For companies of all sizes, and especially for those who utilize a great deal of energy such as large manufacturers, reducing costs is crucial to achieving the business “bottom line” and increasing profits to stakeholders.
One way to accomplish this is by switching the energy used at manufacturing sites from electricity generated at central power plants into energy produced by on-site renewable energy, potentially producing enough power to take the facility completely “off-grid”. Many of these manufacturing facilities require about 6.5 MW of power, which is enough electricity to power about 2,000 homes. By implementing the best renewable energy options possible companies can stabilize electricity price fluctuations and reduce costs over the long-term along with improving their reputation and elevating the company’s brand.
The first step a business should take when converting over to on-site renewable energy production is to investigate the initial steps of system integration. This process involves many factors such as consulting with both experts and the local community; acquiring permits required by the country, state, or local jurisdiction; assessing impacts on the company brand or reputation; whether the company would retain the rights to the project throughout its lifetime; and so on. But probably the most important factor is if the new on-site renewable energy production will provide the company with net savings as compared to the traditional energy source, and over what time period they can expect to see a return on their investment.
For example, Coca-Cola considered everything from fuel cells, solar power, wind, and cogeneration to produce on-site energy at their Atlanta syrup plant. The company decided a combined heat and power facility would be the most cost-effective and efficient option to supply electricity, heat, and air conditioning. This system was the most prudent option for Coca-Cola, thanks to the readily available methane gas that they could capture from a nearby landfill. The cogeneration plant produces approximately 6.5 megawatts of electricity, supplying the syrup plant with 100% of its energy requirements!
As another company with immense energy needs, SC Johnson also considered several options for on-site renewable energy production at their largest manufacturing facility, located in Wisconsin. The facility already used cogeneration to supply about 76% of their power needs, and wanted to increase that to 100%. After a lengthy consideration process, SC Johnson settled on two new gearless wind turbines. With the additional energy capacity of 4 million kWh per year, the facility saves approximately half a million US dollars annually in purchased energy costs!
While it may be a lengthy and challenging process to develop and implement successful on-site renewable energy production, many companies are already finding that it is economically beneficial through consistent energy cost savings. In addition, by remaining transparent through involving the local community, companies are finding that going “green” with renewable energy has the added benefit of improving their local and global reputation, while also uplifting the company’s brand. Those companies that may be unable to take on such large-scale and ambitious on-site renewable projects as Coca-Cola and SC Johnson should focus first on increasing the energy efficiency of their facilities. With the savings garnered from improved efficiency, the next step is to invest in renewables for future and long-term energy needs. Each company and individual site must take into account many factors and what options best suit their needs. The outcome of innovation through renewable on-site energy production is a safe bet for the future.
June 5, 2013
This post is partially based on the 5/29/2013 EPA Webinar “On-Site Renewables - Lessons Learned from Idea to Implementation” featuring two EPA Green Power Partner companies: Coca-Cola and SC Johnson.