After many years of discussion, the new ISO 50001 international standard for energy management systems was finally launched in the middle of 2011, with the promise that it will provide those who adopt it with a framework for achieving on-going reductions in energy usage and carbon footprint.
But what exactly is ISO 50001, how does it work, and what are its practical implications? David Pitt of Eaton’s Electrical Sector has the answers.
In the simplest terms, ISO 50001 is a standard that sets out current best practice in energy management, and is intended to help users improve their energy efficiency. It’s applicable to organisations of all types and sizes, and according to ISO, the International Organisation for Standardisation, it could influence up to 60% of the world’s energy use.
There are three points about this new standard that are particularly worth bearing in mind. The first is that it is an international standard, which builds on existing national and regional standards. This is significant not only because it means that multinational companies can adopt the same energy management framework for all of their operations, but also because it means that ISO 50001 certification will be recognised globally.
The second key point about ISO 50001 is that compliance with the standard requires independent third-party assessment by an accredited organisation, so it’s a standard that generates a high degree of confidence.
Finally, ISO 50001 is not an “implement-it-and-forget-it” standard – it’s a driver for continual improvement. It’s not enough for organisations to carry out a one-off exercise to meet the standard because, as we shall see, on-going compliance with ISO 50001 involves regular reassessment. At these reassessments, organisations must be able to show that they are maintaining and, wherever possible, enhancing their energy reduction measures, and also that these measures are effective.
It may be worth noting that, in relation to these key points and in many other ways, the new ISO 50001 standard for energy management is similar in the way it works to the rather more familiar ISO 9001 standard for quality management although, of course, its focus is different.
Before examining further the requirements of ISO 50001 and how they can be implemented, let’s deal with two small points that may cause confusion.
Although ISO 50001 is an international standard, it will be adopted and implemented in individual countries by their own standards organisations. In the UK, it was published by the BSI Group as BS ISO 50001 on 15th June 2011. This is simply the customary approach for adopting international standards, and has no significant implications for users of those standards.
The second point is that some who are reading this may have noted a close parallel between ISO 50001 and the older BS 16001 standard for energy management. That’s not surprising, as BS 16001 is one of the national standards that formed the foundations for ISO 50001. The older standard is now expected to be withdrawn, probably during 2012, and completely superseded by ISO 50001. Certifying bodies such as NQA and BSI are offering an upgrade path that allows organisations already certified to BS16001 to transition easily to ISO 50001.
Let’s now turn to how the new standard works. In general terms, the procedure will be familiar to anyone who has been involved with ISO 9001 or ISO 14001. The basis is a third-party assessment of the candidate organisation’s Energy Management System (EnMS). This is carried out in two stages by inspectors from the organisation’s chosen certifying body.
The first stage looks at policies, procedures and processes relating to energy management. Once these have been shown to be satisfactory, the second stage of the assessment examines how effectively the policies, procedures and processes are being implemented. This second stage typically involves discussions with staff at all levels in the candidate organisation.
Both stages of the assessment focus particularly on how well the EnMS has been formulated to drive continuing improvement, looking in particular for a plan-do-check-act framework that incorporates clearly defined processes for monitoring, measurement and analysis.
Organisations with an EnMS that satisfies all aspects of the assessment are awarded an ISO 50001 certificate of registration, which is initially valid for three years. Throughout that period, the assessor will regularly visit the certified organisation to ensure continuing compliance, and to support the organisation in making further improvements in its EnMS.
There is no denying that gaining ISO 50001 certification, and subsequently keeping it, involves a degree of effort and expenditure. So why should organisations bother? The most obvious answer is that increased energy efficiency means reduced costs, but that’s far from the only benefit. Better energy management also means reduced carbon footprint and easier compliance with increasingly stringent government measures designed to reduce emissions.
There are also indirect benefits. Certification enhances the environmental reputation of an organisation with customers, shareholders and the public at large. Finally, it also boosts the organisation’s competitive position – already most tender pre-qualification documents for major projects request ISO 9001 certification, and it surely won’t be long before ISO 50001 features just as prominently.
These benefits have already proved sufficiently convincing for many major organisations to start investing in ISO 50001 certification. This includes Eaton Corporation, which is currently at an advanced stage in a project aimed at gaining ISO 50001 approval for its operations in North America, to gain experience before implementing similar projects worldwide.
So much for theory and justifications, but how are the commitments embodied in the ISO 50001 certification process translated into practical measures?
One of the great strengths of the standard is that its scope is far wider than simply technological measures. It also encourages energy efficiency by other means including, for example, improving training and changing employee behaviour. This doesn’t mean, however, that technological measures can or should be marginalised; they still have a large and essential role to play.
For example, a key element of every EnMS is measurement, first to establish a baseline, and then to provide the data needed to assess improvements against that baseline. In the case of electrical energy, obtaining sufficiently detailed data invariably means using sub-metering systems that can provide information about the energy used by individual loads or groups of loads.
New commercial and industrial electrical distribution systems now make good provision for sub metering, but it is still important to specify the right equipment for the project in hand. With existing equipment, the situation is not always so straightforward, but some suppliers of distribution equipment, including Eaton, offer compact retrofit metering boxes that are supplied pre-wired and tested, making them convenient and inexpensive to install.
Of course, measurement is only part of the solution – saving energy is the real goal and for this many technological solutions are possible. Probably the one most frequently mentioned is the installation of variable speed drives (VSDs) to replace fixed-speed starters on fans and pumps.
While this is hardly a new idea, it deserves further promotion as the potential energy savings are enormous and, despite all the publicity given to the benefits of VSDs in appropriate applications, huge numbers of fans and pumps are still being used with fixed speed drives. Even where VSDs are fitted, it’s important not to be complacent, especially if the VSDs are old. The latest products are much more efficient than their predecessors, so an upgrade may well be beneficial.
Another area where increasingly large amounts of energy are being used, and there are good opportunities for making substantial savings, is in the powering of data centres and related IT infrastructure. Since secure supplies are needed, Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPSs) are invariably used. If these are old or poorly specified, however, their efficiency can be alarmingly low.
For example, it’s always tempting to size a UPS with plenty of reserve capacity to cater for worst-case conditions and to allow for future expansion. This often means that the UPS spends a lot of its life lightly loaded, and lightly loaded UPS’s are notoriously inefficient. One very effective solution is the modular management system technology pioneered by Eaton.
This uses a UPS architecture that is essentially made up of a number of small power converter “modules” rather than a single large converter. An innovative monitoring system then tracks the load on the UPS and switches modules in and out of service instantly and seamlessly, as needed. This means that, at any given time, all of the modules that are in service are well loaded and, therefore, operating efficiently, but plenty of reserve power is always available to cope with worst-case demand.
The coming of ISO 50001 should not be viewed as the imposition of yet another standard to burden businesses, but as an excellent opportunity to save money, protect the planet and build important competitive advantages. As we’ve seen, the standard provides an excellent framework for improvements, while working with the right technology partner – a company with wide and proven expertise in optimising the energy chain – provides a myriad ways of building energy efficiency gains onto that framework.
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