Operations: Energy Savings Mount in Ontario
Talk about saving money–$13.5-million worth of energy in the Ontario Operations during 2001. The team that beat its target by $1.5 million did a lot more than talk, but good communications is at the heart of their success.
Like other industrial users, Inco began energy management in the 1970s to control peak loads. Through the 1980s and 1990s the company further reduced costs by retrofitting equipment, for example installing low-energy lighting and high-efficiency motors. But costs continued to rise over time as mining went deeper. Prices for natural gas, in particular, virtually tripled between January 2000 and January 2001. It was time to look for breakthrough ideas.
A 12-person team was assembled from mine, mill and smelter departments under the leadership of Sean Brady, project engineer, energy market transition. Together they sought ways to update practices, modify the process and bring about a step change.
“Talking to people is really important,” said Brady. “It’s worth every minute you spend at it.” To facilitate communications and involve all employees every day, his team created the Power Play program. Power Play was mounted like an advertising campaign. Focus groups chose the look: hard-to-miss bright green and black posters; hats, mugs and stickers with the same logo. With the visual reminders seen throughout the plants and mines, the message is impossible to ignore.
Nearly a thousand ideas were collected in a database, and 400 of them were implemented across the operations. Besides a 10% cut in electrical use, the smelter reduced its natural gas use 24%. These are excellent results, especially in view of the fact that a major new process–copper anode casting–was added during the same year.
Savings were calculated as dollars rather than percentage of use because everyone easily understands saving money. Prices for electricity and natural gas at the end of 2000 were used as the baseline. Savings were measured against that, rather than confuse the issue with fluctuating prices.
The Power Play program is successful on three levels. The goals are to get everyone participating, save $12 million dollars per year, and maintain the program’s visibility. Simple things, such as installing motion-sensitive light switches in offices, allow everyone to see the program working. Process changes were made, such as pumping mine water on the graveyard shift when electricity is cheaper. Choosing and using the right energy source was another consideration. For example, workers find it fast and easy to use a compressed air fan for spot cooling. When it was determined that electric fans are much cheaper to operate, they switched despite having to call an electrician to hook them up.
“We learned a lot,” said Brady. “We learned that people do care about saving money. We learned that we needed a high level of support.” Management gave its full backing. The superintendents who talk directly with the hourly employees are the mainstays of energy education and the generation of new ideas. Their participation is the key to success.
The Power Play program has already expanded to Inco’s refineries, mill and the tailings area in Ontario. The original team included participants from all these areas because there are many common processes, such as the use of compressed air. The next steps will involve prioritizing and identifying the largest savings opportunities for the whole Canada and U.K. Division, and creating long-term sustainability for the energy conversation or dialogue. If each department is as successful as the smelter has been in cutting its energy bills, the Sudbury operations can look forward to sizeable savings for many years to come.