September 2013


Energy checkups can uncover big savings

By André I. Lemay

Energy is a key element in any mining operation. As with any vital system, a checkup or a focused review gives management and operators the information they need to understand how well they are using energy. A checkup will make clear what is working well but will inevitably uncover areas of energy usage that may require attention. The review typically leads to changes that improve energy efficiency and plant performance and ultimately reduce costs. This practice is synonymous with well-managed and sustainable organizations.

A checkup begins with two fundamental activities. One is to take a plant tour or a walk through your mining operation, with a focus on energy. Essentially, this is a close look at how energy is used – or wasted – throughout the operation.

A key element for a successful tour is to meet and talk with the operators and other support personnel. They are the experts. These employees are full of information and can be great allies in recommending and implementing changes. It is worth noting that while it is the CEO, president or other senior executive that continually pays the energy bills, it is the plant personnel that spend every dime. This is the time to engage them.

Preparations for the tour can be as simple as bringing a clipboard or a tablet to take notes and carrying some support documents, such a site plan showing all buildings. Or you may wish to have process flow charts that denote each major process in the production of your marketable products.

Taking a tour of the mining operation with a focus on energy is an eye-opening experience: the extent of the energy wasted at an operation will soon become very apparent. Count the number of outside lights that are on during the day. Note the fully lit indoor areas, along with the heating and air conditioning used while no one is there. Count the number of compressed air and water leaks that you hear and see. Note the equipment that is idling or running, which could be turned off or, at least, turned down. This is all energy waste and a waste of dollars. For an even greater sense of the magnitude of energy waste, it is worthwhile to visit the mining operation at night, during the weekend or at the periods of lowest production. This will reveal the amount of energy that is consumed with little or no production to show for it.

By the end of the tour, you will have formulated a good idea of the magnitude and type of energy you are using and for what processes, services or benefit. This energy-focused tour will pave the way for discovering obvious energy waste of all types throughout the operation. Many of these problems can be rectified and, very often, the solutions come down to basic common sense.

For example, at one operation in the winter, rather than having the maintenance bay’s heaters start up when the large bay doors were opened, they were changed to shut down. Workers quickly realized that shutting the bay doors would let the heaters fire up and keep them from getting cold. After a regular due diligence review, this proved to be a very beneficial energy project.

The other fundamental activity of the checkup is to gather energy costs and consumption data, along with production numbers and other performance indicators. This includes several different data sets, meter readings, compressed air reports and daily temperatures. Such a concentrated look at the energy data will add context to the observations about energy usage made during the tour of the mining operation. These two steps are scalable, meaning you can look at an entire operation or simply target a specific area, building, process or even just focus on the different types of energy consumed.

An energy checkup has the potential to uncover many improvement opportunities and to reduce energy waste and costs. In some cases, energy consumption can remain the same, but production or other supported output can increase. In other words, you can push the limits of your production without increasing your energy infrastructure. This is the mark of a leading, world-class sustainable organization.

Andre_LemayAndré I. Lemay recently retired after 38 years with Vale, where he worked as an energy analyst for Canadian operations. He now provides leadership, guidance and support in developing and implementing energy cost reductions and addressing climate change.

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