Operations Illustrated: Alternative Energy Sources
Benefits of Renewable Energy
Finding alternative sources of energy makes sense from an environmental and a financial viewpoint. In spite of headway made in recent years, it’s an uphill battle fighting the public’s general perception of the aggregates industry as less than environmentally friendly. And energy costs are not going down.
One answer? Renewable energy. Because of their geographic location, some producers have been able to move toward renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power — both connected to and removed from the grid.
In 2006, CalPortland Co., based in Glendora, Calif., entered into a long-term agreement with Alite Wind, LLC, to supply power from eight 3-megawatt (MW) wind turbines at its Mojave Cement Plant. Installed in 2007, the 24 MWs of power generated by these turbines for the plant — up to 60 million kilowatts of power per year — is equivalent to the annual energy needs of more than 10,000 homes.
“The Mojave Cement Plant (north of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert) is in one of the windiest areas in the country,” says Steve Coppinger, director of engineering services for CalPortland. He explains that, while there are other wind turbines on the property that are connected to the grid, the turbines supplying power to the Mojave Cement Plant are completely “behind the meter.”
“The plant is on the grid, but the turbines are behind the meter,” Coppinger says. “The energy the turbines produce amounts to about 35 percent of our needs, so we draw our additional energy from the grid. But everything we collect with these eight turbines reduces the energy we have to pull from the grid.”
The BoDean Co. of Santa Rosa, Calif., has also invested in renewable energy. In late 2010, its Mark West Quarry near Napa Valley began installation of solar panels that would allow the company to operate off the grid. On May 11, 2011, the Mark West Quarry held an official cutover ceremony, as the site became 100-percent solar powered.
“The area where the Mark West Quarry lies is far enough inland that fog creates a minimal impact,” says Bill Williams, BoDean Co. general manager. “While we do get rain in the winter; in the spring, summer, and fall — which is our largest production period — it’s dry and rarely cloudy.”
Unlike the wind turbines at the Mojave Cement Plant, the Mark West Quarry’s solar panels are connected to the grid. When the weather is cloudy, the plant may draw power from the grid. And when it is sunny, enough power is produced that the quarry can feed power back into the grid, even as it uses power for the plant. “It seems to balance out in what we draw from and feed into the grid,” Williams notes.
The ability to provide your own energy via renewable sources, such as wind, is driving some companies to set up energy systems “behind the meter.” In these situations, a portion of the energy needs for the site are delivered independent of the electrical grid — by way of a few wind turbines or solar panels. While the independent system may provide much of the energy for the site, it does not provide all of it. Additional energy needs are met from the grid.
If an alternative energy source has the potential to create more energy than a company needs, such as the solar panels pictured here, there is the option to remain connected to the grid, feeding back into it when surplus energy is created. Other times, if the alternative source cannot create enough energy to meet demand at the site, the company can still draw from the grid.
Many companies are exploring the use of biodiesel in their vehicles and rolling stock. Biodiesel is a renewable fuel that can be used in the place of petroleum diesel. Engine modifications are typically not needed, depending on the type of biodiesel, allowing companies the option to use biodiesel when it is economically beneficial. In addition to its renewable benefits, biodiesel also reduces emissions of greenhouse gases when compared to petroleum diesel.
It takes teamwork and buy-in from all levels of a company to commit to improved energy efficiency. Having an energy management team allows a company to focus on achieving goals. Regular meetings, teleconferences, and energy seminars with employees help to bring everyone onto the same page. Onsite visits with employees can be energy treasure hunts, versus energy audits, often bringing new energy-saving opportunities to light.
Equipment add-ons such as variable frequency drives adjust the speed and torque of engines by changing the frequency applied to them, saving energy. A heat recapture module on an asphalt plant can capture and reuse heat exhaust, applying it toward drying of aggregate and heating the binder, reducing energy needs. Alternative biofuels can replace the traditional diesel used in ANFO for blasting, reducing hydrocarbon production and petroleum diesel needs.
Sustainability measures are worth the effort in terms of being better neighbors and responsible citizens. Alternative energy sources can significantly lower a company’s carbon footprint by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Alternative energy, as a general rule, is renewable. And what’s more, its use can be profitable — in terms of lower energy consumption, less need for petroleum oil, more efficient equipment, and lower trucking expenses.
Steve Coppinger is the director of engineering services for CalPortland Co. based in Glendora, Calif. He created CalPortland’s energy management program in 2003 and has managed it ever since. Coppinger has been with the company for 26 years. He has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa. He also is a graduate of UCLA’s Executive Management Program and is a licensed professional engineer in the State of California.
Bill Williams is the general manager of Santa Rosa, Calif.-based BoDean Co. Prior to joining the company in 2002, Williams worked in the healthcare and financial industries. Between the years of 1988 and 1996, he taught junior high social science. Williams has a bachelor’s degree in education, with an emphasis in history, from Concordia University in Seward, Neb.
VOICES OF EXPERIENCE
It’s the philosophy at Santa Rosa, Calif.-based BoDean Co. that we all share a common social obligation to be good stewards of our natural resources and use business practices built around sustainability. For that reason, six years ago, the company chose to invest in new technologies and practices allowing it to use renewable resources. This has led to a reduction in energy consumption and BoDean’s overall carbon footprint.
According to General Manager Bill Williams, BoDean’s largest effort to date has been converting its Mark West Quarry to 100-percent solar power — becoming the world’s first quarry to do so. The project began in 2010. Less than a year later, BoDean “flipped the switch,” and the quarry became self-sustaining in its power needs. More than 3,400 solar panels have been installed on a reclaimed slope at the quarry, with the ability to generate 1.165 megawatts of power.
“It costs a tremendous amount of money each year to power our motors, crushers, screens, conveyors, pumps, and dewatering system. Energy costs keep going up and will continue to do so. It made sense to us to switch to using renewable sources for our power via photo-voltaic solar and stabilize our costs,” Williams explains. “This switch will save money, have a positive effect upon cash flow, and reduce our carbon footprint by over 900 tons of greenhouse gases per year.”
While the cutover of its Mark West Quarry to 100-percent solar power last year made headlines, BoDean had already invested in solar power at its Santa Rosa office in 2007. And it hasn’t stopped there in its energy-reduction efforts.
In its asphalt division, BoDean has begun to use warm-mix asphalt. This practice lowers the temperature of the material, saving on energy consumption while eliminating blue smoke and reducing CO2 emissions. The company has also installed variable frequency drive units at its asphalt plant, lowering energy needs by changing the frequency applied to a motor to adjust its speed and torque.
“‘Going green’ may be an overused phrase and, to some degree, abused in some circles…but if people are sincere in their desire to go green, they will eventually realize many benefits,” Williams says. “If we use less energy, we save money. If we recycle something instead of spending time and money to extract or create that product, then we are saving money. Going green shifts our notions of consuming something to saving something.”
CalPortland Co. of Glendora, Calif., has been a long-time member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program. But as a direct result of the California power crisis in 2001, the company focused on curbing energy costs in 2003, says Steve Coppinger, director of engineering services for CalPortland. “That was when we began to work with Energy Star to create a formal energy program,” he notes. Almost a decade later, CalPortland has a plan and a dedicated team working to reduce energy usage and its associated costs for the company.
CalPortland currently has 16 energy managers across its various divisions. These managers and others meet every two to three months via video conference to review best practices and energy performance. “The energy managers have helped us to create and sustain a strong corporate culture for reducing our energy usage and costs,” Coppinger says.
He explains that the buy-in from employees across the company has resulted from an attitude of working together. For instance, CalPortland has eschewed energy audits, holding energy “treasure hunts” at its facilities instead. “We brainstorm and have plant walk-throughs where the onsite employees are invaluable for pointing out such things as air leaks and lighting issues,” he adds.
As part of its energy program, CalPortland has initiated both large and small projects. The eight wind turbines working “behind the meter” at the Mojave Cement Plant, as part of a long-term agreement with Alite Wind, LLC, to purchase wind energy for the plant, fall under the company’s larger initiatives. But CalPortland has also installed solar panels in smaller, remote areas to help power such equipment as water pumps.
Additionally, the company has invested in the use of renewable fuels. In 2008, the Oregon-SW Washington Division converted its ready-mix trucks, dump trucks, concrete pumps, and diesel-powered yard and plant equipment to use blended biodiesel fuel. And in 2006, CalPortland’s Rillito Quarry began to use a new “biofuel” in place of petroleum diesel fuel to combine with ammonium nitrate as its bulk blasting agent.
All of these efforts have helped CalPortland to garner recognition from Energy Star for eight consecutive years — from 2005 to 2012.
“But beyond that, it just makes sense from an environmental standpoint and a cost standpoint to explore all options,” Coppinger says. “Thirty-three percent of power generated in California will have to be renewable by 2020. That’s not that far off, so the pressure is on.”