For many members of the food processing industry, success comes from finding and protecting tiny margins. Any unpredictable costs can create havoc.
One of the wild cards is energy – consumed throughout the company’s processes, and ranging from steam for cooking product to refrigeration for cooling finished goods. It includes everything from lighting in the front office, to the release of heated or cooled air every time a loading dock door opens.
Three recent developments have made it easier for food processors to get a more accurate look inside the “black box” of energy consumption, the first step on the road to taking pressure off their margins.
Better data through food safety programs
One of these developments is the increased scrutiny placed on the industry because of food safety concerns. Having better documentation of processes means it is easier to calculate inputs, including energy.
Better process data supports the practicality of the second development – a new international standard, ISO 50001, for managing energy consumption. Issued in June 2011, this is a voluntary measure that, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, could influence up to 60 per cent of the world’s energy demand.
Programs and financial incentives to encourage energy efficiency are common throughout Canada with various government, electrical and gas utilities. Most have focused on identifying “low hanging fruit,” but lack measurement and verification of savings from projects that are implemented. The resulting lack of formalized processes can result in the loss of energy efficiency improvements, for example when individuals responsible for energy efficiency leave and take the knowledge and practices with them.
ISO 50001 uses the same Plan-Do-Check-Act methodology that has proven successful for decades in driving quality improvements and environmental compliance. Key steps of implementing ISO 50001 are:
• Top management demonstrates its commitment by issuing an energy policy;
• The individual facility uses the policy to develop an energy management plan, which includes a review of current energy use and consumption, to develop an energy baseline. The plan also identifies energy savings targets with a list of energy management actions;
• The company uses the action plan for implementation and operation, and communicates and documents its energy performance internally. The organization identifies and modifies the operations and maintenance activities in the plan which are related to its significant energy uses, to generate energy savings;
• The company ensures that energy performance is monitored, measured and analyzed at planned intervals by checking and making corrections to address nonconformities, so that the plan will stay up to date; and
• At planned intervals, a management review is carried out to ensure the energy plan’s continuing suitability, adequacy and effectiveness.
ISO 50001 may be at least initially of greatest interest to the major companies, particularly those that have already developed a flow of data through registering for ISO 9001 or the environmental standard ISO 14001. However, it can form a competitive advantage for mid-size and smaller companies too.
Government financial support for energy projects
ISO 50001 may be more accessible through the third development, as seen in a federal government program providing seed money to companies undergoing energy management measures. This is part of the ecoENERGY Efficiency for Industry program, offering cost-shared assistance to industrial companies to perform ISO 50001 implementation pilots and energy-related assessments. For more information on the funding, visit the Natural Resources Canada website.
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In a narrow-margin industry like food processing, any investment needs to be able to provide a rapid payback. The payback from many energy-management measures can be 18 months or less. These savings can then be use for investment in other areas such as new products.
Klas Bockasten, P.Eng., is Energy Management Services leader at Golder Associates. Contact him at (905) 567-4444, or at Klas_Bockasten@golder.com