Fixing compressed air leaks for major energy savings, part 2: Delano Municipal Utility

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Are energy dollars leaking out of your compressed air system?

Are energy dollars leaking out of your compressed air system? Utilities across Minnesota are finding innovative ways to increase energy efficiency and reduce costs for their customers. In part two of our series about compressed air leaks, we spoke with Paul Twite, the Energy Services Account Manager at Delano Municipal Utilities, about the savings potential of identifying and fixing compressed air leaks.

Joel Haskard: I was amazed to learn that a typical compressed air system may sometimes only use 50% of its air supply for production. Where do you see the greatest opportunity to reduce compressed air leaks?

Delano Municipal Utility Paul Twite: Conservation opportunities are divided into no-cost, low-cost and capital expense categories. Detecting and repairing leaks are definitely low-cost options. Most leaks occur at threaded pipe joints, quick-disconnect fittings, and generally where a connection happens between separate materials. An inexpensive ultrasound detector can be purchased and training of maintenance staff will yield a very fast payback from energy savings alone. It has been my experience that the biggest obstacle to fixing air leaks is “management buy-in”. Most professional maintenance staff will verify the savings and resistance to change by management. The single greatest opportunity to reduce air leaks is simple training of maintenance staff.

Hole diameter (in) Flow rate (SCFM) Power loss (HP) Demand loss (kW/mo) Energy loss (kWh/yr) Leak cost ($/yr)
1/64 0.33 0.09 0.82 594 35
1/32 1.33 0.36 3.26 2,375 142
1/16 5.33 1.46 13.05 9,498 566
1/8 21.33 5.83 52.19 37,994 2,264
1/4 85.33 23.32 268.76 151,974 9,055
1/2 341.33 93.28 835.02 607, 897 36,222

Joel: How do you identify customers who may have this issue?

Paul: I approach the top 10 C&I (commercial and industrial) customers for any utility; almost all of them will have large compressed air systems (50 HP and larger). One third of those customers have not checked for leaks, and may not be aware of the possibilities. Another third know they have leaks and may have not repaired any of them. Typically, the remaining third has done a good job of managing their compressed air resources. That leaves about 6 out of 10 electric customers who are good candidates for a thorough compressed air survey.

Joel: What are some common sense solutions to help curb wasted compressed air?

Locating and eliminating leaks is the top energy-saving measure, according to the Fraunhofer Institute study Paul: Many of the no-cost, low-cost solutions are the best value. Amazingly, turning off the compressor at the end of a shift, closing valves on machinery not in use, and running air at the correct pressure are the easiest solutions. Many customers are shifting to cordless (battery-powered) tools and electric blowers instead of using costly compressed air to run these devices. Adding storage tanks is an example of capital investment which typically yields another fast payback.

Joel: Any other thoughts on the subject?

Paul: Some major points for folks to keep in mind are:

  • MASSIVE energy wasted by air leaks (US DOE estimates over $4 billion annually)
  • Air leaks may go undetected for years
  • Solutions range from very simple fixes to high-cost, new equipment
  • Many customers never aware of cost of wasted air
  • There may sometimes be an unfortunate disconnect between maintenance staff and management (need to communicate & hold accountable)

Also, check out the short video below where I go through common leaks and their fixes!

You can learn more about our program by checking out our brochure about compressed air leaks and getting in touch with us by visiting our website or contact me at ptwite@delanomn.us; 763-972-0555.


Read the first article in this series:
Fixing compressed air leaks for major energy savings, part 1: Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency

Fixing compressed air leaks for major energy savings, part 1: Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency

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