Don't Judge a Facility or Partnership by its Cover: You could miss out on big energy savings

As the new Industrial Energy Productivity fellow in the Corporate Partnerships Program at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the last place I thought I would end up going for work was the small town of Springboro, Ohio. But there I was thanks to EDF’s ground-breaking partnership with IUE-CWA, a labor union with 45,000 members at over 300 U.S. manufacturing plants. Upon further reflection, Ohio was exactly where I should have expected to go. It’s in the heart of America’s manufacturing hub, and therefore a target region for implementing energy efficiency. It has the potential to provide a triple win—improve U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, demonstrate that going “low carbon” is possible and generate customers for companies making more energy efficient products.

The partnership focuses on training IUE-CWA members to identify energy efficiency solutions in manufacturing plants. We started at Cobasys’ state-of-the-art battery plant. After putting on the required hair net, sleeves and safety goggles (to protect key battery components from becoming contaminated), I saw firsthand the ins and outs of Nickel Metal-Hydride battery manufacturing. The plant is a prime example of America’s innovation and capability to produce cutting-edge, low carbon technologies. Before seeing the plant, I imagined plumes of smoke from the furnaces, sweat and dirt streaked workers in poorly lit conditions, but I was mistaken and I learned a few things.

Customizing needs

While walking through the Cobasys plant, I was struck by how new and clean it was. The plant managers very purposefully over-lit the facility to help the workers more easily catch any flaws in the constructed batteries that need to be corrected. In this case, we couldn’t just turn off the lights. But I did learn that by switching the light bulb from a 1000 Watt sodium halide to a more efficient option, the plant could achieve big energy savings and still allow the space to be exceptionally well lit.

If you don’t use it, lose it

We also found equipment running, but not being used. If you stopped and listened for a while, you could hear the sounds of air hissing and blowing around different parts of the plant. All of these things taught me my first basic lesson in the field search for energy efficiency opportunities–even in a new, clean and efficient plant, there are still energy savings to be found if you take a step back to look (and listen).

Unlikely partners, huge results

After all was said and done, we identified:

  • $67,000 in annual savings, which equates to about 18.5% of the plant’s energy costs and a reduction of
  • 674 MT of carbon, 19% of the plant’s carbon emissions.

This Treasure Hunt demonstrated that unlikely partnerships can produce stellar results. The thought of a partnership between an environmental group, a labor union and the management team of a Midwest manufacturing facility might be surprising to some, but the results of this Treasure Hunt prove the potential of a mutually beneficial project for all involved. Union members at the plant presented their findings to Cobasys, providing an opportunity to showcase their new-found skills in energy management. And to top it off, by demonstrating real opportunities for carbon reductions, EDF showed its new partners in just 3 days how “doable” it is to move to less polluting manufacturing.