Lower energy consumption – lower costs: How improving energy efficiency really pays off!

Whether it is in sports, brewing beer or smelting, German companies are doing their best to become more energy efficient.

CLose-up of a worker in a brewery.© iStock/Portra

You wouldn’t think that beer has much to do with the energy transition. Well, think again: Krones AG is currently developing a strategy and the technologies needed for fully decarbonising its brewery and generating its own heat and electricity using waste materials. This strategy has proven successful: the brewery’s energy consumption has already been slashed by more than 50 per cent. The company’s strategy centres around the use of a biogas plant for processing waste material from the brewery and on a modified combined heat and power plant. In addition to this, any surplus energy is being used to run other processes, ensuring that no energy is wasted.

Why does this make economic sense?

Energy is an important cost factor for any company. The more energy is consumed, the higher the cost. So looking closely at how energy consumption can be reduced makes good economic sense. Companies should ask themselves what areas energy can be reduced in, where the use of new technology really makes a difference, and which technologies not only help cut costs, but also create new sources of income. There is no question that reducing energy consumption will save companies money; by using energy-efficient, cross-cutting technology, for example, energy consumption can be reduced by up to 50 per cent. Investing in energy efficiency also helps companies become more competitive, improve their reputation and combat climate change.

At the 2017 Energy Efficiency Award ceremony, the team that had developed the energy-sufficient brewery was the clear favourite of the audience, winning the audience award. The Energy Efficiency Award is awarded by dena as part of its national Energy Efficiency Initiative (in German only). The awards, for which Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Brigitte Zypries holds the patronage, honour pioneering and particularly innovative projects that have the potential to be transferred to other companies.

The Football and Athletics Association of Westphalia (FLVW) is showing the red card to energy-inefficient heat pumps. Around 30 old heat circulation pumps installed in the association-run hotel, school and congress centre have been replaced with high-efficiency pumps. This means that the association saves costs and helps protect the environment at the same time. The replacement of the pumps was financed via a ‘crowdlending’ platform, where investors can invest in a particular project they are interested in. The association has also been provided with funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, and the cost savings it will see over the next four years mean that no additional investment will be needed. The new pumps have been a complete success: the FLVW has slashed its electricity consumption by up to 90 per cent and also achieved an excellent ranking at the 2017 Energy Efficiency Awards.

Hospitals, too, are setting out to become more energy efficient: SRH Zentralklinikum Suhl has joined with Spie Energy Solution GmbH to develop a strategy designed to cut its energy costs, which had been extremely high. The goal was to modernise and streamline the old lighting system. The conventional tube lamps used in this system had been fitted with a number of different ballasts. A ballast controls the electricity flow through a lamp, and therefore the electricity consumption. The old tubes had an output of between 19 and 71 watts – depending on the type and size of the ballast used. The hospital replaced the more than 900 old fluorescent tubes with highly efficient LED tubes. These are far more efficient and only need 10, 18 and 23 watts. Thanks to the new LED tubes, the electricity consumption of the hospital’s lighting system was reduced by more than 50 per cent, saving around 150,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.

Lighthouse projects funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy

Companies can also reduce their energy costs by using industrial waste heat. Salzgitter Flachstahl GmbH has been honoured as a ‘lighthouse project for the energy-efficient utilisation of waste heat’. Steel production is extremely energy-intensive. At Salzgitter Flachstahl GmbH, employees have been systematically analysing all parts of the smelting works for years, implementing energy efficiency measures where they are most effective. The gas burners used for heating the steel casting ladles require particularly large amounts of energy. In order to make the heating process more efficient, all of the seven burners have been fitted with recuperators that pre-heat the combustion air, and the sealing has also been improved. This helps to considerably reduce the amount of energy consumed: up to 54 per cent under optimal operating conditions.

The three examples described here represent only a fraction of the wide range of excellent projects that show that considerably reducing energy consumption really pays off financially.

The Energy Efficiency Award and the ‘lighthouse projects for the energy-efficient utilisation of waste heat’ are funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. And the German government also offers attractive funding programmes for companies implementing measures geared towards preventing the release of waste heat and towards using waste heat. The potential for improving energy efficiency is huge: around three quarters of final energy consumption in industry and trade is used to generate heat for processes such as melting, driving, pressurizing and cooling. Large amounts of this energy cannot be used effectively. They are released into the atmosphere. Companies investing in waste heat recovery systems can receive funding from the German government, either in the form of a repayment grant or an investment grant.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy also helps companies update cross-cutting technologies. Under the STEP up programme, funding is provided for companies implementing measures designed to make more efficient use of electricity. Under the Waste Heat Programme, funding is provided for companies using waste heat. An overview of the many ways in which the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is helping companies use energy and equipment more efficiently can be found here. A list of all of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy’s funding programmes on energy efficiency can be found here.