Energy efficiency impact & risk for the manufacturing sector

Guy Robertson, Director of Energy Transition at Ramboll, on how to increase impact and reduce risk in the manufacturing industry with energy efficiency

Recent research carried out for the 2022 Net Zero Stocktake report found that nearly one-third of the world’s largest publicly traded companies had Net Zero targets. But whilst that is an encouraging marker of progress, data compiled for the same report revealed that 65% of those companies do not have a plan in place for how they will achieve their Net Zero goals.

“That is a troubling figure across all sectors, but it is particularly concerning for the manufacturing industry,” says Guy Robertson, Director of Energy Transition at Ramboll. “Manufacturing is typically a carbon intensive industry – in the UK, manufacturing alone accounts for about 10% of annual carbon emissions. There have been efforts to decarbonise manufacturing, largely through the increased use of renewable energy, but renewable energy is no magic bullet.”


The challenges of Net Zero in manufacturing

For one, we are not yet at a stage where renewable energy alone can meet energy needs. 

“The government’s most recent report on energy production, released in March this year, revealed that whilst the share of electricity generated by renewable power increased last year, gas and other fossil fuels remained predominant,” says Robertson.

“Cost is another concern. Renewable energy is less expensive than energy generated by fossil fuels, but the market can still be volatile. Even last year, as renewable energy capacity continued to increase, the price of solar and wind power also rose due to widespread energy shortages and transportation challenges.”

Clearly, renewable energy cannot provide all the answers to manufacturing’s Net Zero challenges, but the sector is not without solutions. 

“Energy efficiency technologies, already in the market, could significantly reduce the manufacturing industry’s energy consumption – in turn reducing costs and helping to meet Net Zero targets.”

Guy Robertson

Guy Robertson, Director of Energy Transition at Ramboll

Making waste work in manufacturing 

Energy efficiency relies upon minimising heat wastage whilst maximising heat recovery. For example, the energy from continuous waste heat sources (such as refrigeration systems or hot exhausts) can be captured and reused. 

“De-steaming processes can also be instrumental in improving energy efficiency, particularly in the light manufacturing sector where there is greater scope for using continuous low temperature heating instead of steam,” said Robertson. “According to research conducted by the International Energy Agency, more widespread application of these technologies and processes could allow manufacturing businesses to double the value they produce for each unit of energy consumed. There is also real scope for the light manufacturing sector to use these processes to deliver energy savings.”

In fact, if light manufacturing were to embrace energy efficiency, this sector alone could account for as much as 70% of the overall energy saving potential for the entire manufacturing industry. 

“That includes particularly energy intensive sectors such as steel and cement production,” continues Robertson. “This would also reduce carbon emissions, with recent research suggesting that the widespread introduction of heat pumps in the light manufacturing industry could reduce the associated carbon emissions by a third.” 


Use less and save more energy

The financial rewards for investing in energy efficiency reflect the potential energy savings. 

“One of Ramboll’s manufacturing clients found that implementing just one heat recovery project is expected to reduce the heat energy consumed by one specific production process by 35%, delivering an annual saving of £600,000,” said Robertson. “UK businesses will also be able to make savings by accessing government capital grant funding support for energy efficiency which can help de-risk investments in new technology and equipment. Reducing energy use will also help businesses ensure that a greater percentage of the energy they do use is from renewable sources, making achieving Net Zero targets that much simpler.”

Robertson believes that to create a sustainable manufacturing industry for the future, the sector must shift its focus to energy efficiency. 

“It is energy efficiency which will unlock the first steps to Net Zero, for both individual businesses and the UK as a whole. By taking advantage of the energy efficiency technology that is on the market now, the sector can improve bottom lines in the short-term whilst protecting its long-term future. For the manufacturing industry then, energy efficiency really is a case of maximum impact and minimum risk.”


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