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Crown Battery makes energy management a part of company culture


 

A comprehensive energy management strategy is important for any business, and it's imperative for Crown Battery.

Since 1926, Crown Battery has been manufacturing lead-acid batteries in Fremont, Ohio. From a humble beginning as a radiator and battery repair service, the company has grown to include 10 facilities across North America and a product line that ranges from lawnmower batteries to power cells for large scale mining equipment.

With so many types of batteries on the factory floor, it's not surprising that an estimated 75 percent of Crown Battery's energy load goes into formation – the process of providing the batteries with a full charge before they leave the factory.

"In order to take a charge from a battery, you have to give it a charge," said Matt Culbertson, Project Energy Manager at Crown Battery. "Electricity is one of the raw materials that we're purchasing and then sending out to a customer. So, reliability, quality and cost are huge for us."

Crown Battery's focus on energy management has reduced costs, improved the quality of their products and bolstered their reputation as a leader in energy efficiency.

Laying the groundwork for an energy efficiency strategy

Effective energy management begins with a good procurement strategy. For more than a decade, Crown Battery has chosen Direct Energy Business as their natural gas supplier. They currently purchase about 58,000 dekatherms per year through a fixed price strategy to take advantage of low gas market prices.

Crown Battery enjoys an added level of budget certainty by planning for future energy expenses and locking in prices several years into the future. This simple solution has laid the groundwork for their overall energy strategy, as the money saved from their natural gas procurement promotes future energy projects.

"It's so easy to justify energy-saving projects when they are saving money," said Bob Michael, Director of Facilities Engineering at Crown Battery.

Crown Battery is considering several future energy-saving tactics, such as switching to LED light bulbs, reducing automation demand and upgrading the ventilation system. Currently, about 30 percent of the factory is operating with LED lighting, and the team has already begun adding HVAC equipment to the building automation system.

Culbertson says Crown Battery plans to add more renewable energy to their portfolio to meet growing customer interests. The manufacturer recently invested in wind projects and plans to add renewable energy storage to their product line.

"We don't want to just talk the talk, we want to walk the walk," said Culbertson.

 

Managing demand without curbing production

Though battery charging represented an untapped opportunity for energy efficiency, Crown Battery was initially hesitant to consider changing the process. The formation process is crucial to providing a quality product to their customer, and, as Michael confirmed, they had to be cautious about any alterations.

"People call that kind of expense 'the low-hanging fruit,' but for us it was a huge fruit that just wasn't easy to pick," said Michael. "When you're dealing with the formation of batteries, there's a time limit for how long they can be disconnected from power. If we go past it, we start affecting the quality we provide to our customers."

The team at Crown Battery needed to identify a demand management strategy that would not affect their quality control. First, they found that usage could be reduced by limiting electricity consumption from ventilation, a system that is vital to safely manufacture lead batteries. After exploring their options, Michael found that the best way to cut costs for the ventilation system was to install a Building Automation System (BAS) that could manage when the ventilation systems could be turned off.

"The better we manage it, the more power we can save and the cleaner the work environment is," said Michael. "That leads to a better work environment, more productivity and a less expensive, higher quality battery for our customers."

The project was successful in reducing Crown Battery's energy budget, and once the benefits of the team's demand reduction came to light, they began to consider ways to manage their peak load, starting with cutting the cost of the formation process with a demand response strategy.

Crown Battery now monitors their chargers and sends real-time alerts to factory operators to power down the chargers during peak hours on the grid. Since launching a Demand Response strategy with Direct Energy Business in 2017, Crown Battery has curtailed their load by up to 40 percent during peak periods, reducing their overall capacity costs year-over-year and lowering their energy budget. Over the last five years, demand response and energy efficiency projects together have led to nearly $5 million in rebates and cost avoidance.

As they continue reducing demand, Crown Battery is launching a $3.5 million project to replace chargers with more energy efficient models. Culbertson said the new chargers will tie into their existing building automation system and offer a greater level of control.

"The efficiency gains on the new chargers is a huge benefit for us," said Culbertson. "We always look at energy efficiency at Crown Battery. Because we could show how it positively affected our budget, it was easy to convince the team of the cost savings behind demand response."

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Keeping energy top-of-mind for employees

Crown Battery has grown substantially from its origins as a family-run business more than 90 years ago, but it is "still very much a family-oriented business," according to Michael. The familial quality of the Crown Battery workforce also translates to the company's energy strategy with a program where employees are incentivized for bringing conservation techniques and ideas to the table.

"One of the happiest moments was about five or six years ago. I walked on the plant floor, and I looked over at our finish department and it was dark," recalled Michael.

After discussing with the floor supervisor, Michael discovered that the team had turned off the lights during their break to reduce electricity use – and that they were doing so during every break. Michael saw this as a sign that the company's energy management goals were fully supported by the Crown Battery family.

"That initiative was taken without any encouragement from management or supervision. It was started by the employees who decided they could save energy on their own," Michael said. "When other departments started doing it, I thought 'Boy, we've made it. Energy efficiency is part of our culture.'"

Crown Battery is bolstering this energy efficient mindset by installing "digital billboards" throughout their plants for company communications and tips, such as how to curtail energy at home. Employees are also rewarded with free t-shirts and lunches for submitting energy-saving ideas.

"It reinforces the whole culture we're trying to build: understanding, managing and controlling the power and how we utilize it," said Culbertson.

Through effective strategies and workplace education, Crown Battery has created an environment where energy efficiency is a way of life for their employees. This environment has laid the groundwork for future energy projects and has made Crown Battery a leader in corporate energy management.

 

 

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