Super savings

By Sarah Britton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Energy efficiency Investment

Super savings
As the cost of energy continues to rise, food and drink processors are pulling out all the stops to make their factories more efficient. Sarah Britton investigates

Until recently the only people who wanted to heal the world were environmentalists and Michael Jackson and both were generally thought of as a little odd. These days, as every manufacturer knows, it's social suicide if you're not seen to be 'doing your bit'. But with energy prices soaring, the focus is more on saving costs, than saving the planet.

"Rising energy costs are a double-edged sword - incentivising companies to save, but also squeezing their cash flow and their ability to finance projects," says Food and Drink Federation energy manager Stephen Reeson. He claims that one way of keeping costs to a minimum is for companies to look carefully at how they buy their energy.

Brewer Adnams, which is on a fixed price contract until September, is bracing itself for a huge price hike. "You work 12-14 months in advance when estimating a budget," says Adnams head of production Bob Lee. "I budgeted for an 8% increase and I'm expecting to be 50-60% out!" And he's not alone. "Some of my friends are expecting a 120% increase in gas and electricity," he says.

Ethnic cuisine manufacturer the Authentic Food Company is also preparing for a reality check as it comes to the end of its fixed-term contract. "We're on a fixed two-year contract, but sometime in the next six months, we need to go back to the market place and prices will have increased," says group engineering manager Mike Rimmer. "We've got a £500,000 energy bill this year based on current usage and the projected growth volume of the business." He is working with an outside company that looks at the market and sources the best prices. "It's a gamble on whether you go for a long or short-term arrangement."

Risk management

Gary Worby, md at consultancy Energyquote believes his firm can offer a solution. "Fixed price agreements are becoming less palatable as people want to be in a managed position," he says. "We offer a risk management product whereby customers can make multiple purchases within one contract, so that they can get closer to the market price."

Manufacturers can also look to use less energy to keep costs down, says Reeson. "Because the industry is so diverse, energy use varies and so different sectors need to look at different aspects. In frozen, over half the energy use could be in refrigeration. In milling, 95% of energy use is in fans and pumps. In snack foods, they need to look at fryers, and in canning it's steam raising," he claims.

"With small companies, if they're less energy intensive, they can look at lighting and how they control utilities such as compressed air and steam distribution," adds Dalkia marketing communications manager Nick Burchett. The contract energy management firm has recently signed a deal with Bakkavör to manage lighting at its Bourne Salads and Bourne Stir Fry plants in Lincolnshire.

Robert Wiseman Dairies has also dealt with lighting at its new Bridgwater site in Taunton and invested in energy management firm Chalmor's endurance fittings for its cleaning-in-place (CIP) room. This is achieving around 50% energy savings in CIP, compared to the high pressure sodium fittings that were considered as an alternative, while also halving the installed lighting electrical load.

The Authentic Food Company has also been taking action on the energy efficiency front. "Over the last 12 months we've invested heavily in two state-of-the-art boilers, which minimise the excess steam generated. We also bought two variable speed compressors to replace the fixed speed ones we had," says Rimmer. "We've also got a software system that looks at the temperature in the refrigeration areas - if a door is left open and the temperature gets too high, then it will send a text to the engineers."

He claims that all staff should play a part in energy management. "It's very important to involve everybody [in energy efficiency] - the people who operate the machinery may well have a better idea of how to do things than the people in the offices," he says. "I'm sure every company has efficiencies to be made somewhere."

Long-term investment

But it's not just about instant savings, says Reeson. "A lot of companies have been on this journey for a number of years, so they'll have done a lot of the easy wins, such as data collection, monitoring and targeting systems, turning ovens off and using economisers on boilers. Some companies are well down the route, so telling them to switch their lights off is insulting," he warns.

Now companies need to start looking at technologies such as combined heat and power (CHP), on-site renewables, and anaerobic digestion (AD), he suggests. "But long-term projects are more difficult to finance because most food manufacturers think about payback periods of 18-24 months," says Burchett.

Dalkia has also seen an unwillingness to spend mega bucks on energy efficiency. "Many manufacturers haven't looked at this in the past because to make a big change you need to invest a lot of capital," he says. "Because there have been a lot of factory closures, site planning over 10-15 years in terms of investment is difficult."

But some companies are still willing to fork out in order to save money in the long run. Dalkia is just four years into a 15 year contract with Heinz to design, build, operate and maintain a £5.3M 140t/h steam generation plant at its Kitt Green site. "Heinz knows its market and its brand is strong, so the company was happy to make an investment. Ultimately, there aren't a lot of companies out there that have major investment schemes," says Burchett.

However, he notes that there is a growing realisation that consulting energy efficiency specialists is necessary. "Energy savings can be made no matter how new and flashy a facility is," he says. "People are concerned now, whereas at one time, the energy bill wasn't a big deal to them."

Worby agrees: "Before, energy management was considered an in-house responsibility, but in the last 12-18 months, manufacturers have been willing to speak to consultants to harness their thinking and develop a tactical strategy on energy efficiency and in particular procurement."

An in-house affair

Adnams is less convinced that there is a universal need for third-party involvement, preferring to deal with energy efficiency in-house. "With contract energy management it depends on how big you are and sometimes consultants tell you stuff you already know," states Lee.

The company claims to be four years ahead of its competition due to a heightened awareness of the importance of energy efficiency. "We monitor our utilities use a lot, so we can measure if anything's out of kilter," he says. "I monitor gas, water, air compressors and trade effluent and relate them to hectolitres of beer produced. The biggest savings you get are by good housekeeping, such as turning off fans and closing doors. This can achieve between 10-15% energy savings."

But it's not just day-to-day maintenance where the company has succeeded in saving energy. "We're lucky at Adnams as we invested in a £4M brewhouse, which was installed 18 months ago," says Lee. "It was 30% more efficient in steam usage and has saved us £32,000 over 12 months. And when the current energy prices are reviewed, this figure may rise to £64,000!"

So what does the firm have in store for the future? "We're looking at reclaiming water - trade effluent can be treated and used for cleaning," he says. Using by-products is also under investigation. "The waste we have is spent grain and this is used to feed the cattle. But I know that work is going on at universities to use this as fuel instead," says Lee. "We also have waste beer and yeast that could be a potential energy source - I believe that could be done with anaerobic digestion and we're in talks with a couple of companies about this."

A lot of processors are looking at utilising by-products as fuel for boilers, says Burchett. "Firms are also looking at reducing their reliance on mains water supplies and having their own water systems on-site via bore holes," he adds.

In terms of technology, there are a wealth of opportunities in energy efficiency, says Reeson. "The main barrier is financial," he adds. Reeson wants the government to do more to help processors get involved with the likes of CHP and AD. "There need to be greater levels of government support to help companies realise these new technologies." FM


  • Chalmor 0845 075 7911
  • Dalkia 01784 496 200
  • Energyquote 020 7605 2300

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