With the promise to provide its users with a framework for achieving ongoing reductions in energy usage and carbon footprint, the ISO 50001 international standard for energy  management systems was launched in the middle of last year. However, what exactly is ISO 50001, how does it work, and what are its practical implications? To provide the answers to these questions, David Pitt of Eaton’s Electrical Sector, talks to Industrial Compliance

Applicable to organisations of all types and sizes, ISO 50001 is a standard that sets out current best practice in energy management and, according to the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), it could influence up to 60% of the world’s energy use.

The important points to remember about the new standards are that it is international and it builds on existing national and regional standards. This means that multi-national companies can adopt the same energy management framework for all of their operations, and it means that ISO 50001 certification will be recognised globally.

Also, 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.

The final key point with regards to ISO 50001 is that it is not an ‘implement it and forget it’ standard, but more a driver for continual improvement. A one-off exercise to meet the needs of the standard will simply not suffice, as sustained compliance requires regular reassessment. And these reassessments require organisations to show that they are maintaining and, wherever possible, enhancing their energy reduction measures, and also that these measures are effective.

Interestingly, in terms of the key points mentioned here, 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.

Causing confusion

Prior to examining ISO 50001 in greater depth it is important to focus on two areas that may cause some confusion.

Despite the fact that 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.

Secondly, some readers 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 expected to be completely superseded by ISO 50001. Certifying bodies such as NQA and BSI are offering an upgrade path that allows organisations already certified to BS 16001 to transition easily to ISO 50001.

How does the standard work?

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.

Why is it important?

A degree of effort and expenditure will be required to attain ISO 50001 certification, and to keep it. 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.

In addition, there are indirect benefits which should be taken into account. 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.

Many major organisations have already found these benefits to be persuasive enough to start investing in ISO 50001. For example, Eaton Corporation is currently at an advanced stage in a project aimed at gaining ISO 50001 approval for its operations in North America, in order to gain experience before implementing similar projects worldwide.

Practical terms

So, how are the commitments embodied in the ISO 50001 certification process translated into practical measures?

The scope of the standard reaches far wider than simply technological measures. It also encourages energy efficiency by other means including 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.

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 not a new idea, it deserves further promotion as the potential energy savings are enormous and, despite all the publicity given to VSDs in appropriate applications, huge numbers of fans and pumps are still being used with fixed speed drives.

Another area where there are 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 UPSs are notoriously inefficient.

The modular management system technology from Eaton uses a UPS architecture that is essentially made up of a number of small power converter ‘modules’ rather than a single large converter. A 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.

Summary

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 provides a myriad of ways of building energy efficiency gains onto that framework.

Eaton Electrical Sector

www.eaton.com/electrical

T: 0121 685 2100