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Benefits: Costs

Mention utilities and energy in a discussion about manufacturing and the Big Three - water, electricity and natural gas - immediately come to mind. But compressed air is commonly accepted as a manufacturing facility's Fourth Utility. A careful examination of a facility's compressed air system will likely reveal several opportunities for reducing the plant's energy draw, resulting in significant energy savings, lower operating costs and a minimized impact on the environment through a smaller carbon footprint. And, taking a closer look at the way that Fourth Utility is manufactured can provide savings in maintenance, and the peace of mind that comes with the assurance of clean air.

The largest component of wasted energy in the process of manufacturing compressed air is heat loss. Even within the most efficient compressed air systems, a small fraction of the energy required for the process - 10 to 15 percent - is ultimately delivered as compressed air. When leaks and inefficient flow monitoring are included in the equation, energy waste becomes staggering; estimates indicate that poorly designed and maintained compressed air systems in the United States account for up to $3.2 billion in wasted utility payments every year.

Leaks, artificial demand (uses of compressed air that could be powered by low pressure solutions like blowers) and poor practices supplement the rest. Depending on pressure requirements and energy costs, a single ¼-inch leak in a compressed air line can cost a facility from $2,500 to more than $8,000 per year. Locating and fixing these leaks throughout a facility's compressed air system will result in significant savings.

Many manufacturers overlooked these problems for years when power was cheap, but under today's energy costs, becoming educated about the importance of total cost of ownership is imperative to saving money.

Why is the cost of energy significant? Look at a case where a manufacturer was running a 200 horsepower compressor 24 hours a day at 3 cents per kWh; however, these costs have doubled everywhere in the last five years, increasing in some areas to 8 cents per kWh or more. The annual cost to operate that compressor at 3 cents per kWh was $41,273. Today, that same compressor costs $110,062 to operate every year at 8 cents per kWh, or more than $500,000 over five years.

While identifying and fixing these problems will result in significant immediate savings, many utility companies are offering additional rebates or reduced rates for industrial facilities that are able to decrease energy demands. These incentives can further reduce manufacturing costs and benefit the environment through lower energy demands.

To calculate the cost of compressed air, use the following formula:

Cost ($/year) = motor bhp x .746 x hours of operation (per year) x electric rate ($/kwh) / motor efficiency

Consult with your supplier to help you run your compressed air system as efficiently and cost effectively as possible.