Staying profitable during a recession is a challenge for any company. Competition continues and operating costs can rise. However, the company that learns which costs can be controlled – if not reduced – will prosper, not just in the short term but also after the recession has ended.

During this recession, rising energy costs have captured a great deal of attention.  And just as in other industries, particularly manufacturing, pharmaceutical companies seek to cut energy costs.

The good news is that it is almost always possible to reduce or at least control these costs. However, to maximize the cost savings opportunities, a carefully constructed energy master plan tailored to the facility is key. The master plan can accomplish one of two things. It can outline how to make an existing plant more energy efficient with no change in throughput. Alternatively, it can map out an energy efficiency plan that includes increased throughput in the existing lines, as well as in new lines.

Planning to Reduce Energy

Like any business undertaking that requires a return on investment (ROI), energy cost reduction takes focus and commitment.

The process starts with the formation of an energy management committee that will plan and manage the process. The committee must, at a minimum, include key decision-making executives able to authorize expenditures-- the plant manager, and representatives from facility engineering, operations, maintenance, quality control, safety, and potentially marketing.

Also recommended:  a plant energy director, as described in the 2008 publication, “Energy Efficiency Improvement and Cost Saving Opportunities for the Pharmaceutical Industry” (developed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)).

The committee's first meeting should focus everyone on the same goals — to prevent false starts. For instance, the maintenance representative might suggest reducing humidity on the main floor to protect the equipment from corrosion. But the quality control representative should point out that less humidity would adversely affect product quality.

In other words, because manufacturing plant systems interconnect, an energy-saving change at one end of the line may increase energy needs at the other end or create some other undesirable outcome. The committee needs to remain alert to the effect(s) which energy-related decisions cause in one or another interconnected system.

That said, the energy committee’s job is to create a plan that will enable more efficient operation of existing and expanded lines with no adverse affects on the rest of the business.

Building an Energy Master Plan

As its first step, the committee should conduct (or commission an energy consultant to carry out) an assessment of energy use in the plant. This typically includes analyzing utility bills, evaluating existing energy-related costs, reviewing contracts with local energy providers and getting all the data into one summary document. The assessment's goal is to find out whether the charges are in line with similar processes in other energy markets.

Next comes an evaluation of how much energy individual components of plant equipment use, along with an estimate of how maintenance may affect those costs.  In many cases, this data does not exist so measurement may be required to verify calculations.

Interviews with the plant’s engineer(s), operations manager, and others will follow. This is useful to gain understanding of each person’s goals, problems and suggestions for improvement.  These will be reviewed and may ultimately be woven into the final master plan, provided they support the sustainability goals of the organization.

Research in hand, the energy assessment is produced and is a snapshot of the plant’s current energy use.  This assessment is then used as a discussion document with senior management to explain the state of their business from an energy standpoint.  Options on how to proceed forward and what additional constraints may need to be included are garnered from senior management.  Opportunities to save energy are reviewed and the energy master plan tailored to the plant begins to take shape.


Energy Saving Opportunities

An energy-saving master plan will look first to a facility’s largest energy consumers. With industrial and manufacturing facilities, this is typically process equipment including boilers, generators, ovens, large motor drives and various other pieces of equipment.  In some cases, this process equipment is already optimized or is considered proprietary and, as such, is not included in the scope of the master plan.  In these cases, the facility and balance of plant functions are the focus.  These consumers include large heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, centralized compressor and steam generation systems, and lighting systems.

Pharmaceutical plants, which often include laboratory and office space, offer a number of additional energy savings opportunities. Here’s a sampling of the possibilities as outlined in the publication by the aforementioned Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory:

 ·        HVAC monitoring and control systems can enable plant management to monitor and optimize HVAC system energy use. The monitoring feature can highlight inefficiencies in the system as soon as they develop. The EPA estimates that HVAC control systems pay for themselves in utility savings in 1.3 years. (Page 24)

·        Leaky ducts in industrial facilities waste enormous amounts of air conditioning and heating energy. Sealing them could cut HVAC costs by 30 percent (Page 24)

·        Common sense remains one of the most powerful energy saving tools available. Simply turning the lights off after hours, along with turning the temperature controls up during the summer to save air-conditioning energy and down during the winter to save heating energy will reduce costs. (Page 24)

·        Adjustable speed drives can improve the energy performance of variable volume air handlers, recirculation fans, chiller pumps and water system pumps. (Page 25)

·        Heat recovery systems can reuse the hot or cool energy present in HVAC-exhausted air. (Page 25)

·        Moving from conventional fume hoods to low-flow equipment with variable flow exhaust systems in R&D laboratories. (Page 28)

Additional techniques include discharge air temperature management, reflective white roofs, additional insulation, room air-change rates reset to minimum allowable, more frequent maintenance of energy-using equipment, and many more.

It is important to remember that some solutions will work fine in one manufacturing plant, but not so well in others. The job of the energy-management committee is to develop, or have developed, an energy assessment and energy-saving master plan which tailors a set of techniques to the plant's unique production and product quality needs. This not only ensures that the plant cuts costs now, but it will also have a plan for continually improving its energy efficiency for the future.


Jerry Carter, LEED AP BD+C, is the Energy Consulting Business Leader and a Senior Associate at SSOE Group ( an international engineering, procurement, and construction management firm. With 25 years of experience, Jerry’s expertise includes developing energy efficiency strategies and implementing renewable energy technologies. He can be reached in SSOE’s Toledo office at 419-255-3830 or