Nissan North America issued a challenge at a recent forum: Give Nissan three ideas for further improving energy efficiency and environmental performance at its automobile manufacturing plant in Smyrna, Tenn., where it was co-hosting the Save Energy Now Leader Industrial Sustainability and Energy Management Showcase. By the end of the day, Nissan had received more than 90 suggestions.

Bill Krueger, Nissan North America’s vice president, told the group that “the whole idea is to build a collaborative network of best practices.” Nissan hosted the event in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Industrial Technologies Program.

The showcase highlighted the value of public-private sector partnerships in reducing energy intensity in the industrial sector. Nissan’s three U.S. manufacturing plants have received a combined total of nine energy assessments sponsored by ITP in conjunction with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and DOE Industrial Assessment Centers at Tennessee Tech University and Mississippi State University. In addition to assessment support, they have rallied their supply chain, local utilities and state governments to help implement the energy efficiency projects that are saving Nissan more than $10 million annually in reduced energy costs. The projects include:
  • Installing variable-frequency drives.
  • Reducing the number of air compressors.
  • Lowering air pressure.
Nissan also has received DOE support for several related energy projects, including:
  • $1.4 billion loan guarantee for retrofitting the Smyrna plant and building a lithium-ion battery plant onsite to assemble the zero-emissions electric Nissan Leaf.
  • DOE State Energy Program grant for 70 percent of the cost to implement eight energy-efficiency projects at its Mississippi plant. The projects are expected to save $700,000 in energy costs annually.
  • DOE grant for deployment of methanol fuel cells to power small tug mobile equipment.
An implementation pitfall for many manufacturers seeking to sell the “business case” for energy efficiency is an inability to artfully connect technical data with corporate decision-making. At Nissan, this hurdle was overcome by holding each member of its energy team accountable, maintaining transparency of energy data across the entire organization, and designing user-friendly monthly budget summaries for management. Nissan has internalized a corporate culture of energy management, and also has instilled that value within its employees by offering several energy fairs that have helped bring efficiency home. According to Nissan, this model of behavior-based sustainability comes full circle in terms of payback when its employees bring a sustainability mindset back to work with them.