Energy efficiency in industries

A primary objective for the EU


The concept “energy efficiency first” means that Europe has chosen to focus on efficiency as the mainstay of its energy policies, knowing that better use of energy is the most effective way to curtail consumption, reduce the environmental impact and improve a country’s competitiveness. In all programmes at Community and domestic level, the industry needs to do more.

In dealing with the topic of energy a pivotal element in terms of legislation and objectives at European level and for Member States, as well as from the point of view of responsibility on the part of companies, is energy efficiency. The correct use of energy and avoiding its waste is not just a matter of common sense, but also a source of real gains. Energy efficiency is an opportunity, and it should be regarded as such also by the industry, taking on a leading positions in the areas of research and development of innovation.

This was the topic under discussion in Milan (Italy) during the “XI day on energy efficiency in industries”, a conference organised by the Megalia Foundation in partnership with CTI (Italian Board for Energy and the Environment).

Chances for the industry

Despite its numerous advantages, the potentials of energy efficiency in the industrial sector are all too often neglected, says Ennio Macchi, professor emeritus at the Milan Polytechnic. First and foremost «it plays a fundamental role in counteracting climate-altering emissions. The International Energy Agency (IEA) considers energy efficiency as having a fundamental part, almost 50%, in the reduction of CO2 emissions». More specifically the value of its potential reduction has been estimated as 4.2 Gt, that is to say nearly half of the 9 Gt of CO2 in total which constitute the objective for 2030.

There is a lot that the industry can do; in the case of Italy, its contribution has also been included in the Pniec (integrated domestic Plan for energy and climate), also for the year 2030; it has been estimated at 1 Mtep/year out of the total 9.3 Mtep/year, and the relevant actions are often easy to implement, «with payback times frequently shorter than three years, confirming the tact that investing in energy efficiency is feasible and totally healthy», points out Professor Macchi.

The most important items in terms of industrial energy consumption are electricity and gas,  starting from this assumption it is possible to select two broad categories of actions to enhance energy efficiency. «In the case of substantial gas consumptions, the possible solutions are cogeneration, tri-generation and micro-cogeneration – especially for small and medium-sizes companies–, heat pumps and recovery of process heat – for example using organic fluid engines. As regards electricity, the possible solutions are efficient electric engines, using variable rounds per minute, efficient light emission bodies (LED), self-production and blockchain».

The latter element is important in a topic such as energy efficiency, where there are several players involved at the same time. «It is a tool which allows for traceability, providing evidence of what has been done; it is based consensus, common rules and transparency», says Antonio Panvini, general manager of CTI, «and this is why energy efficiency has such a particularly high potential».

Panvini also underlines the importance of regulations as an essential starting point to embark on a path which is shared by the various players involved, from institutions to public authorities, as well as of information. «We at CTI need to understand the new trends and topics to be used as the basis for consensus papers and the drafting of new shared technical standards; these tools should allow companies to prove that they have developed a product, process or service in the best possible – i.e. the most sustainable – way». 

European plans

«Europe supports the “energy efficiency first” concept», says Dario Di Santo, general director of Fire (Italian Federation for sustainable energy use) ,to the extent that it has been chosen as focus for the Clean energy package, whose other key objectives are the reduction of  greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the development of renewable sources. More specifically, the objective of efficiency in the final uses of energy in the lead-up to 2030 involves «a primary energy consumption of 132 Mtep and a final value of 104 Mtep».

He then explained that, for this purpose, Fire supports the M-Benefits and ESI Europe projects, both financed as part of the Horizon 2020 European project. The aim of the former is to introduce a methodology which might help Il energy managers, Esco and the other stakeholders involved in drafting proposals for energy efficiency to understand and quantify the impacts of these solutions on their core business. The second project – acknowledged by the Global Innovation Lab for Climate Finance as one of the most promising tools to mobilise investments in the private sector as regards energy efficiency – is specifically intended for small and medium-sized enterprises for which it has designed financial and non-financial mechanisms. The intention, according to Fire, is to replicate in Italy, Portugal and Spain the ESI (Energy Savings Insurance) model for energy efficiency interventions; this model has already been implemented in Colombia and Mexico, and plans are in the pipeline to export it to other Latin American and Asian countries.

Energy audit: the 5th of December deadline

The 2012/27/EU Directive on energy efficiency, implemented in Italy through Government Decree 102/2014, considers the energy audit as starting point for any efficiency-oriented action, as systematic assessment of how energy is used and managed, which is then the basis for the choices of the actions that are considered necessary. According to Domenico Santino, of Enea – national energy efficiency Agency, «the objectives of the audit are increasing energy consumption, through a reduced or “smarter” use of energy, which does not always mean reducing energy consumption; curtailing the incidence of energy expenditure on the turnover and limiting the environmental impact resulting from energy use, in other words reducing greenhouse gas emissions». Moreover, the energy audit provides «an outlook which is not just technical but technical-economic of global energy management and, if appropriately timed, it can also become a way of checking how energy has been managed in a company and how the actions have been implemented». This timeline has already been planned by the European Union which set the first deadline for submission of energy audits by the industry for December 2015, and now, four years later according to legal provisions – has agreed on the 5th of December 2019 as the new deadline.

In Italy, thanks to the effort by Enea together with several supply chains and trade associations – including Assocarta (Italian Association of paper, cardboard and paper pulp manufacturers) – the paperwork has been standardised and Guidelines have been prepared for the industry on how to conduct audits leading to a selection of Best Practices and providing energy indicators for the industry». These Guidelines also allow for a further step forward towards implementing a monitoring system.

Apart from the deadline of the 5th of December this year, the next important step is scheduled for 31 July 2020, with the updating of energy-intensity performance indices; in this regard, Mr Santino suggests that companies should «carry out audits which are as carefully structured and in-depth as possible, in order to provide the Ministry with more precise data on energy intensity».

Efficiency and competitiveness

In conclusion, optimising the use of energy resources is always a valuable approach, especially in those countries – like Italy –where energy-related costs are high, to the extent that investing in energy efficiency becomes synonymous with competitiveness. «Energy efficiency can be regarded as a true goldmine for Italy, which has always been at the forefront in the search for new technological solutions for energy saving» comments Adolfo Eric Labi, President of the Megalia Foundation. These solutions «can help improve people’s quality of life, as well as being exportable all over the world»; it is not by chance that the efficiency sector is «constantly in progress, exactly because technology is its pivotal element and reason for being», a product with a high added value – he calls it – «which can pave the way for economic recovery policies».

Not only is «energy efficiency a necessary, simple, possible and cost-effective opportunity, it is also the renewable source by default, because the cleanest, cheapest and inexhaustible source of energy is the part which is not used at all. This source» he concludes «also has the advantage of being transversal and not subject to cross-vetoing which hinders or impedes the use of different energy or technology sources ».