Energy efficiency: getting ahead of the curve

Energy efficiency: getting ahead of the curve

How Egypt’s Arabian Cement Co. responded to the energy crisis

21 Feb 2020

At the height of the Egyptian energy crisis in 2014, the country experienced around six power cuts a day for up to two hours at a time. In a desperate bid to stem the population’s frustration, the President ordered his cabinet to prioritize power generation and to control distribution. Accordingly, gas flowing to cement and fertilizer factories was cut from 940 million cubic feet to 350 million cubic feet per day. While this decision was made as a last resort, for the country’s major industries and businesses it was a real shock to the system.

Mahmoud Mohsen, Energy Manager for New Cairo-based Arabian Cement Company (ACC), vividly remembers this tough period.

“During the energy crisis, we were all very disappointed because it was the first time we were really faced with a situation of instability in our production,” recalls Mohsen.

“We were dependent on two production lines for steady operation, and suddenly they cut the gas. When we contacted the state supplier they simply told us that there was not enough gas. After two days went by, they told us our gas would be switched back on, so we started to heat everything up again and, just as we became operational, they cut the gas again!”

Cement production requires temperatures above 950°C to process raw materials such as limestone and chalk into cement clinker - this is a very energy intensive process. Unplanned plant shutdowns due to power outages can be extremely costly. For a cement company like ACC, an unplanned shutdown caused by a shortage of natural gas can lead to significant production losses, and increased energy costs due to the need to reheat machinery, as well as damage to refractory lining and equipment.

When things finally began to return to normal, some companies decided to take their chances and go back to business-as-usual. However, ACC saw the natural gas shortage and reduction in state energy subsidies as an opportunity to innovate and get ahead of the curve. After all, more blackouts were likely and ACC did not want to take the risk.

It was at this point in 2014 that Mohsen, on behalf of ACC, decided to participate in the ISO 50001 energy management systems training in Cairo. The training is being implemented by The Industrial Energy Accelerator — an initiative supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and led by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

“I have to say this programme came at just the right time for ACC. It really was a fantastic training opportunity and a great initiative by UNIDO,” says Mohsen, who went on to lead his company’s journey toward energy efficiency.

Arabian Cement Company 's Mahmoud Mohsen.  ACC is a leading cement producer in Egypt. ACC’s cement factory produces five million tons of first quality cement annually – approximately 6% of Egypt’s production. 

Participating in the UNIDO energy management training and becoming a certified ISO 50001 auditor was the easy part,” explains Mohsen, adding that changing his company’s culture around energy conservation and efficiency was one of the biggest barriers he had to overcome.

For Mohsen, the secret to success was ensuring that positive results were communicated and shared so that all of the staff felt as though they were part of the solution. “We started by generating awareness among employees especially around the importance of implementing energy efficiency practices, not just in the company but also in their own homes and beyond,” says Mohsen.

In order to incentivize ACC employees, Mohsen made a concerted effort to include staff in each step of the process by encouraging them to suggest solutions which could improve energy productivity. “We implemented an ‘ideas box’ and encouraged everyone to write down all of their ideas to optimize energy in the company. We even published some the really good ideas on our website,” explains the engineer.

As new measures and practices were introduced, Mohsen communicated how much energy the company saved on a monthly basis with respect to collectively agreed targets and performance indicators. It turned into a contest for ACC employees who became determined to improve energy productivity from one month to the next.

The results speak for themselves. Since implementing the ISO 50001 energy management standard, Mahmoud says that ACC reduced its overall energy consumption by 2 per cent. With an annual production of 2 million tons per year, ACC could roughly power 2,850 homes in Egypt every year with the energy it has saved.

Today, ACC is considered a pioneer and a leader in the field of industrial energy efficiency. Awards include: the MVW Lechtenberg & Partner 2019 Alternative Fuel Award; the 2017 Middle East Region Project of the Year Award from the Association of Energy Engineers; and the Excellence in Energy Management Systems from the Energy Management Working Group of The Clean Energy Ministerial.

But for Mohsen, these achievements are just the beginning. “We believe that protecting the environment is everyone’s responsibility,” says the ambitious energy manager whose company has managed to reduce its carbon emissions by 15 per cent since implementing the ISO 50001 standard in 2014.

Since implementing the ISO 50001 standard in 2014, ACC has not only cut energy costs but has, at the same time, managed to reduce its carbon emissions by 15 per cent. It is providing an example that, if widely followed by other cement producers, could make a major contribution to helping save the planet from climate breakdown.

For more information about UNIDO's work on industrial energy efficiency, see The Industrial Energy Accelerator. It is one of six programmes launched by Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), which aim to double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030.