A winning compressed air strategy: Turn it off!

I hear many complaints these days about the high cost of electricity, especially when the rates go up. People got some real good digs into me when I worked for the local power utility, but many times I could turn the aggression back on the sender, especially if I had monitored the customer's compressed air load. I could often see the users of the energy as their own worst enemy, not necessarily the power company.

Many times when I looked at the system flow data I could see high levels of leakage, often as high as fifty percent of the average flow was being consumed when nobody was working in the plant. Really poor plants could consume as high as 80 percent. With this there were often times where air compressors were running unloaded, consuming power but producing no air at the same time, basically doing nothing but consuming expensive maintenance hours. Why was this happening? Nobody knew or no one was aware. They were paying a kind of "stupidity tax" on their compressed air power bill.

Often the simplest way to avoid this tax is to turn things off. A simple flick a switch or a turn of a valve will depressurize the system when you are not using it. Leakage doesn’t occur on a shut down system. It’s kind of like turning off the lights before you leave a room, a no brainer, but in this case costing millions of dollars in industrial plants across the world.

More aggressive attention to air leakage, perhaps by assigning somebody the task of finding and fixing them, can reduce wasted power consumption in all systems, even in ones that can’t be shut down. And training the operators to place compressors in auto mode, where the units recognize they have been running unloaded for long periods of time and shut off automatically, is a good strategy for automatic savings.

You may not even know you are paying "stupidity tax" on your energy bill until you have had a close look at your system during weekend operation, and even then it may not be obvious. Often it takes a compressed air auditor to assess your system to look for these issues. Or better yet, the use of a permanent system of monitoring your compressors can help you see for yourself.

Learn more about compressed air efficiency at Compressed Air Challenge's next Fundamentals of Compressed Air Systems seminar. Check out the calendar at www.compressedairchallenge.org.