Compressed air systems are commonly used in industrial processes throughout North America. The electrical load of air compression systems is so significant in industrial markets, it is estimated that around 20% of total power is consumed by air compression systems. So what are they and why are they so widely used?
Air compression systems are used in a wide range of situations from a small workshop to industrial manufacturing companies where they distribute power to equipment throughout the facility.
A central compressor converts electricity into kinetic energy, which is stored as pressurized air. The compressed air is then distributed to equipment throughout the facility to operate equipment.
As a result, these types of systems are a core focus of many energy management programs. For businesses in Southern California that suffer from exorbitant cost of electricity, capital investment in compressed air systems is slight when compared to the cost of operating and maintaining the equipment. This means that proactive maintenance and investments in reducing costs associated with operation have a high return on investment relative to other energy efficiency programs.
Effective energy management and energy intelligence provide insight through the analysis of hourly interval data, which is critical for businesses that utilize compressed air systems to minimize waste. Additionally, there are measures that can be taken for little to zero costs which improve the efficiency of these types of systems, making businesses more financially and environmentally sustainable.
Examples of these low cost, high impact measures include performing air-leakage surveys to minimize energy lost through loose and faulty connections and auto sequencing compressor loads to reduce peak demand charges when equipment is being started up. Often companies start all equipment at once as a first order of business for the day, which costs a lot. Auto sequencing can reduce that cost dramatically.
Below are a couple of recent examples from two organizations that we partner with to manage their energy needs, where air compression systems are central to their business operations.
Case Study 1:
A distribution center in the Inland Empire CA, implemented auto sequencing on its variable speed drive compressors that improved efficiency by ~35%. Prior to the energy management program the system consisted of eight compressors that were in operation 24/7. Upgrading four compressors with higher efficiency models and reprogramming the compressor sequencing reduced usage by 900,000 kWh, providing more than $63, 000 in cost savings in the first year.
Case Study 2:
A medical device manufacturer in Orange County CA, performed an air leakage survey to identify inefficiencies in the air compressor system. The leaks, that had not been previously identified and were costing the company around $48,000 per year, were easily repaired by the company’s own maintenance staff. Keeping the repairs in-house keeps costs low but we can provide the energy intelligence needed to identify the problem.
Monitoring and managing air compressors is a simple ongoing exercise, often with significant results. It is always one of the first places we start when we kick off our energy management analysis.