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Minimizing costs and optimizing operational expenditures is a priority in the battle to remain profitable and competitive. However, when global energy markets fluctuate, businesses need to improve the way they source, trade and use energy while considering ever-changing environmental, organizational and technical constraints. So, how can companies achieve overall excellence with their energy and utility management?
Energy is the single largest operating expense after raw materials for the process industry. Cutting-edge utility software allows manufacturers to best manage and optimize the way they use and source energy across an entire production site. It enables companies to ensure that all their process demands are met, while minimizing operating costs through reduction in overall consumption and identification of the most economical sources of supply. Crucially, utility planning software defines and improves the business processes regarding energy usage that are important to the overall economic performance of the site.
Reducing Production Costs
Minimizing energy costs and maximizing operational reliability of the utilities in a system can be achieved simultaneously through the implementation of an integrated energy management and optimization system, which links business and operational objectives. In turn, this enables companies to make more profitable decisions about how to use and source energy across an entire production site.
Utilities are integral to the functionality of a plant and provide the heating and cooling, electricity and fuel necessary for unit equipment to ensure that product quality standards are consistently met and produced to optimum operational effectiveness. It is common for utility production and consumption networks to be exhibited in elevated detail to build a customized model, which helps users understand how to reduce site energy costs within a short time-frame.
Many plant decision-makers have adopted utility planning software in an effort to improve their weekly and daily planning. This includes forecasting plans and demands based on current results and the provision of future assets, recommending how to operate the plant, eliminating or reducing fuel and steam venting and performing “what-if” analysis of future investments, all while operating and optimizing current assets. From a defined model they can expect fully optimized assets based on economic evaluations to obtain specific recommendations, such as: fuel exchange, proposals to operate steam turbines, or information on boiler loads.
Companies have options to purchase or import utilities from outside sources, while some plants may choose to produce their own solutions. The key to choosing an optimum combination of the two is establishing the blend between purchasing and producing utilities in order to minimize cost. Cutting-edge utilities software can model the required utilities system for a process and help specify the quantity and time-frame of when utilities are needed. From a designated utility purchasing contract, the software will optimize around the utility’s needs to establish the cheapest method of acquirement (i.e., through in-plant production or outside purchase).
A Complete Operational Overview
From a business perspective utilities software considers all aspects of the operation of a utilities system (e.g., reliable supply of energy or energy sourced at the lowest overall cost that meets reliability and environmental goals). Companies can achieve both technical and commercial excellence in energy and utilities management by embracing the adoption of software applications for different types of users – ranging from plant operators to utilities contract managers up to senior company management.
Many leading companies have implemented integrated software solutions that enable process manufactures to optimize and manage energy usage and sourcing across an entire production site. These solutions can enable companies to ensure all their processes meet utility demands, while identifying the best utility allocation, optimized through the economic cost associated with each utility option. Another crucial benefit to look for is software that can integrate with existing plant and business systems, whereby information can be automatically extracted (i.e., planning and scheduling systems, historical data and ERP systems for resource planning).
By considering all site utilities systems within a single environment, cutting edge utilities software can capture all relevant data and provide clear and consistent recommendations on how to achieve the lowest cost operation. Utilities software can improve weekly and daily planning, forecasting plans and demands based on current and future asset results. It is beneficial to utilize a tool where the utilities forecast is based on actual and future production demand while considering penalties, peak demand charges and load factor contract clauses. The optimum utilities production plan accounts for operational, economic and environmental constraints. The benefits of using these tools are significant – energy optimization solutions can improve energy management to enable users to reduce site energy costs by up to 5 percent.
Energy optimization tools have three main areas of application:
• Online operational advice system for operators to optimize the utilities plant operation
• Tactical and strategic advice system to improve utilities plant planning, including utilities nomination, CO2 trading, power trading, maintenance scheduling, as well as contract negotiations and investment analysis
• “Plan versus Actual” management system for utilities consumers to allow the tracking and evaluation of actual performance compared to target performance
Achieving Operational Excellence
The process industry is experiencing dramatic market changes as it endeavors to meet energy requirements while maintaining competitive rates. Those executive decision-makers who embrace more robust project planning methodologies and implement thorough plans to gain greater visibility of the overall operation will deliver a better financial return to the business, while meeting the needs of their customers.
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