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Canron Western's compressed-air upgrade helps build bridges - and more!

Charles Burlet, Canron Western Contractors
Chuck Burlet stands next to a new 100-horsepower compressor installation motivated by BC Hydro incentives and savings.

Most people don't realize how much air it takes to build a bridge. Chuck Burlet knows you can't build one without it. "Air is a primary part of all of the tools we use," says the maintenance chargehand for Canron Western Constructors LP in Delta.

Bridge building is just one aspect of the work done by Canron, part of Supreme Group, the largest privately owned steel fabricator and construction business in Canada. There are nine shops within the Supreme Group, and the steel fabrication operation relies on compressed air. With projects ranging from the new Port Mann Bridge to the Olympic Cauldron, the company has to think about its energy use.

Compressed air sucks up energy

Working with BC Hydro, Canron had a member of the Power Smart Alliance conduct an energy audit. "The primary savings, according to the study, were to establish a plan for the compressor," Burlet says. Previously the company was using an Atlas Copco 150-horse, constant-speed compressor, operating three shifts a day, seven days a week. "These things just roar all day long. The power bills were up at about 14 to 15 grand a month," he says.

After getting the go-ahead from the corporate office, Burlet decided to upgrade to a 100-horsepower, variable-speed model.

"Hydro put a meter-monitoring device on there and it substantiated all of our information," Burlet says. "We established that, without even thinking about it, we could take 30% off of our bill."

$52,000 savings even better than expected, with a two-year payback

The new compressor was installed in October 2012, so Burlet says it's too early to get a completely accurate picture of energy savings, but based on bills so far it's been 33 MWh per month, for estimated savings of $52,000 a year.

Burlet says the savings are higher than originally projected, but he isn't surprised. "This compressor runs for the demand of air required, so if air is not required then the motor backs off," he says. "It's not running full-bore all the time."

The installation also allowed the company to keep the former backup compressor for independent use. "We can run two different pressures in tandem for two different utilizations of the air," he says, noting that has made processes more efficient and allows Canron to do more work than before with the same amount of equipment.

"It doesn't surprise me at all that we're over in the amount of savings shown, just because of the way it operates," he says.

Burlet says the total cost of buying and installing the new compressor was about $80,000, and BC Hydro provided a $35,000 rebate through the Self-serve Incentive Program. Because of the nature of Canron's work, installation was done in-house. "There weren't really any other costs incurred, so the savings are going to go straight to the Hydro bill. They're going to be evident right away," Burlet says, adding that the estimated payback will be just over two years.

Canron looks at other ways to improve energy efficiency

As a result of the energy audit, Canron is looking at other ways to improve energy efficiency. It has replaced signage on the north and west of the building to use LED lighting and is considering other lighting upgrades.

The company is also looking at the efficiency of other machinery, such as motors. "I've got a number of very large pieces of equipment here that suck a lot of power," Burlet says.

Burlet notes that there's always some risk when it comes to spending money. But, he says, "It's no different than the age-old home renovation scenario. You have to do your due diligence, do your research, talk to as many people as you can, gather all your information."

With Canron's experience, he says, "It's pretty easy to see why our corporate figureheads looked at the numbers and said 'Give 'er!'"

Learn more about compressed air efficiency