Compressed air is an integral, valuable, and inherently inefficient method of energy use in commercial and industrial facilities. Due to that inherently inefficient nature, and misperceptions of how much it costs to operate, it’s often a great source of energy and cost savings opportunities. Over time, even well-designed and maintained compressed air systems will lose efficiency due to aging equipment and demand side modifications driven by plant changes and expansions. A comprehensive, system-wide compressed air audit can help you minimize inefficiencies and maximize savings.
What can you do first and cheap? Look for, find, and fix leaks and misuse. It’s unusual to NOT find a leak when examining a compressed air system. It’s also not unusual to find an employee or two who finds compressed air an easy way to clean their workspace. Making sure staff understand the cost of using a hose rather than a brush or broom and asking them to identify and repair leaks ASAP will save money with little effort. Listen to your shop floor during breaks or off hours. Hear that hissing sound that may otherwise blend into the background during a busy shift? That’s the sound of money and shouldn’t be accepted as status quo. If you have a large system, an ultrasonic leak detector will be incredibly helpful in finding leaks, often in places you can’t easily reach.
What about a large system? "System-wide" is the key term when it comes to evaluating savings opportunities in larger compressed air systems. It’s common to think in terms of improving efficiency solely by upgrading or adding equipment on the supply side, such as new compressors, controls, or additional storage. But some of the best paybacks can be found throughout the plant on the distribution and demand side, downstream of the compressors. Sure, you will want to address partially loaded or inadequately controlled compressors, but you may also have substantial air leaks and piping restrictions in the distribution system, inappropriate or poorly regulated end uses. All of these contribute to system inefficiency and increase electric bills. While supply side improvement projects often involve significant capital investment, demand side and distribution projects can often be completed at low or even no cost with in-house staff.
The following U.S. Department of Energy website for compressed air systems includes, tools, compressed air training, locate a qualified specialist, compressed air tip sheets, and compressed air case studies: DOE Compressed Air Systems