Industrial Retro-Commissioning Generates Significant Energy Savings

July 30, 2019

Regardless of industry, buildings and equipment wear out over time. It’s just part of the business. But what if instead of replacing these assets, there was a way to not only extend their life but to optimize them with other building systems to generate energy savings and create healthier, more productive work spaces?

Although there are a variety of ways to improve energy efficiency, facility managers in commercial buildings know that retro-commissioning is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to unlock meaningful opportunities for low cost savings as well as to make operational and comfort improvements. The question is why have industrial plant operators not seen this value given the enormous potential for low and no-cost savings opportunities in the manufacturing sector?

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), commercial buildings and manufacturing both use 19% of the energy in the United States today. This presents a significant opportunity for energy efficiency gains in the industrial sector which historically have lacked a conservation focus or are beyond the capabilities of most consulting companies and vendors.

Industrial Retro-commissioning controls systems inspection

Industrial facilities often focus on capital-intensive projects, such as equipment replacement, or the installation of devices or widgets to improve their energy performance instead of looking at the operations of the energy-consuming systems as a whole. This approach often limits the possibility of persistent savings over time as these projects are generally stand-alone and not integrated with existing management systems, resulting in extended paybacks. By avoiding stand-alone devices and widgets and starting to look at equipment as integrated parts of a greater system, lower paybacks can be achieved that are more likely to be sustainable over time.

Integrated systems are able to change with changing production levels and provide much greater opportunities for retro-commissioning as compared to stand-alone systems. Only through industrial retro-commissioning and the use of a comprehensive energy management system can facility and plant managers ensure meaningful energy savings at low cost that continue to have a positive and measurable impact for years to come with a system that is able to operate efficiently as plant operations and production levels change.

What is Industrial Retro-Commissioning (IRCx)?

Retro-commissioning (RCx) is the systematic process of improving the energy efficiency and performance of buildings and equipment with the goal of enhancing existing systems rather than replacing them. Similar to building commissioning which ensures a newly-constructed building’s mechanical, HVAC, and electrical systems are optimally designed and installed, retro-commissioning looks at these same systems to restore or even enhance performance beyond their initial design and improve it.

For manufacturers and other industrials, the process is generally more complicated given the relative complexity of their operations compared to the commercial sector. That’s where Industrial Retro-Commissioning (IRCx) comes in. IRCx programs are designed specifically for the manufacturing sector and often contain built-in requirements to promote persistence in energy savings. The goal of such programs is also to improve equipment life and productivity all while increasing staff knowledge and familiarity with systems and processes.

Industrial facilities and equipment will experience a variety of operational changes throughout their lives such as staff turnover or system degradation. Production and process changes in the industrial setting may also occur regularly. However, without proper building energy system monitoring and management, these changes to complex and dynamic systems will begin to add up, potentially creating significant and costly inefficiencies in the long run. Compounding the financial strain of prolonged energy waste, these inefficiencies have the potential to damage equipment and drive up maintenance costs or worse—dictate the need for expensive upgrades or replacements.

With the goals of increasing energy efficiency and lowering operating costs, the industrial retro-commissioning process encompasses a variety of engineering analyses ranging from controls optimization to identifying and resolving software deficiencies in a given industrial facility. Comprehensive systems analyses such as those performed by Veregy’s energy and controls engineers, for instance, can mitigate the need to make capital-intensive replacements to equipment, instead, prolonging and even enhancing systems beyond the building designer’s original intent.

Armed with data from an integrated management system and production data, a plant operator in a retro-commissioned manufacturing faclity can begin to see opportunities for improving the efficiency of systems beyond simply restoring them to their previous state. If a system was never properly commissioned in the first place, the industrial retro-commissioning process can be particularly insightful in uncovering equipment that was installed incorrectly or improperly sized for the system or application. Similarly, if a facility undergoes the installation of a major new system or experiences turnover among key employees over time, chances are the industrial retro-commissioning process would reveal opportunities to reoptimize systems to reflect changes in operations and maintenance.

Industrial Retro-Commissioning Projects Have an Attractive ROI

Unlike traditional capital projects, plant retro-commissioning is one of the least expensive paths to improved energy efficiency. According to a 2009 study conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), for instance, correcting systems deficiencies resulted in median whole-building energy savings for new and existing facilities of 13% and 16% respectively. The study analyzed the commissioning data from over 640 buildings across the country, including many projects managed by Veregy engineers. The same study has not been completed for industrial facilities despite their similar collective energy demand, again illustrating the overall lack of focus in this sector.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the report is that building commissioning is arguably one of the most cost-effective strategies for reducing energy costs and achieving meaningful emissions reductions for commercial and industrial buildings. On average, commissioning payback times were 1.1 years for existing buildings, with median commissioning costs being $0.30 and $1.16 per square foot respectively. More comprehensive commissioning projects achieved nearly double the median energy savings with persistent savings lasting at least five years. Having completed retro-commissioning projects in over 150 industrial facilities, Veregy’s own research has shown 1-year paybacks are common when integrated systems are reviewed and analyzed by our team during the retro-commissioning process.

Common RCx Measures

Following a no-cost, comprehensive energy audit, IRCx customers may have a variety of identified cost and energy savings opportunities for their building or facility. The following is a list of common IRCx measures:

  • Control and Sequencing of multiples of compressors, chillers and boilers
  • Ensuring that energy systems vary with process loads
  • Air/Water Temperature Optimization
  • Economizer Optimization based on outside air temperature
  • Dynamic resets of pressures, temperatures and sequences based on loads
  • Airflow Setpoint adjustment
  • Chiller Plant Temperature Setpoint Adjustment
  • VFD Fan/Pump Motor Control Restoration
  • Boiler/HVAC/Chiller Tuneup

Learn more about the industrial retro-commissioning process and discover opportunities for improving the energy efficiency of your facility by contacting us today.

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