Not too many salespeople or design engineers set out to save the environment, even if it does seem to be a byproduct of system upgrades and new ideas present in the industrial environment.
Remembering my hometown of Lorain, Ohio, I recall the yellowish-brown-tinted sky and an ever-present smell of rotten eggs that permeated from the old open hearth and coking operations of the then National Tube Company. As the organization began to convert to Basic Oxygen Process and modernized coke ovens in the 1960s, the environment and city began to transform as the air became less polluted.
While we might not expect environmental changes that are quite as dramatic today, it’s still important to recognize the value that today’s technologies provide. We can not only improve operations, reduce yield losses, improve quality, reduce time-to-market and provide better longevity, but also help the environment in so many ways.
Plant Lighting Systems
Consider lighting systems that are sold today, compared with those of the past. Incandescent, mercury and high-pressure sodium lighting systems guzzled power and dragged down efficiencies. Now, with government incentives that assist in reducing the cost of replacing old lighting systems with LED or newer fluorescent systems, we can see a large reduction in energy costs. These benefits are even more pronounced when we trace the electron path back to power companies.
In 2014, the U.S. industrial sector consumed 19% of the commercial sector electricity production in lighting alone. That’s over 262 billion kWh! What’s more, in 2010, only 52 billion kWh were consumed in this same sector for lighting. In just four years, the demand for increased and brighter lighting literally exploded.
Back in the 1970s, I longed for a motor with a cast steel frame that had enough slip in it to survive stalls from immovable, heavy, red-hot pipe sticking to the conveyor rolls that the motor was trying to turn; never mind the power factor impact or blown fuses and tripped overloads. We needed motors that could withstand abuse and keep that pipe moving through the process — the maintenance department didn’t pay utility bills, anyway!
Today, things are a bit different. We have much more sophisticated variable frequency controls for our conveyor lines and power factor controls are tightly regulated. Motors are now designed to deliver power and torque at exactly the right times. Peaks in in-rush current are closely monitored and controlled. While process is still the number one consideration, the environment is once again a big winner.
While 19% of electricity is consumed by lighting operations, electric motors are the single biggest consumers of electricity in industrial processes. They account for 2/3 of industrial power consumption and about 45% of global power consumption, according to new analysis by the International Energy Agency. Astounding? Now consider that only 20 years ago, that number was close to 70%. Once again, technology saves both money and the environment.
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