The Energy Dilemma

Pharmaceutical companies have to respond to the energy dilemma and face the challenges of escalating energy costs, increasing legislation, and the pressures of social and environmental corporate responsibility. 

It is well understood that energy price increases are outstripping inflation and this trend is expected to continue as fossil fuel sources become more scarce and harder to extract. Add to this the political instability in some regions with remaining fuel reserves, and natural disasters such as the tsunami affecting Japan’s nuclear plant sending shock waves throughout the industry, thus turning some mature countries away from nuclear generation. Furthermore, the drive by the world’s governments to reduce CO2 emissions requires more expensive energy production, which could include renewable sources, cleaner energy from fossil fuels, or carbon capture. All of this means that energy is going to continue to get more expensive in real terms for the foreseeable future.

Not only will companies face these increased direct costs, but the implementation of environmental policies by many governments means there are further costs associated with energy consumption in the form of carbon taxation, or energy levies designed to drive more efficient energy use. 

An even greater imperative for many companies, and one that is increasingly being seen to have real financial and business impact (especially if not treated seriously and comprehensively), is corporate social responsibility for the environment. According to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, “the annual share performance of sustainability leaders exceeded that of sustainability laggards by 1.48 percentage points during the period 2001-2008.” 

It is no surprise then that with the ever increasing impact of these cost and business drivers, leading pharmaceutical companies are placing much greater emphasis on managing their energy use.

An energy management program needs to be considered as a four-step life cycle process (see Figure 1). 

1. Energy audit & measure: collect the data and analyze
2. Fix the basics: use only what is necessary with low energy technology – mitigate energy loss.
3. Optimize through automation and regulation: manage energy use and maximize the savings by using energy only when necessary.
4. Monitor, maintain, and improve: ensure savings are embedded and sustained.


Figure 1


Energy Audit and Measure

Achieving an active energy management model starts with the collection of data. Monitoring each utility type is essential; there are many in a pharmaceutical plant from primary sources such as gas and electricity to secondary media such as steam, hot and chilled water, and compressed air. Each has their associated energy cost and CO2 footprint.

Utility meter and billing data is a starting point. This can be useful for identifying standing load or idle time consumption and reviewing tariff suitability, but gives only a highly aggregated view without the granularity necessary to pinpoint energy waste. A metering strategy should be developed and deployed to generate useful information. Strategies may include being able to account for 90% of energy by end use type, individual metering of loads and feeders of a certain size, and to be able to monitor all energy streams by building or production unit. Companies should plan for rolling out metering to existing equipment and set standards for new plant purchases.

Modern meters facilitate remote automatic data collection. Often existing site networks or wireless technology can be used to concentrate data and share it with users via dedicated PCs or web-based tools. This simplifies the process of gathering energy consumption data as well as richer information useful for site operations such as electrical maximum demand and power quality – both of which can have their impact on energy costs.

Further data collection should be managed through structured audits of the existing facilities, with clearly defined scope and deliverables. Audit outcomes should focus on an energy action plan with detailed energy saving opportunities backed by implementation cost and savings potential. 

Audit approaches can range from the entry level of one or two days for a walk through of the key energy consuming areas to a comprehensive audit with detailed recommendations and estimates for energy saving opportunities. It is also possible to guarantee savings through a performance contract which is agreement with an energy efficiency expert that identifies and evaluates saving opportunities within a facility and recommends a number of energy equipment retrofits. The savings generated on utility bills from the newly installed, more efficient equipment ultimately reverts towards paying for the cost of the capital equipment over a specified number of years –minimizing the financial risk to the organization. This necessitates a higher level of monitoring before and after interventions and a good understanding of the variables affecting energy performance as well as a higher level of involvement from both parties with a more detailed agreement.

Passive Energy Efficiency: Fix the Basics and Reduce the Losses

Passive energy efficiency measures to reduce losses from energy consuming devices are often considered first. Indeed, a variety of technologies exist to help improve energy efficiency, such as low energy lighting, low loss transformers, and high efficiency motors. 

Motors typically consume 60 to 70% of the electrical energy in a pharmaceutical plant, much of which is attributed to HVAC systems. New motor efficiency standards have attempted to unify the various approaches around the world and now provide benchmarks used by governments to legislate on minimum efficiency performance standards. However, these generally only apply to new motor purchases. In some cases legislation is phased in over many years and there are generous extensions to allow for depletion of existing stocks. Companies should create a motor management policy to improve the efficiency of this significant asset base, including:

• Audits to understand the existing asset base and benchmark against current high efficiency standards.
• Identify motor efficiency upgrade opportunities.
• Determine a repair/replace policy (note that rewound motors typically lose 1 to 1.5% efficiency each time).
• Don’t rely on long lead in legislation – update specifications for high efficiency motors and include those for OEM purchased equipment. A motor running 24/7 may well consume the equivalent of its capital cost in energy, within weeks.

Any energy efficiency program must also address the human aspects – a person’s activities and actions determine the consumption of energy. Employees need to be engaged and their cooperation and expertise harnessed.

All of these measures are important and make a contribution to energy savings.  However, without an active approach to energy efficiency, these passive measures will not be fully effective:

• A high efficiency motor without appropriate control can still waste a great amount of energy, although somewhat less than a standard motor. 
• Uncontrolled low-voltage lighting will still consume unnecessary energy, only a little more slowly than conventional lighting.
• Employee energy saving campaigns tend to work for a limited time. However, without automation and monitoring to embed better practices, things ultimately revert back to business as usual

To have an effective energy management program it is essential to embed active energy efficiency into the plant. Automated control and regulation of these systems and their energy use is the only way to proceed beyond the basic energy reduction measures to capture the full potential.

Active Energy Management: Automation and Regulation – Managing Energy Use

In pharmaceutical manufacturing, maintaining the proper environment is critical to the success of the process – product quality and regulatory compliance depends upon it. It has often been found that although environmental conditions are being maintained and there are no complaints, it is at the expense of significant wasted energy. Real auditing examples regularly include basic problems such as heating and cooling overlapping, humidity controls set much lower than product tolerances require, and no set back to relax conditions for non-production times.

In some cases, simple retuning of the control loop and a review of use is all that is necessary. In other cases it is just basic maintenance. As an example, during a walk through audit, an air handling unit heating valve found to be stuck open was calculated to be wasting $10,000 a year – yet no issues had been signalled to the facilities staff regarding these conditions. The replacement cost of the valve was less than $1,500, and as a result of this finding, the plant changed out 25 similar valves to mitigate future issues.

With most process air systems being 100% fresh air, the air flow rates in HVAC systems have a huge impact on energy costs – all the air needs to be filtered, treated and conditioned to the correct temperature and humidity. However, in many systems it is found that actual flow rates are much higher than design, and sometimes even the design flow rates are higher than needed due to change of use. 

Control of motor speed is the most effective way to manage air flow rates using variable speed drives (VSD), which are easy to retrofit. It is important to ensure that VSDs are effectively controlled either directly at the VSD or through the building management systems (BMS) which are straightforward applications enabling retrofits of VSDs to be achieved with minimal disruption. Typically pressure sensors are used to control flow, enabling automated changes to be made according to requirements – full design flow rate during production and relaxed levels for non-production periods. Pressure sensors fitted across a filter can modify fan speed to adjust for the degradation of the filter. Control systems can be set to provide a maintenance alert when it becomes economic to change the filter and so reduce the fan power. Consequently, maintenance can be scheduled at the optimum time.

In a similar manner, VSDs provide significant energy savings in pumping systems by varying flow rates according to system demand instead of a fixed volume. Common applications include chilled and hot water distribution to air handling units and cooling towers.

Occupancy monitoring: simple presence detectors, CO2 monitors, and access control systems can be use to control lighting and HVAC systems dependent upon changing needs.

Power factor and power quality correction is often overlooked and can provide simple measures to reduce energy losses and avoid power supply penalties. 

Active Energy Management: Monitoring, Maintenance and Improvement – How to ensure the benefits are sustained

Automation can ensure that systems are controlled reliably and in an energy efficient way, avoiding the risk of operator error or omission. However, even with such automation, audit experience has regularly found control systems that are bypassed, perhaps sometimes for good short-term operational reasons to maintain the process. However, these overrides can accumulate astonishing levels of energy waste.

Many companies have seen maintenance resources and budgets shrinking, so their focus tends to be on the elements critical to the process. Provided that conditions for production are maintained, the utility plant may be neglected. Even with regular maintenance checks (typically annually at best) equipment failures may go unnoticed for many months, or longer. Consider the heating valve mentioned previously; no indication of this was evident from monitoring environmental conditions and it was allowed to go on wasting energy continuously.

While robust automation, control, and monitoring can deliver savings of up to 30%, evidence suggests that 8% of these savings are lost annually without appropriate monitoring and maintenance (see Figure 2).


Figure 2

To ensure the continuing efficacy of all energy saving measures, be they passive or active measures, and of a facility’s energy systems in general, it is essential to actively monitor data from the plant, analyze and identify anomalies, and then act upon this information.

To truly understand the energy performance of a plant, it is essential to correlate the variables that affect its use. For Life Sciences HVAC systems, the weather impacts energy consumption by varying heating, cooling, and humidification requirements, as do plant utilization and occupancy.

A correlation of the appropriate variables in energy consumption results in a powerful model, used as a tool to witness what is actually happening. Modern monitoring and targeting software provides analysis tools to build such models. These tools may vary from simple regression analysis to multi-variable models with step functions. The step function is particularly suited to correlating energy usage with outside temperatures, changing in complement to external heating and cooling. This can reveal how well HVAC system controls are functioning and how effectively control dead bands have been set.

Establishing a model for the plant provides an independent baseline for future energy management actions. It provides a basis for targeting and monitoring energy savings at the facility department or production line level. This normalization allows accurate tracking of savings when making “before and after” comparisons of energy improvement implementations.

Most importantly, plant behavior can be monitored, and unwarranted increases in energy consumption can be identified - which might have otherwise gone unnoticed. Plant managers become well informed and armed to root out and rectify any problems which may arise, whether from plant failure, control settings, or operator-based behavior.

In addition to providing the control and automation functions for a facility’s plant, a BMS should provide the essential monitoring capability to identify issues and anomalies. Any competent system will provide comprehensive alarming functionality, but it does require a level of expertise to be able to interrogate the system on a routine basis to find deeper rooted problems and energy waste.

Even the best set up systems require a level of maintenance and regular review to ensure they remain optimally set for the ever changing circumstances of the modern pharmaceutical manufacturing facility. Pressure on support resources in facilities can mean that the necessary expert resource is not available, or sometimes that needed to deal with volumes of alarm messages. 

One solution is to outsource this expertise and use a remote bureau to monitor energy management systems (EMS) and BMS. These can provide services on a 24/365 basis, such as:

• Energy reporting and dashboards
• Alerting for anomalous consumption
• Expert analysis and reporting on energy saving opportunities
• BMS alarm handling and reporting, and even maintenance response services triggered by the alarms, without end user intervention
• BMS optimization services

An effective approach to monitoring will optimize the maintenance effort ensuring the limited resource is targeted at the most important areas.

Getting to the next level

Companies striving to excel in energy efficiency, whether for cost savings or meeting their environmental goals, will reach a point when significant capital expenditure (CapEx) is necessary. This could be for higher efficiency utility plant such as chillers or boilers, combined heat and power plant, or one of the many renewable energy generation technologies.

In order to maximize the effectiveness of this investment, it is essential to ensure that the plant is correctly selected for the demand profile in order to optimize its effectiveness and to not waste precious CapEx on unnecessary capacity. By following the active energy four-step process – energy audit and measure; fix the basics; optimize through automation and regulation; monitor, maintain and improve; a pharmaceutical site can ensure that energy demand has been optimized at a sustainable level and further investments will deliver the expected benefits.

By implementing an active energy efficiency approach, organizations can maximize the return on the capital expenditures (CapEx) necessary to excel in energy efficiency and improve the bottom line.