Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recently concluded a study showing that the average cost of saving a kilowatt-hour of electricity was $.025. So, whether an industrial plant is paying $.05, $.10, or $.25/kWh, it makes a lot of sense to pursue energy efficiency opportunities.
However, finding energy savings measures that meet the corporate hurdle rate – much less no and low-cost measures – can be easier said than done. Not to mention, just “finding” a savings opportunity isn’t enough; you need adequate engineering and economic analysis in order to evaluate taking action.
Utility programs should fill that gap, helping companies cover the cost of that front-end energy study. Unfortunately, most utility programs provide only back-end rebates and incentives once energy reduction projects are completed but do not cover the cost of initial energy engineering analyses.
There are exceptions. However, as the Lawrence Berkeley study notes, the most well-known (and best utilized) utility programs offering robust “retro-commissioning” studies are those on either coast where electricity rates are the highest. For example, we do a lot of work under industrial programs through Southern California Edison (SCE) and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) in California.
The largest number of manufacturers and processors in the U.S. are located between the coasts – often due, in part, to the fact that electricity rates are lower. That doesn’t change the fact that energy efficiency is still a great deal, but are there programs available that both cater to industrials while also covering up-front study costs?
Yes! Unfortunately, they are scarce, but here are a few of the best (and only) that fill the gap:
Utility Energy Savings Programs for Manufacturers and Processors
1. ComEd Industrial Systems Optimization – this program covers all of ComEd territory in the greater Chicago area (across most of Northern Illinois) with a focus on compressed air, process cooling, industrial refrigeration, and wastewater systems. The program pays all costs for a detailed energy study of these systems and can even be customized to include other large energy-using equipment. The back-end expectations are minimal (looking for implementation of only low-cost measures with a 1.5-year or better payback) and the savings (based on our experience) can be substantial.
2. CenterPoint Energy Retro-Commissioning – this program covers all of CenterPoint’s territory, which extends well beyond the Houston city limits to a large portion of southeast Texas. The program has historically catered to commercial customers, but the program administrator has now opened the door to industrials as well, with most major energy-using systems fair game for a free, detailed energy study. As with the ComEd program, the back-end obligations are limited, with a focus only on low-cost, quick-win projects, and CenterPoint also offers meaningful project implementation incentives.
3. Wisconsin Focus on Energy – this program is across the state and, like the CenterPoint program, was historically limited only to commercial customers. But as of 2018, the program has been opened to industrial manufacturers and processors as well. Unlike the free ComEd and CenterPoint studies, the Wisconsin program offers to cover only part of the study cost, but with the project incentives that are offered, once low-cost, short-payback projects are implemented, the cost of the entire study can be covered.
Despite covering large metropolitan areas such as Houston and Chicago, these programs remain under-utilized. If you are fortunate enough to have applicable industrial sites in these areas, learn these “secrets” and put them to good use to capture the most energy efficiency savings while limiting any up-front investment.