What can be done in 2020 for the energy efficiency of companies? What are the tools available, the opportunities in terms of reductions and incentives, and the good practices to draw inspiration from? Let’s see it together.
The situation of Energy Consumption for Companies and SMEs
Let’s start with the full ENEA report for 2019, which has drawn up a summary of the situation for individuals and companies regarding energy efficiency. The study analyzes consumption, the measures taken to optimize the energy balance, and, particularly for businesses, access to the Government’s tools and measures. The report examines the interventions carried out up to May 31, 2019, to assess what has been done and define the future lines of action.
A chiaroscuro picture emerges from the data. To stick to the tools put in place by the Government, for example, there is still insufficient recourse to the energy audit. The audit, or energy diagnosis, is mandatory by decree (Legislative Decree 102/2014) for large companies.
However, it is also an excellent tool for SMEs to calculate their company’s efficiency: it examines the sources of supply, their use, and savings options. Furthermore, requesting and passing the energy audit is a fundamental step to obtain the ISO 50001 energy efficiency certification.
In the two years 2016-2018, the first round of requests for energy diagnosis was launched. The audit was then conducted for the Marche region on 403 sites, of which 209 classified as small and medium-sized enterprises and 130 as large enterprises. Therefore, data that testify to critical but undoubtedly incomplete access, given the numerical consistency of the productive fabric in the region.
The insufficient use of energy diagnosis, particularly for SMEs, is a fact that the Marche has in common with several other regions. The causes of this partial failure may be the lack of adequate funds to amortize access to the audit or the insufficient training activity carried out to underline the importance of energy efficiency.
For these reasons, ENEA has developed a preliminary diagnostic tool, ENEA Efficiency 1.0, accessible free of charge (upon registration) on the network.
The opportunities for Energy Efficiency
Given, therefore, systematic management of energy consumption in the company is not yet widespread in our country, what are the main areas in which action can be taken? What are the most critical interventions to be implemented to reduce consumption and optimize the resources necessary to make the company work?
In summary, three key points can be identified: the renewal of the machine park, the monitoring of consumption, and digitization. Intervening on these aspects means investing even essential resources but guaranteeing an excellent return in reducing energy consumption and increasing production efficiency.
The renewal of the fleet is undoubtedly a determining factor of inefficiency. Just compare with the domestic environment, where the new generation “machines” (washing machines, refrigerators, etc.) allow a significant drop in consumption in the bill. For companies, this is even more important: here, modern machinery includes automation systems that self-regulate the management of energy needs. The incentives of the Industry 4.0 plan have helped the spread in the company of more recent and more performing machinery, also in terms of consumption.
The monitoring of consumption is linked to the theme of the fleet. However, the more dynamic and efficient company structures and more modern machinery detect consumption and use of resources through an Energy Management system. For companies that want to obtain the ISO 50001 certification, a system must be managed by qualified personnel, typically the Energy Manager, and special tools such as EMS (Energy Management System) software, which are in charge of monitoring and managing the better energy consumption.
It can be seen from the previous point that many efficiency practices involve massive use of the digitalization of business processes. Integrated management systems such as Enterprise Resource Planning or Manufacturing Execution Systems make it possible to trace a company’s normal functioning comprehensively. In this way, it is possible to obtain factual data and trend patterns which, with a correct analysis activity, also allow to manage the available resources wisely and optimize their use.
Some Good Practices to Optimize Resources
Let’s now move upstream of the energy efficiency process, that is to say, from the type of use of the resource to the composition and quality of the latter. What type of energy is mainly used in the company, and how effective is it in a calculation of costs/revenues but also of environmental impact?
Again taking up the ENEA report data, it is highlighted that the largest share of energy comes from gaseous fuels and electricity in the industry sector, which together cover about 75% of total needs (data for 2017). In particular, about electricity, it is necessary to consider how much of this comes from renewable sources such as wind or photovoltaic.
A separate theme is that of the agri-food sector, which is characterized as a highly energy-intensive sector due to its weight in the national economy and production practices. These are direct forms (fuel for machines, electricity for air conditioning, greenhouses, and more) and indirectly (plastic, plant protection, feed).
The problem is severe and has global dimensions. Still, something has already been done to manage the energy needs in the sector better, and the Enea report itself signals a trend towards reducing consumption. It should also be noted, concerning the Italian context, the growth of organic agriculture, which works on a smaller scale and requires less energy consumption.
Good practices of upstream energy supply, then, are mixed and self-production structures. Especially in SMEs, autonomous energy production systems (the classic solar panels installed in the company) can significantly contribute to its energy needs. Consumption is reduced, the company’s environmental footprint becomes less marked, and a virtuous circuit is established that provides for, for example, the purchase and sale of energy with its manager.
A possible model that, if on the one hand, it indicates the road still to be taken, on the other, it highlights a virtuous path. To use an energy mix that combines the needs of continuity and efficiency of the energy supply with those of reducing consumption and improving quality. In short, Community and national funds and incentives seem to be able to bear fruit.
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Energy Sharing and Network Contracts
In part, the trend of self-production and the sale and purchase of other good practices identified by the ENEA report, for example, access to network contracts for energy efficiency, follow. The network contract is an instrument established as early as 2009: it allows companies to jointly manage specific projects while maintaining their legal and functional autonomy.
In energy efficiency, a network contract can help, for example, to share access to specific resources or to jointly manage a self-production plant. In this case, networking especially helps smaller operators to amortize investments, share knowledge and skills, optimize the management of their energy sources.
It is a tool that seems to work and generate a significant competitive advantage for the companies involved, both in terms of optimization of consumption and in terms of production efficiency. Moreover, the indirect advantages deriving from sharing practices, projects, and skills between companies in a territory should not be underestimated.
In short, a starting point for creating nodes of aggregation and innovation, especially where territorial dispersion is more substantial and existing infrastructures are lacking.