Is industry rationalising its energy consumption?

The industry is struggling to harness its important energy-saving potential. The implementation of energy efficiency measures is highly dependent on economic conditions (energy prices, carbon emission costs, etc.) and the specificity of the processes used by the different sectors of activity.

There are many solutions to rationalise energy consumption in industry. But obstacles to their implementation are hindering this necessary development.

The first is organisational. Except in very energy-intensive companies, energy efficiency is not a priority concern of managers, and few improvement efforts are therefore undertaken.

The second difficulty is operational. It stems from the nature of manufacturing processes, which are often discontinuous, particularly in the chemical or food industry. Installations start up, then stop, then restart, etc., which makes it difficult to use waste heat for products to be heated or dried, since these processes are often not simultaneous.

The third difficulty is economic. Most energy efficiency solutions offer a return on investment of between 4 and 7 years. This is too long for industry, which often requires returns of up to 3 years to make investments. This reluctance can be explained on the one hand by uncertainty about the continued success of their products on the market, and on the other hand by the fact that companies allocate their financial resources primarily to improving product quality and the reliability of production processes, to the detriment of energy rationalisation.

Moreover, in the pharmaceutical industry, any change in operating procedures to save energy generally requires lengthy approval procedures, which can seriously compromise the cost-effectiveness of planned retrofitting measures. In the food industry, the fear of impacts on the taste quality of products is an additional barrier to the implementation of energy efficiency measures.

In the area of electrical energy, the difficulty lies in identifying improvement potentials simply. The use of external specialists is necessary, but often difficult to justify, because it is not certain beforehand that their costs can be covered by possible energy-retrofitting measures.

Energy savings are closely linked to economic conditions. They must therefore take into account the operational reliability of processes, according to parameters that vary from one sector to another. Typically, 10 to 20% savings are relatively easy to achieve, but higher savings (up to 30%) require far more ambitious investigations and investment decisions.

In Switzerland, energy-intensive or CO2-intensive industries are encouraged to improve their long-term energy efficiency by making a commitment to the Confederation or a canton. This agreement of targets, which aims to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions, can be concluded under the aegis and supervision of the Energy Agency for Industry (AENEC). This program is bearing fruit as the average electricity savings achieved by AENEC affiliates have reached some 8% in 8 years. AENEC also estimates energy savings of 2.5-3 TWh per year over the last few years, which represents about 1% of our final energy consumption. Furthermore, it estimates that by 2050, almost 80% of companies in Switzerland should have implemented the recommended savings measures.

For multinational companies, a process of benchmarking according to industry (cement, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, etc.) can play an important incentive role in favour of energy efficiency.


Agence de l'énergie pour l'économie (AEnEC) (2019)
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(). Web-based tools for energy management in large companies applied to food industry. Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).
Office fédéral de l'énergie (OFEN) (2018)
(). Directive - Conventions d’objectifs conclues avec la Confédération et visant l’amélioration de l’efficacité énergétique.