If nesting birds are adding their song to the sounds of work in your factory, chances are there are leaks that cost energy and money.
Birdsong is one of the things that Boise State University professor John Gardner looks for as he helps teams of students find possible energy savings at industrial buildings in the Pacific Northwest. The students look for potential energy efficiency improvements, ways to prevent pollution and minimize waste, and changes that will lead to improved productivity.
Gardner is director of the state’s two Industrial Assessment Centers or IACs, U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored programs that offer energy evaluations at manufacturing operations. There are two such centers in Idaho, one at Boise State and one at the University of Idaho in Moscow. The goal of both is to offer energy conservation services to small and medium-size manufacturing facilities, and to educate engineering students in applied energy efficiency.
The centers send out the student teams to factories at no cost. To be eligible, factories must have energy bills of around $100,000 to $2.5 million per year.
“Our job is to find a way to save energy that makes sense,” said Gardner, a professor of mechanical engineering who has been at Boise State for 16 years. “Our students calculate how much it would cost to implement a measure, and how much energy they would save, and then we look for the 18-to-24-month payback.”
There are 24 IACs at engineering colleges around the United States, all funded by the DOE. Idaho’s two programs, at Boise State University and the University of Idaho, are directed by the CAES Energy Efficiency Research Institute, a program that began in 2011 after Gardner received a 5-year DOE grant. Gardner, the director of the institute, is applying this summer for $1.75 million to renew the program for another 5 years.
So far, Gardner and his students have visited about 75 factories in Idaho, Utah, and Washington. They also checked three salmon processing plants in Kodiak, Alaska, where the factories were heavily reliant on freezers. Gardner said he expects interest in the program to rise as Idaho’s industrial power rates creep upward. Rates rose about 30 percent between 2010 and 2015, according to government data.
If he’s successful in renewing the program, Gardner said, it will be altered slightly. The DOE is now taking a closer look at cybersecurity for industrial control systems such as programmable logic controllers or PLCs, almost all of which are internet-enabled.
“As more and more of the manufacturing has an internet component, there is more opportunity for bad actors to find industrial secrets,” he said. For example, he said, many PLCs operate on a default password set by the company.
“We’re going to be educating our students on what questions to ask,” he said.