The need to control environmental emissions is an increasingly urgent priority. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that by 2030 demand for energy will increase by 50 per cent compared to today. Such a rise will inevitably force up CO2 emissions significantly, heightening the climate change problem still further and making the efficient use of energy even more critical to resource conservation.
Carbon capture solutions
CCS certainly has considerable potential as a means of addressing these issues. Underlining this, leading companies across the energy sectors are currently engaged in piloting programmes using carbon capture technology solutions.
However, such programmes are still in their earliest stages. Inevitably, it will take some time for them to prove their commercial viability. This, together with the fact that the long-term effects of storing large amounts of CO2 underground are unknown, means that widespread adoption is unlikely for the time being.
While businesses explore the potential of CCS, there is much that heavy industry sectors such as oil and chemicals can do to sustainably and cost-effectively reduce carbon emissions through the more traditional practice of efficient energy management in their plants and assets.
The scale of the challenge
The overall global requirement to reduce energy emissions currently remains daunting. According to Breaking the Climate Deadlock, Technology for a Low Carbon Future, a recent report produced by The Climate Group and The Office of Tony Blair, "to put ourselves on a path to meet our emissions goals, we need to reduce global emissions by 19 Gigatonnes (Gt) in 2020 and energy-related emissions by 48Gt by 2050. In meeting these tough targets, the potential offered by enhanced energy efficiency across industry alone is significant. The paper indicates that approximately 19 per cent of total savings in energy-related emissions to 2050 could come from industry.
With the scale of the problem and industry's contribution defined, it makes sound economic sense for businesses to look at optimising energy consumption.
Heavy industry organisations, in particular, can slash operational expenses, generate bottom-line improvements and drive up performance levels. After all, for such companies, energy costs are the second largest drain on budgetary resources after raw materials.
This is particularly critical in the current downturn. As profitability levels fall away, money for capital projects is in increasingly short supply. Before even considering new investment, therefore, businesses will wish to push assets to energy efficiency limits so as to reduce operating costs. And in order to do this, they will be looking to focus on ensuring optimal energy performance.
Of course, the way in which organisations define and interpret energy management varies. Often, the main challenge is to identify the combination of improvements that best meets the demands of the existing production processes and utility systems and maximises potential in line with company objectives.
An integrated and holistic approach to energy performance management can generate significant savings in energy costs and hence greenhouse gas emissions, not only within manufacturing units but also in the utilities systems that support them.
A key component of the solution is provided by model-based energy management systems such as those offered by AspenTech, which can be used to take advantage of potential savings which have previously been largely unexploited, in addition to providing optimised and consistent information about a site's key processes and facilities.
This knowledge can be critical in long-term, strategic decisions, in concluding energy supply contracts, preparing budgets and drawing up investment plans, as well as in optimising the energy costs of ongoing operations - based on current demand, costs and plant availability.
Continuous process improvement
The benefits to businesses of this holistic approach to energy management are potentially huge. Adopting best practice here can have a major bottom-line benefit since savings of between 5-10 per cent can be obtained using operations planning and optimisation without needing to make any significant capital investment even in the most sophisticated plants.
By implementing an energy management programme with elements focusing on both supply and demand, organisations can achieve significant returns - often more than 15 per cent of their annual energy costs with attractive return on capital employed.
So, best practice is to develop a sustainable approach, involving the ongoing monitoring of operations and focused on making improvements to the implementation.
For businesses across the sector, the ability to see how they are doing against a plan, contract or budget is all part of being able to improve the energy side of the business. And as energy becomes a constant metric for operational performance, users will begin to see sustainable and continuous process improvements.
Eric Petela, Director Business Consulting, AspenTech, Reading UK.www.aspentech.com