EHS Management

DOE’s Better Plants Challenge on Track to BIG Energy Savings

Historically, manufacturing has used about one-third of U.S. energy, spending more than $200 billion to power their facilities each year. According to the DOE, the sector has the potential to invest more than $100 billion in energy saving technologies by 2020, resulting in annual energy savings of almost $50 billion. Even better, the DOE says this investment could save facilities 15% or more on energy each year and realizing payback on investment in less than 3 years.

As of fall 2013, 123 manufacturing companies (representing about 1,750 plants and 8% of national manufacturing energy use) picked up DOE’s gauntlet and are well on their way to saving energy, creating jobs, and minimizing their environmental impact. The Better Plant Challenge is based on DOE guidance and on the ISO 50001 Energy Management Standard finalized in 2011. The program aims a little higher than the 20%-by-2020 goal of the original Initiative and asks companies to shoot for 25% energy savings over 10 years. Participants also develop energy management plans and submit annual progress reports to the DOE.


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What’s really promising about the Better Plant Challenge is that it helps participants of all sizes and across different industries. According to the DOE, companies range from small, single-plant operations to multinational firms with plants worldwide with average annual energy costs of less than $1 million to more than $100 million.  As far as industry representation, the DOE said the chemical industry had the most participants, with about 15% of the total, but also included manufacturing in food, beverage and tobacco, paper, printing, plastics/rubber, nonmetallic minerals, primary metals, fabricated metals, industrial machinery, computers/electronics, electrical equipment/appliances/components, and transportation equipment. The DOE also noted that it will be working to expand the program into such underrepresented industries  as textile mills and petroleum and coal products.


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So, how well is it working? Pretty well, according to DOE’s 2013 Better Plants Progress Update! Since 2011 the Better Plants Challenge has provided technical assistance to 473 individuals who attended In-Plant Training sessions that were system-specific and instructed them how to recognize, implement, and replicate different energy-saving opportunities within their plants. To date, the sessions have addressed five different types of energy systems, including compressed air, process heating, steam, pumps/fans, and paper machines. Overall, participants were able to identify cost savings at the host plants totaling $6,700,000 (or 1.2 trillion British thermal units (TBtu) in energy savings).

Cumulatively, participating companies report saving approximately 190 trillion TBtu of energy, exceeding the 2.5%-per-year energy intensity improvement rate set as a benchmark to keep the program on track toward its 25% goal. Several companies have actually exceeded the 25% reduction goal already, maintaining it for at least 2 years in a row.

As the program continues to accept new partners, the DOE also plans to further promote the ISO 50001 Energy Management Standard and to expand the program to further advance strategic energy management through Superior Energy Performance (SEP), including two separate programs. One is an “Industrial SEP Accelerator” to promote specific innovative demonstration projects, and subsequent investment, through utilities and energy-efficiency programs that agree to implement the SEP at defined industrial customers. The other is “The SEP Enterprise-Wide Scaling Project” that will allow certain Challenge program participants to scale SEP across their entire operational system to save energy corporationwide.