How can compressed air affect electric energy consumption?
Compressed air is a widespread and essential source of energy in several industrial sectors. It is used as an energy source in almost all manufacturing processes; from mechanical to pharmaceutical industries, from the food to textile industry, from the healthcare sector to building construction and also within the transit sector.
Compressed air uses around 10% to 20% of the industrial consumption of electric energy, which in turn accounts for more than 50% of the global electricity consumption. In the life cycle cost of a compressed air production plant the electric energy used is around 75% of the total, with the initial capital investment and ongoing maintenance costs being the remaining elements of this total cost.
In view of this, energy efficiency is a key feature for cost savings and for reducing environmental impact. This global consumption of electricity is the major contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions scenario, and therefore to the global warming emergency.
The European Union’s engagement on energy
The European Union has set itself energy and climate targets for 2020, namely reducing of greenhouse gases by at least 20% compared to 1990 levels, obtaining 20% of energy from renewable sources and improving energy efficiency by 20%.
Italy has signed up to this commitment, so being part of the EU implies complying with this target. In this sense, manufacturers involved in the compressed air sector are working on research and are developing solutions to pursue these efficiency parameters. Prof. Roberto Cipollone, engineering lecturer at the University of Aquila, who has been working with Mattei on improving energy efficiency since 2002, says that “In terms of quantity, you can say that 2.5% of overall electrical consumption is associated with the production of compressed air: this means a global consumption of 450 billion kWh (2011 data). Reaching the target of a 20% reduction would lead to energy savings of 90 billion kWh, equal to the output of 70,000*90/140 MW of wind energy systems or 25,000*90/140 MW of biomass systems. Therefore it's a significant contribution”.
The EU states to be well on track to meet the targets, indeed greenhouse gases were reduced by 18% between 1990–2012, the renewables share reached 14.1% in 2012, up from 8.5% in 2005 and the energy efficiency is expected to improve by 18–19% by 2020. The EU affirms that the target can be achieved if member countries enact all the necessary EU laws.