Use Your Power Responsibly: Industrial Energy Audits

determining energy usage with an electricity meter

With energy costs continually on the rise, manufacturers are looking not only for ways to reduce the amount of power they use, but also how effectively that power is used. The first step is getting an accurate picture of where power is used most, and the overall performance of the power system within your operation. For this, it's worthwhile to consider a professional energy assessment or energy audit.

Energy Audit Basics

An energy audit is a systematic process that discovers how a facility uses energy and then recommends energy-efficient improvements. The process includes inspection, survey and analysis of energy flows to reduce the input without negatively affecting the output(s) and to identify potential actions. Projects can then be prioritized based on the greatest to least cost-effective opportunities for savings.


An audit can be as simple or as detailed as you want, depending on your specific needs. The least complicated audit is a walk-through. This is recommended for companies that want to quickly identify low- or no-cost things they can do easily on their own to save energy. Walk-throughs are a good place to start, because they can also uncover even bigger opportunities.

A targeted assessment looks more closely at specific areas where there are higher-potential energy-saving opportunities. For example, industrial energy audits usually focus on production equipment, lighting and HVAC, where power usage runs high.

Finally, there are comprehensive audits, which require more in-depth data and analysis to uncover ways to revamp systems for energy use improvements. Comprehensive audits fit well when multiple upgrade or retrofit projects are needed to radically improve energy performance. These audits also include construction cost estimates, return on investment projections and lifecycle costs - the kind of information needed to secure financing.

Who Are the Auditors?

There are other options, too. Many professional engineers offer energy auditing, and some have certifications specifically related to energy. Certified Energy Auditors (CEA) and Certified Energy Managers (CEM) are credentialed by the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE), and are certified to audit all types of buildings and facilities. The AEE has 25 specific certifications, including Certified Lighting Efficiency Professional, Certified Power Quality Professional, Certified Sustainable Development Professional and building commissioning certifications, to name a few.

You might also consider energy consulting companies that specialize in energy auditing. You may pay more for this level of expertise, but depending on your specific needs, sometimes this is the best way to go. Before you go that route, however, check your local utility companies. Sometimes they offer audits at lower cost, and in some cases they are even free. If you are already considering a specific manufacturer for your lighting or energy monitoring equipment, be sure to check if they offer auditing services. Some manufacturers or industrial distributors actually offer this service for free when you purchase their products.

For companies already staffed with the right technical expertise, you can save money by conducting your own energy audit. CleanEdison has Commercial Energy Auditor Training that prepares an employee to perform an energy audit. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers publishes a manual1 that guides facility managers through the audit process. The organization also certifies Building Energy Assessment Professionals.

The scope of your energy audit will naturally depend on the size of your manufacturing environment, as well as your power management and energy-saving goals. In addition to an audit or simple walk-through of your environment, there are steps you can take to start realizing savings right away.

Establish a Power Monitoring System

Every operation has unique power management needs. For most, the primary goal for power monitoring is to ensure power quality is stable and reliable in order to maximize system uptime. A monitoring system can tell you how and where power is used and identify disturbances and variations in energy flow. For example, detecting a sag in energy performance may give you the time you need to diagnose and fix a problem before an outage occurs. Power outages can seriously damage and even ruin equipment beyond repair. The right power monitoring system can protect valuable equipment and help ensure production lines keep running.

Use Variable Frequency Drives

A variable frequency drive, or VFD, is a system used to control the rotational speed of a motor by adjusting the frequency of the power supplied to the motor. Variable frequency drives are used to adjust a motor's speed to match your application's output requirements. The result may potentially amount to an energy savings of anywhere from 10 to 50 percent2.

Today, there are a wide variety of variable frequency drives that are specifically designed for use in OEM applications. When you consider the size of your facility, and the number of motors used to run everything from fans and pumps to conveyors and other machinery, it's easy to recognize the energy-saving potential of using VFDs.

Consider a Lighting Retrofit

Many building owners have discovered that upgrading or retrofitting lighting is an excellent way to start realizing energy savings. In fact, it is so beneficial that many utility companies offer rebates to companies that upgrade their lighting systems. Some utilities even do lighting audits, provide lists of approved devices and help find contractors to handle the work. Add in the tax incentives, and it's clear why lighting retrofits have become such an essential part of any energy management initiative.

Retrofits not only lower energy use, lighting quality improvements can help boost employee morale and productivity. Industrial facilities that change out high-intensity discharge HID high bay fixtures to T5 or T8 high-efficiency high bay fixtures run hundreds of degrees cooler than HIDs, which may reduce HVAC energy usage.

Lighting Retrofit Criteria

Before you decide to retrofit the lighting in your facility, consider the following:

  • Facility will be occupied for 3 or more years
  • Lights are on 2,600 or more hours a year
  • Have a high average kilowatt hour rate
  • Current lighting system was designed and installed over 10 years ago
  • Multi-shift operations realize the quickest payback

Typical Lighting Retrofit Projects

    Upgrading HID high bay fixtures to T5 or T8 energy-efficient high bay fixtures saves up to 50% (For warehouse lighting, occupancy sensors provide additional savings.3) Upgrade old T12 industrial fluorescent fixtures to a T8 fluorescent system (saves 35-50%4) Upgrade offices from T12 troffers to T8 troffers (saves 40-66%5)

Audit First, then Retrofit

Don't consider a lighting retrofit until after you have conducted an energy audit of your facility. It might be more cost-effective to look for a company that can handle both services. Many of these companies specifically serve the commercial sector with a range of design, certification and audit services, while also offering financing. Some lighting companies partner with energy auditors to offer full-service reporting and retrofitting. There are also many construction companies, building remodelers and retrofitters who also offer energy audits.

The Power Is in Your Hands

While you can't control the quality of the energy delivered to your facility, or the amount you pay per kilowatt hour, you can control how efficiently you use the power once it's in your hands. And, by regular power monitoring, you can be proactive about diagnosing potential problems, and even prevent equipment failure and downtime.


2. Eaton USA