manufacturing, emissions from factory
New report suggests that energy efficiency reform has been sluggish in industry due to “decades of low gas prices”. Photo: Thomas Millot

All eyes are on the manufacturing sector to clean up its carbon emissions act, and now that gas prices are high there’s optimism for serious action. 

New estimates suggest that with relatively low investments there could be lasting benefits that help businesses save on costs – and emissions.

And gas usage could be curbed by at least 25 per cent – or 10 million tonnes in greenhouse gas emissions  – by switching to alternative fuels and more efficient operating systems.

A new report from Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Energy Efficiency Council and the Australian Industry Group suggests that energy efficiency reform has been sluggish in industry due to “decades of low gas prices”.

A recent spike in gas prices – now more than two or three times the historic average and showing no signs of dropping – is putting pressure on the heavily gas-reliant manufacturing industry to consider its options.

AI Group principal national adviser – public policy Tennant Reed told The Fifth Estate that manufacturers of many building products, such as glass and bricks, will “fundamentally need to use gas” for the foreseeable future.

He also said that this should not stop manufacturers from looking into technologies such as waste heat recovery to improve their overall energy efficiency.

Mr Reed said that waste heat recovery technologies, which allow leftover steam, condensate or heat sources to be recovered as a lower grade heat and used in different areas of the plant, could be “effective for just about everybody” in manufacturing.

Waste heat recovery technology, for instance, “is at a high state of technological readiness” and although is still expensive, the payback is generally less than five years, he said.

L-R: Ian Learmonth, CEFC; Victoria’s Minister for Energy Environment and Climate Change, the Hon. Lily D’Ambrosio; Luke Menzel, Energy Efficiency Council; Innes Willox, Ai Group

Building manufacturers can also benefit from better processes

Another improvement worth investigating for building manufacturers is installing smart systems and sensors in equipment that can monitor energy use in real time.

“This could unlock zero cost improvements such as help manufacturers identify equipment that is not being used, or equipment that is oversized and so is not being utilised to its optimal potential,” he said.

Mr Reed stressed that all manufacturers are different but that by implementing some of the many practical strategies identified in the report, manufacturers could expect to see energy and cost savings.

One building products manufacturer, for example, saved $42,000 a year by installing a new control system on its boiler.

Fuel shifting has benefits

Other major improvements proposed in the report include equipment replacements and fuel shifting from gas to solar thermal, solar PV, bioenergy and low emissions electricity.

“It is no secret that manufacturers are relatively large energy users. The good news is that clean energy solutions can make a very real and positive difference,” CEFC chief executive officer Ian Learmonth said.

“An initial investment of $50,000 or less can be recovered within just five years, producing lasting benefits for the business. By switching to more efficient equipment and cheaper renewable energy, manufactures can improve their competitiveness as well as cut greenhouse gas emissions.”