Let’s Make Fluid Power Part of the U.S. Energy Future

Eric Lanke NFPA CEO

By Eric Lanke


A few months back I attended the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Plants Summit in Washington, DC. Better Plants, if you’re not familiar with it, is a DOE program in which companies pledge to make energy use reductions in their industrial plants. According to the statistics I saw at the Summit, there are close to 160 industrial partners in Better Plants, representing more than 2,300 facilities and about 11% of the U.S. industrial energy footprint.

One of the things that struck me at the Summit was the level of commitment major industrial companies are making to these energy reduction goals. I saw presentations by the energy managers of 3M, Volvo and Eastman, all touting the energy savings those companies have realized through their partnerships in the Better Plants program.

Thing is, when you listen to the business people talk about it, they talk about it in terms of business objectives. Sustainability and energy efficiency are not “feel-good” public relations strategies. Increasingly, they drive profitability for these companies and their shareholders.

It got me thinking. Do we want fluid power to help the companies achieve their energy reduction objectives, or are we content to let them view fluid power as a technology they need to replace in order to meet their objectives?

Clearly the former, and I think we have a persuasive case to make. Some of the “success stories” presented at the Summit showed energy use improvements being made (some of which replaced fluid power for other technologies) that resulted in paybacks on the initial investment on the order of 15-18 months. Well, we’ve got data, published most recently in our 2014 Annual Report on the U.S. Fluid Power Industry, that show common paybacks from fluid power energy improvement projects on the order of 4-5 months, and with a resulting energy savings of 30% or more.

We’re working right now to include fluid power in the assessment programs that the DOE sponsors for the partners in their Better Plants program. Based on the representative sample I spoke to at the Summit, most certainly use fluid power in their industrial facilities, and most have little or no idea what to do to make those systems more energy efficient.

Imagine what the world would look like if fluid power assessments and improvements could be made in the 2,300 industrial facilities that comprise the Better Plants Program. Here’s my back-of-the-envelope calculation, based on the data I saw presented at the summit.

  • U.S. industrial energy footprint = 24.5 quadrillion BTUs (quads)
  • Better Plants comprises 11% of that footprint = 2.7 quads
  • Fluid power can save up to 30% of that number = 0.81 quads
  • 1 quad costs roughly $20 billion to produce
  • Fluid power energy improvements could save Better Plants partners $16.2 billion

How’s that for impact?

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