by Geoff Bristow, Energy Program Manager,
PA Department of Environmental Protection

It’s certainly no secret that compressed air systems in industrial facilities present among the best opportunities for energy efficiency improvements and cost savings. However, it may be news to some that there is now financial assistance from your electric utility specifically designed to help reduce energy costs in your compressor system.

White gears as a dollarsymbol the grey background. Eps 10 vector file.Compressed air is an integral, valuable, and inherently inefficient method of energy use in manufacturing. Over time, even well designed and maintained systems will lose efficiency due to aging equipment and demand side modifications or additions driven by plant changes and expansions. A comprehensive, system-wide compressed air audit, partially funded through your electric utility’s energy efficiency program, can help you minimize inefficiencies and maximize savings.

“System-wide” is the key term when it comes to compressed air audits. 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. 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. 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.

If your facility has never had a full, system-wide compressed air audit, now may be the time to plan one. Recently approved rate increases for FirstEnergy utilities (Penelec, Penn Power, West Penn Power, Met-Ed) mean that any inefficiency in your system will now cost your more. Secondly, those same utilities are offering significant financial incentives that target efficiency opportunities in your compressed air system.

Customers of FirstEnergy utilities in PA can receive cash rebates under the Compressed Air Direct Action (CADA) program to help pay for comprehensive compressed air system audits and implementation of resulting projects. CADA provides two types of rebates, both based on annual kWh saved after implementation of the improvement projects. The first rebate provides up to 50% of the cost of the compressed air system audit. The second provides an additional cash rebate of $0.05/kWh for implementation of efficiency projects in both supply and demand/distribution sides that result from the audit. Note that rebate amounts may vary depending on the specific utility and rate schedule, but most in NW PA will qualify for a rebate equal to $0.05/kWh saved per year. The rebates are applicable to projects implemented through May 31, 2016, including projects already completed, as long as they were not completed more than 180 days before you apply.

For more information on the CADA program, including contact information and application procedures, visit the program website at, select Compressed Air from the drop down box under the Incentive Programs heading. CLEAResult is the contractor who runs the FirstEnergy efficiency rebate programs.

Where can you turn to find compressor system auditing expertise? Most major compressor vendors and manufacturers (Ingersoll Rand, Sullair, Kaeser, Quincy, etc.) offer auditing services and may be a good place to start. Some prefer to go with a 3rd party auditor to avoid perceived equipment bias or expectation of capital purchase from the vendor. Some auditing consultants evaluate compressed air systems as part of a bigger-picture, plant-wide industrial energy audit (Industrial Energy Engineering in Wexford is one, along with any of several larger engineering firms such as Siemens and Johnson Controls). Then there are compressed air system specialists – consultants that dedicate all or most of their expertise to compressed air systems and will identify, quantify, and prioritize air system improvement projects (CH Reed in Erie, AirPower USA in OH).   Finally, an in-house audit with your own staff may also qualify for the rebate. To be eligible for utility rebates, all audits must meet minimum standards specified by the CADA program.

As for the cost of an audit, much depends on the size, complexity, and condition of your compressed air system. Typical costs range from $2,000 to $20,000. With a rebate of up to 50% of the audit cost, plus the likely savings opportunities that will result, and a $0.5 per kWh rebate for project implementation, there may be no better time than now to take a close look at the savings opportunities across all elements of your compressed air system.

Special Note: Geoff Bristow is also the Chair of the Northwest Pennsylvania Energy Roundtable. The next session is scheduled for Thursday, September 3 from 9am-12noon with the topic: Hi-Efficiency, Non-Boiler Space Heating Options for Industrial, Warehousing & Large Commercial Applications. Click here to register or for more information.