Industrial Energy Efficiency: Simple Solutions for Protecting Profits

Breanna Moll, Noria Corporation

Industrial Energy Efficiency: Simple Solutions for Protecting Profits

We consume energy every day. From turning on the breakroom coffee pot to running an entire boiler system, energy is critical to our daily operations. But how often do we pause to think about how we’re consuming this resource?

We accept our electricity bill as inevitable. But, if lean concepts have proven anything, it’s that waste exists everywhere, and if there’s waste, it can be identified and minimized. Our energy use is no exception.


A series of methods, philosophies and tools that minimize waste in business and manufacturing processes while maximizing production.
Source: Reliable Plant

Manufacturers consume more than one-third of all the United States’ energy, costing upwards of $100 billion annually. Seizing opportunities to increase energy efficiency not only reduces our spending and increases profitability, but solidifies us in the face of economic uncertainty as forward-thinking, competitive entities in the marketplace.

What is Industrial Energy Efficiency?

Industrial energy efficiency is the practice of reducing manufacturing energy consumption levels through a broad range of technologies, methodologies and business practices.

There are several reasons a company might become energy efficient, including:

  • Rising energy costs
  • Rising inflation rates
  • Environmental concerns
  • To increase market competitiveness
  • To create economic stability

While we can’t eliminate energy costs, we can significantly reduce the amount of energy we consume. According to energy.gov, facilities can “achieve practical energy reductions of about 20%, and about 30% of the savings can be achieved without capital investment, using only procedural and behavioral changes.”

By improving our energy efficiency, we increase productivity and profitability while establishing ourselves as lean leaders. Other benefits include:

  • Increased equipment reliability and performance
  • Decreased maintenance costs
  • Reduced spending
  • Reduced waste
  • Improved employee safety
  • Improved community relations
  • Reduced CO2 emissions

Industrial Energy Efficiency Solutions

While energy consumption varies, there are areas across every facility that consistently present opportunities for improvement, including the lighting, HVAC systems and motors.


Accounting for nearly 7% of our electrical use, lighting presents many opportunities for quick wins.  

Turn off the lights: Turn off the lights in unoccupied areas and at the end of the workday. If this proves inconvenient, consider installing automatic light sensors, which can save nearly 20% on lighting costs each month.

Regulate lighting standards: Regulating lighting intensity can also decrease electricity consumption. For example, Toyota established a lumens-to-surface-area ratio that allotted the perfect amount of light for each specific area, reducing their lighting costs by 30%.

Change lighting type: The type of lighting used can have a significant impact. Consider switching from T-12 to T-8 tubes, which last 60% longer and use 30% less energy. Another option is “daylighting,” which strategically places windows and skylights to increase natural light without generating extra heat. Daylighting has been proven to reduce lighting costs by up to 70%.


HVAC systems require a constant flow of energy to keep facilities within an optimal temperature range. Because of this, HVAC systems are responsible for 53% of a facility’s entire energy use. With a single system consuming more than half of our energy, even small improvements can have a large impact.

Take care of ducts: Proper air duct maintenance requires performing routine inspections, which will alert when repairs are needed. All repairs should be performed as soon as possible. For example, even a small leak has been shown to increase monthly HVAC energy consumption by 30%.

Install programmable thermostats: Programmable thermostats automatically adjust the building temperature to optimal levels throughout the day to maximize HVAC efficiency, which can reduce HVAC energy consumption by 15%.

Add insulation: No matter the age, every facility can benefit from adding or upgrading insulation. In fact, the EPA estimates that proper insulation can reduce heating and cooling costs by 15%.  

Consider system recommissioning: Before replacing part or all of your HVAC system, consider recommissioning. This process assesses your HVAC system and maintenance procedures to identify areas impacting your energy efficiency. This information helps determine if the equipment can be modified or fixed instead of replaced, saving manpower and money.

Consider heat recovery: Heat recovery systems, like heat pipes and run-around loops, capture thermal heat and circulate it throughout the facility. In total, these systems are nearly 65% effective at recovering heat and reducing HVAC energy use.


Motors are integral to the manufacturing process. As a consequence, more than 90% of all installed motors run continuously at full speed. If not properly maintained, motors become inefficient and can account for up to 55% of a facility’s total electricity consumption.

Perform motor maintenance: Motor maintenance reduces energy consumption and extends equipment life by preventing failures. Regularly performing either preventive or predictive maintenance can decrease energy use by nearly 30%.

Install adjustable-speed drives: An adjustable-speed drive (ASD) is an industrial electric motor; motor speed is regulated by an external controller, helping conserve energy and increase machine effectiveness.

ASDs are also utilized for soft starts, reducing electrical stress during voltage motor start-ups. ASDs create up to 60% energy savings, and investment payback can be achieved in as little as eight months.

Case Study

General Dynamics Armament Systems, a plating facility in Burling, Virginia, installed ASDs on their critical electric motors and saved more than $68,000 in one year.
Source: Energy Star

Consider rewinding: During a rewind, the motor coil is removed, rewound and reinstalled. Rewinding should be considered before replacement; not only does it optimize energy consumption, but it returns motors to peak energy efficiency levels with less than .5% efficiency loss. However, if rewinding costs 60% or more of the cost to purchase and install a new motor, motor replacement is recommended.

Strategically purchase motors: Your motor selection has a significant impact on your energy consumption levels. While many only consider the purchase and installation costs, the motor’s life-cycle costs should receive the most consideration. In fact, 95% of the life-cycle costs are directly linked to the motor’s energy consumption over its useful life.

Industrial Energy Efficiency Case Studies

Across the industry, facilities have reduced their energy consumption, understanding that it presents a host of unique opportunities and benefits. Energy changes don’t need to be exhaustive or expensive to have a large impact, as many have found.

DuPont, a chemical manufacturer, began using Six Sigma to implement simple energy-saving methods that required no monetary investment and saved $250,000 on their annual electricity bill. 

Six Sigma

A set of methodologies, tool and techniques that seek to improve product quality by eliminating defects and minimizing variability in the manufacturing and business processes.
Source: Reliable Plant

Volvo Trucks made changes that reduced their energy consumption by 25%. This included turning off dock lights at night, adjusting building temperatures by five degrees, which saved $30,000 each month, and installing radiant heating systems in the shipping buildings, which saved nearly $500,000 annually.

Sherwin-Williams surpassed its ten-year energy efficiency goal in a single year by making small changes. They updated their steam system valves and used the produced heat to warm their factory. They also discovered their main boiler had excess capacity that was only utilized two months out of the year and made the switch to their lower-capacity backup boiler for the remainder of the year. In total, these changes reduced their annual energy consumption by 26%.

While these programs made changes in different ways, they all had several factors in common that contributed to their success, including:

  • Having buy-in from all levels of management and staff.
  • Committing the appropriate staff and resources.
  • Clearly defining and communicating program goals.
  • Empowering team members.
  • Developing teams to deal directly with energy efficiency program issues or concerns.
  • Implementing continuous improvement strategies.
  • Regularly performing energy audits to identify areas of high energy consumption.


Waste exists at every level of our operation. While waste will never be completely eliminated, it is our responsibility to minimize its effects on our business. By identifying how we are producing waste, such as our electricity consumption, and taking active steps to minimize its presence and consequences, we can increase our profitability and productivity while securing our spot as competitive lean leaders within the marketplace.

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About the Author

Breanna Moll is a Managing Editor for Noria Corporation. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Northeastern State University and has nearly ten years of experience in marketing and...