Case Study: Energy Audit at a Food Processing Plant

Workers unveil a cold storage facility in a Guatemalan food processing plant
by David Jaber

We were in luck.  A major food processing client of the past year, for whom we’ve done extensive greenhouse gas inventory work, asked us to do an energy audit of one of their main production facilities to identify opportunities to, indeed, reduce that greenhouse gas footprint. Excellent.  Exactly what you want a client to do — take a serious look at implementing measures that you had previously recommended to them.

The first step — assemble a team.  This project required additional expertise that we don’t have on staff.  “Let me call Dale,” said my colleague — Dale being our contact at a nationally prominent energy engineering firm.  My colleague was one of those people who over the course of 35 years seemed to know virtually everyone in the very diverse field of professional sustainability services. Being that networked is a real asset where the needs for different projects can vary greatly, and where it’s extremely challenging to have all the skillsets one might need all under one small-to-medium sized roof.

We also wanted a wastewater expert, and so brought in a colleague from a leading design firm that focuses on water systems.

Alas, neither Dale nor any of his colleagues were available for our schedule, which would hit the ground in two weeks. One drawback of the network model is that you can’t always get the right people when you need them.  However, he recommended another firm, whose name we hadn’t heard before.  Quizzical eyebrows shot up.  After a call, some back and forth, and some internal discussion, we mutually decided to move forward.  New business relationships aren’t unlike other relationships, with some back and forth generally required before you know whether you really want to work with each other.  It’s true that in business that we may be less likely to worry about mutual admiration than in other relationships, but, to its credit, this industry, and our business in particular does value working with people with whom we genuinely wish to work.

So, down to the plant.  Our team of four was met in the reception area by the plant manager, who brought us up to a small conference room, which we completely fill, together with the plant engineer, the comptroller, and the VP of operations.  And then the questions fly.

We had 350K sq. ft of space, with about one-third of it cooled (conditioned) for product storage.  We had a lot of real estate to cover, even if this is not that large by industrial standards.  And, clearly, refrigeration was going to be an issue — door gasket and seal quality, defrosting and coil cleaning for effective heat transfer off of the coils, efficiency of refrigeration motors, unnecessary heat loads inside the conditioned space, white roof to reduce exterior heat loads, etc.

There were multiple product lines winding throughout the facility.  Very likely meaning countless 1/4 – 1/2 hp motors along several hundred yards of conveyor belts, compressed air systems (with leaks!), large motors to drive the air compressors, and extensive hot water cleaning (this is a food processing site, after all).  Our work was cut out for us.

[Image Credit: agrilifetoday on Flickr]

Part 1 of 2: To Be Continued

Note: This story is based on actual experience and is mostly, but not completely non-fictional. The recommendations above are considered valid.  
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David Jaber is lead detective and a project advisor at inNative (, seeking to improve organizational intelligence around environmental impacts and bring insight into making improvements.

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