Roanoke spreads the energy-savings message to RM customers

Through 3,000-plus hours of technical assistance and energy management training in 2010, Titan America-owned Roanoke (Virginia) Cement Co.’s (RCC) Plant A Star program saw staff position a group of ready mixed concrete customers to reduce plants’ electricity consumption by an estimated 15 percent.

Applying best practices from cement and integrated concrete operations, the company’s Plant Energy Team conducts presentations for customers on electrical rate structures and their complexities; checks air systems for leaks and false-air consumption; and, meters critical electrical loads, netting thermal images that demonstrate energy-saving opportunities. It stresses energy management, tracking, benchmarking and the use of Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star Program resources, plus proactive equipment maintenance, repair and replacement.

The Plant A Star method stemmed from an early effort to reduce fuel consumption of mixer trucks in Roanoke Cement sister concrete operations. “Strive for Five” became a directive for drivers to cut ignition if truck idling was to exceed five minutes.

Chris Bayne was appointed RCC’s energy manager (now Energy Champion) in 2008 and today has an expanded role. As the economy slowed, RCC’s Plant Energy Team’s mission became more ecological, reflecting enhanced sensitivities toward energy efficiency and cost savings. The energy team members, whose original question to plant operators was “What can we turn off?”, have evaluated the last few years of successful conservation and now ask, “What can we do next?”

Previously a consultant in energy reduction and LEED building practice, Bayne’s job was to provide green ideas with enduring environmental benefits to customers. The entire energy team displayed those same attributes in presenting conservation ideas to RCC plant employees and other business units, giving them the confidence and motivation to create energy efficiency initiatives of their own. Reflecting on response and results from customers signing on to the free consulting and plant power audits, Bayne notes, “The trick is to be helpful and not meddle. Customers need to be able to apply this energy knowledge to their processes by themselves.”

In 2010, the Plant Energy Team reached out to internal, then to external ready-mixed concrete customers to discuss “Strive for Five” leading to discussions of other energy efficiencies and cost-saving measures. RCC recognized that all businesses are struggling with increased burdens and have a strong need to address their energy consumption to remain competitive.

One small initiative graduated into a much larger program, where the Plant Energy Team conducted presentations and energy audits, and eventually presented the benefits of energy management, tracking and benchmarking, while showcasing the available resources provided by the Energy Star Program to its customers. Through a combination of company values and tried-and-true practices of bothcorporate and Plant Energy Teams, RCC employees developed the Plant A Star Program.

“RCC adopts the customer’s perspective for its internal improvement initiative,” says RCC Plant Manager Kevin Baird. “Helping them be successful is the only objective. If they are not successful, we are not successful.”

“Our Plant Energy Team recognized that businesses are struggling with increased burdens and need to address energy consumption to remain competitive,” Baird continues, noting that Plant A Star participants’ estimated energy consumption cuts would initially save enough electricity to power 150 households. “When you pay $1 million a year in electric bills, those kind of savings really count.”

As customers log savings from Plant A Star-rooted improvements, the RCC Troutville plant, Virginia’s only cement mill, has been awarded the EPA Energy Star for a fifth consecutive year, and is the industry’s first operation receiving such agency recognition for 2011. A cement plant can earn the label by achieving energy performance within the top 25 percent of peer operators nationally using the Energy Star scale.

RCC staff has assisted customer Charlotte, N.C.-based Concrete Supply Co. in energy audits at 12 ready mixed plants. They represent a good cross section of rural, medium- and higher-volume sites running transit or central mixed equipment, and drawing from five or six different utilities. Although volume and equipment variables limit the effectiveness of plant-by-plant comparisons, the objective has been to identify common attributes netting energy savings.

With post-audit investment in new equipment centered mostly on replacement motors, Concrete Supply figures electricity consumption from the 12 plants combined has been reduced 18 percent per cubic yard of output. “[Plant A Star] has opened our eyes to a more process-driven evaluation of power consumption,” says President Henry Batten. “We didn’t understand mechanically and operationally what we were doing to drive electricity demand up. The only time you see power at a concrete plant is when you get the bill.

“From an auditing standpoint, Roanoke staff brought a great deal of initial knowledge about the process and target items to look at. We went from an informal energy-management program to a fairly rigid one.”

Energy reduction has become a competition among the audited plants, he adds. Concrete Supply’s vice president of operations is leading audit efforts following the Roanoke staff assistance, in some instances combining energy measurements with safety inspections. Several operations team members are conducting audits at plants normally outside their responsibility, which advances the energy efficiency push and helps transfer best practices across the enterprise.

RCC’s Baird says the response to the energy audits for customers has been overwhelmingly positive. “We’re seeing tangible savings in electric bills. The idea of reducing energy usage 5 to 6 percent per year begins to add up over time,” he explains. “We have 10-12 customers in the program for 2011, and all of them have multiple locations. We take the lessons we learn in one location and transition them to the others.”