The National Cleaner Production Centre (NCPC) is assisting South African companies in instituting energy management systems to make their operations more energy efficient. This not only saves costs for companies but is also a necessity in a country where energy availability is under threat, says NCPC regional project manager Faith Mkhacwa.
Energy management systems involve the monitoring and control of energy use in a company to make its energy use as efficient as possible. The systems are holistic, relying on a combination of behavioural, operational, maintenance and infrastructural changes, and thus do not necessarily require large amounts of upfront investment. Also, the systems can be implemented by any business, regardless of its location, size and the products it manufactures.
“The most fundamental principle of energy management systems is that you can do something with what you have right now. You don’t have to have advanced technology to start making changes; it focuses on day-to-day activities,” explains Mkhacwa.
She adds that, while there have been some environmentally conscious companies that have tried to minimise their energy use for some time, even companies that have not prioritised energy saving in the past are finding that they have no choice but to do so now. “Our energy use will soon surpass our electricity infrastructure, so people want to use as little as possible without compromising their production outputs,” she says.
NCPC partners with companies to help them implement energy management systems – a process which takes a minimum of seven months to complete, depending on the size and needs of the company. The process begins with a thorough analysis of the company’s existing energy use, which typically involves studying its energy bills and ensuring that every kilowatt of electricity is accounted for.
A detailed study of the company’s equipment and machinery, operations and maintenance systems is then undertaken, taking all factors into account that affect the company’s current electricity use. The NCPC assists the company in setting an energy-saving target, which is finalised as an energy policy that top management has to approve.
The NCPC then helps companies to develop an energy management team, comprising members from every department of the company, who are responsible for ensuring the implementation of energy-saving practices at every level and in every department. NCPC consultants help to guide these teams in devising practical plans for implementing energy-saving practices, and assist training operations and maintenance teams to make energy a key consideration in their daily decisions.
“Initially, energy management systems are foreign and must be consciously implemented, but, in time, energy management systems and the business’s operations run together so smoothly that you cannot imagine you were ever able to run a business without considering energy efficiency,” says Mkhacwa.
A system of checks is also implemented to enable the energy management team to monitor whether the company is meeting its energy targets and implement any necessary changes on a continuous basis.
Typically, engineers are tasked with improving the energy efficiency of a company; however, Mkhacwa says the NCPC’s energy management systems regard the support of company management as a vital component of the system’s success.
“Top-management commitment is key. Most companies will not succeed without it and it is just as important as the technical aspect, which is the responsibility of the engineers,” she says.
Further, behavioural changes are a key component to energy management systems, and these are embedded in company culture through the support of management, Mkhacwa explains.
“Energy is everybody’s problem,” she says, highlighting that improving a company’s energy use is not the sole responsibility of operations and maintenance teams but an initiative to which every employee can contribute through an increased awareness of energy use.The
NCPC aims to encourage the employees of a company to work together towards achieving energy goals. Part of the implementation process involves running workshops at companies to educate employees about the importance of energy efficiency and outline where they can contribute to helping the company meet its energy targets.
NCPC representatives act as facilitators in helping the company implement an energy management system, with the ultimate aim being that the company will continue to run operations in an energy efficient manner in the future.
Mkhacwa notes that, while companies have to be convinced of the importance of energy management systems when they are initially introduced, the NCPC is now being approached by a number of large and small enterprises for advice.
Energy management systems offered by the NCPC are interlinked with ISO 50001 standards, which support organisations in all sectors in the use of energy more efficiently.
Mkhacwa will present case studies that demonstrate how the implementation of energy management systems in industrial companies has impacted on industry in South Africa in the past five years at African Utility Week, which will be held in Cape Town from May 17 to 19.
“The event is a valuable opportunity to reach a wide audience . . . and enlighten companies about the significant benefits that can be achieved through the implementation of energy management systems,” she concludes.