investments there will be waste heat recovery, fired heaters and boilers, heat exchangers, steam systems, energy integration etc. Balancing the size and impact of these projects for their selection, between the process units and systems where maintenance and operational best practices are being accomplished, shows commitment and recognition from management over personnel efforts.

Corporate attention can be easily determined by establishing a special capital funding or allowing a differentiated expected return rate for energy efficiency projects. Even so, results should be tracked based on the same built--n assumptions used for corporate strategy, like energy prices and like any regular project. Additional benefits from efficiency projects should also be taken into account, like low risk, pollution and emissions reduction or support to comply with environmental regulations. This can also bring positive impacts on corporation reputation, employee morale and productivity and all these issues should be somehow considered. Even with this set of tools aiming to push energy efficiency investments many of them cannot provide acceptable paybacks by themselves alone. It is important to regularly review the calculations and always keep track of joint opportunities, for example, when a review and enlargement of systems takes place due to process needs. Combining increased productivity with reduced emissions, and reduced energy costs can provide an opportunity to incorporate that efficiency enhancement into the project.

One warning here is about high budgets on the special funding for energy efficiency. Once you have exclusive money for it, there is a chance that anything might be forced to fit into the program. This can jeopardize the overall return rate and make serious proposals banal. A neat budget blended with some competition with business-as-usual projects, some allowance for a smaller rate of return, and some noneconomic measurements seems to be a better option.

Technology is crucial to improve energy efficiency, but it can bring risks to the expected return rate of the program. Supporting investment in newer and more efficient technologies to replace inefficient ones is an option for continuous improvement. Some provision for research and development is to be made for demonstration projects and it should be encompassed within the portfolio of solid and well- known investment solutions. This practice seems to be more effective, since it gives room to experiment with new equipment and methodologies, but has reduced impact in the case of faulty results. An example can be oxygen enrichment, that means to supplement combustion air with oxygen, making less nitrogen flow in the furnace with oxygen. This can reduce the effects of energy losses from the presence of nitrogen and may increase heater capacity, by allowing more fuel to be burned and more heat released with the same equipment.

Reaching a balanced program between best housekeeping practices and investments is an achievement that really turns energy efficiency into a continuous process inside the refinery. Awareness, best practices and investment improvements are the building blocks for an energy efficient organization and can be considered one big step towards sustainable development. Management must have the ability and willingness to perform all these tasks as daily work. Establishing an organization with this capacity is an indispensable cornerstone for energy efficiency.

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