In many parts of the country—and especially the Pacific Northwest—interest has surged in completing energy-saving compressed air system upgrades. The financial assistance from incentive programs, combined with the falling costs of efficiency-increasing technology, has made these projects very attractive to all those involved. The benefits for society, power companies and customers are immense.
With the surge in energy-saving projects, there has also been a boom in utility energy outreach programs and energy auditors. It seems every business has been approached by an eager salesman, or an energy expert, wanting to save energy by replacing old equipment. They might extol, “The power company will even help pay for it! All you need to do is help fill out this survey, and let us hook up some metering equipment.” A while later, a report shows up with energy savings, cash incentives, and a good payback to replace or upgrade your compressed air system.
While the process seems simple, projects can easily go awry—or never happen at all—if every customer expectation is not discovered and satisfied. When approached with an energy-saving project proposal, one mill manager stated, “I’ve done so many projects to save energy, I should be selling power back to the electric company! People come in here and promise the moon—I buy it, and then something happens and somehow the new system does not perform as expected.”
Apparently, the person he worked with previously did not completely understand the mill manager’s expectations—or the savings were overestimated. Taking an extra step during the planning stages of a project can minimize implementation problems and help projects run far more smoothly. The extra step is a meeting between the auditor, vendor, incenting organization, and the end user.
A meeting between the auditor, incenting organization, vendor, and end user can help maximize the benefits of any energy-saving project.
Getting the Energy-Saving Project Rolling
Since the opportunity does not come around often, it’s critical to get the project right at the rare moment when the end user’s engineering, accounting, maintenance and purchasing departments all agree it’s a good idea to spend money to save money. Typically, for a project to get started, a salesperson, engineer, or power company representative performs a quick, free, scoping walkthrough. Using a combination of checklists, rules of thumb and experience, they can quickly identify potential energy savings and qualify the site for further study.
For the next step, an energy engineer or auditor is brought in to collect data and prepare a report detailing options for system improvements. In the standard engineering model, it’s fully up to the customer to get the project permitted, installed and implemented. Changes to the report are difficult, because the energy auditor has already been paid and is on to a new job. Sometimes, the customer will incur additional costs for project management and system integration services. In other cases, vendors have their own energy auditing staff to perform evaluations. These audits tend to be more sales oriented. Having the salesman of the preferred brand involved ensures installation and integration plans can be made early in the project, ensuring compatibility and proper estimation of installation costs. In other cases, the utility or incenting organization performs their own energy audits.
Going Beyond Prescriptive Measures to Ensure Energy Savings
As discussed earlier, incentivizing organizations have prescriptive measures for common efficiency improvements, such as replacing incandescent lights for LEDs or upgrading to premium HVAC equipment. The more complicated projects are usually referred to as “custom projects” or “engineering track projects.” Because these systems are more complex, rules of thumb or simple energy calculator tools do not provide enough accuracy or confidence for predicting savings. For example, a mill with five air compressors in two separate rooms running two shifts of production, along with a graveyard cleanup shift, would warrant a detailed energy report.
In order to properly estimate savings and incentives, data loggers are used to record operating parameters, such as power, pressures and flow on each air compressor for several weeks of typical operation (Figure 1). Then the power consumption and compressed air demands are calculated along with other system performance metrics, and they are presented in a series of graphs. As shown in Figure 3, charting performance metrics and sharing them in a meeting can be a powerful tool in helping the customer understand their compressed air demands. Consequently, the customer can make the best decision regarding improvements to the system, and determine the best way to achieve the desired energy savings.
Figure 1: Using CTs is an effective method for recording kW.
Figure 2: Downloading performance metrics from the data loggers provides helpful charts for the end user.
Figure 3: This chart shows the total power, total flow and pressure for a single day. The first shift started around 4:00 am, and the second shift stopped around 9:00 pm with additional demands for cleanup and maintenance.
Click here to enlarge
Next, a simulation is run to accurately estimate the energy savings using energy-efficient equipment at the previously recorded flow demands. Finally, an economic analysis is presented as a simple payback based on total project cost minus incentive divided by the savings.
Downside of the Standard Engineering Model
Once the data is collected and existing system performance has been determined, an experienced energy audit engineer will have opinions on the best way to run the system and the best choices for new equipment. It’s easy to put together a couple options, include some budgetary pricing, send the report to the customer and move on to the next job.
Regardless of who provided the initial energy audit, the extra, often overlooked step is going back on site to show the customer the preliminary data and start an additional conversation. The discussion might start with the auditor asking several questions, such as: “Here’s what we see in this data, what do you see?” or “Here’s how we think we can improve your system, what other factors (new warranties, expanding demands, installation requirements) besides energy should be considered in the upgrade?”
The “sweet spot” of a successful energy project is the brainstorming meeting when the initial data is spread out on the table, allowing all those involved to come up with the best solution. Saving energy through the installation of new equipment or upgrading existing equipment is the goal of everyone involved, but to look at the underlying motivation of involved parties can draw a better understanding of how to collaborate and get more projects to happen. The additional meeting has unique benefits for each party involved.
Increasing Feedback Between the Energy Auditor and End User
The preliminary energy project presentation gives the energy auditor a chance to suggest ideas to the customer and listen to immediate feedback before writing the final report. Writing a report to include every viable option is great in theory, but presenting more than a few well-considered options is not very practical.
Consequently, the customer gets an improved, more focused energy report, because it contains only viable options they want to consider. They can discuss and consider non-energy factors directly affecting the installation of the new equipment, such as available space, available electrical service, noise concerns, reliability, remote sensors and communication/integration requirements. Besides saving energy, the customer also wants to factor in expansion plans, improve production processes, decrease equipment downtime (planned and unplanned), and decrease their maintenance. They are also under great pressure to keep capital costs within budget and meet payback and ROI requirements.
Communication Between End User and Compressed Air Vendor
The vendor obviously wants to sell equipment, but it is beneficial to be given the opportunity to discuss installation details, budgetary costs and project timeline issues as early as possible. This assures a smoother implementation and ongoing operating and system efficiency.
For example, a control system sequencer to load and unload multiple air compressors may look good to an energy auditor for potentially saving a lot of energy with a small capital outlay, which is attractive to the end user. However, if the compressor vendor isn’t brought in early to verify the air compressors’ compatibility with the control scheme, the end user might be surprised to learn the sequencer option wasn’t viable. Also, if the customer is weary of integrating old air compressors to a new PLC controller, a sequencer and load/unload conversion would not be chosen anyway.
Other considerations might include moving existing air compressors to backup, or using the cost of downtime to help with financial calculations. The best efficiency projects increase efficiency over a broad range of flows, so the new compressed air system should be designed with future projections of increases or decreases in demands.
Additionally, a new operating procedure should be discussed initially and put in place in order to run the new compressed air system at optimal efficiency. If it’s too complicated, or only one operator knows how to run the system, system efficiency will suffer. The system must be simple enough for multiple operators to start and stop, yet robust enough to handle the abuse of an industrial environment. The original audit report doesn’t need all the details, but it does need enough information for the site to prepare the proper integration. In addition, the vendor needs enough information to provide the proper programming, training and start-up services.
Extra Effort Pays Dividends in Energy Savings
A little extra work in the middle of the project to conduct a roundtable meeting can help cut through the clutter and provide the best solution sooner in the process. The final decision of what to purchase and install is up to the end user, but preventing confusing reports and implementing successful, smoothly flowing energy projects is beneficial to everyone.
About Rogers Machinery
Established in 1949, Rogers Machinery Company, Inc. has grown into a regional and national industrial equipment supplier, providing energy audits, engineering, consultation, and quality products, including compressed air systems, vacuum systems, and blower and pump systems.
With the corporate headquarters located in Portland, Oregon, and over 200 employees in seven branch offices across the Pacific Northwest, including Idaho, Montana, Utah, Rogers Machinery strives to support customers with complete parts, service and repair departments to maintain equipment longevity and performance.
To read more about System Assessments, please visit www.airbestpractices.com/system-assessments.