Q: We are a medium sized plant and our energy costs are rising too fast. Can you direct us to someone that can help us with an unbiased energy audit?

A: If you run a small to medium sized manufacturing company with gross annual sales below $75 million with fewer than 500 employees, you may be especially interested in the Department of Energy's Industrial Assessment Center's "Energy and waste assessment program." These IAC assessments are a no cost, onsite visit to your plant to identify potential savings opportunities. A team of engineering faculty and students in your area (26 universities participate) assesses your plant and recommend efficiency improvements.

In addition to the DOE, your local power company is very interested in having you save energy, especially during peak use periods. They often conduct free assessments of electrical power use.

The peak load for the electric company determines when they have to build new plants, install larger power lines and transformers. If you look at your electric bill, you will find that your power consumption is usually only half of your bill. The other half is the peak power demand. Your peak demand is measured by a separate electric meter that measures how much power you use over a 30-minute time period. The peak is often reached on a cold winter day when the heat is on, all the equipment is running and most of the lights are on. Once your peak is determined, it will stay with you for the rest of the year. (Actual details vary from one electric company to another.) You might want to consider getting a demand meter that when a certain peak level is reached, it will not let you exceed that demand. It automatically reduces demand by turning off one or two heavy-electrical pieces of equipment. ( Note:  You cannot reduce your peak demand by so-called "stagger-starting" of motors.) One company I visited, turned off the kiln fans when demand was too high; this resulted in extended drying time, which probably cost more than the energy saved. Be careful when considering what equipment you will shut off when you reach your peak demand level.

Another note: Some electric bills have a special charge called the reactive factor. This factor can be reduced with prudent use of capacitors. Check with your utility company for advice. Some capacitor sales people have not been "accurate" in their claims in this area.

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