An industry-leading energy conservation pilot program launched by Inco in 2000 is evolving into "an energy-smart" way of doing business throughout the company's Ontario operations.
Inco's "Powerplay - Take Charge of Energy" program was initially launched as a three-month pilot program at the company's smelter in Sudbury.
"Our energy group and a team of energy coordinators brainstormed with every crew in the smelter on the premise that people who are actually operating the equipment are the people who are in the best position to know where the savings can be had," said Inco energy project engineer Stephanie Oatway.
The 500 employees at the smelter generated 650 energy-saving ideas, all of which were evaluated and ranked in relation to cost of implementation and payback.
Company management hoped to identify $2.7 million in savings, but the actual number came in at $9.7 million.
Oatway attributes the success of the program to management buy-in, commitment and accountability.
"Senior management attended the kickoff and publicly committed themselves to the success of the program. They stood up in front of 500 employees and said, 'Energy is a priority. We want to achieve these savings and we want your help.'"
The results were impressive. From 2000 to 2005, Inco's energy conservation initiatives saved $60 million.
"On a 2005 energy budget of $170 million, that's a lot of money," remarked Oatway.
Approximately $90 million of the $170 million bill is spent on electricity
Over and above these purchases from Ontario's grid, Inco also produces its own power from five generating stations on the Spanish River. They account for 20 per cent of the company's Sudbury-area electricity consumption.
Inco's four-person energy department works closely with a team of 15 energy coordinators from mines and plants in the Sudbury area.
"They bring ideas to the table and communicate back to their mine or plant," said Oatway.
At its Stobie Mine, for example, an off-peak pumping program is on track to save approximately $300,000 per year. Using dams and pumps operated by programmable logic controllers and adjacent decommissioned mines for water storage, Stobie Mine is able to pump out water evenings and weekends when electricity prices are lower. Implemented in May 2005, off-peak pumping saves an average of $25,000 per month.
During a heat wave in July when Ontario's Independent Electricity System Operator asked consumers to conserve power, Stobie Mine ceased pumping altogether for the duration of the summer.
"This took hundreds of thousands of kilowatts of demand off the power grid and over $100,000 off Stobie's power bills," said Oatway.
"The off-peak price is $42 per megawatt hour, compared to a peak price of $73 so there's quite a significant opportunity for savings."Read story >>
Another idea, this time at Inco's smelter, demonstrates the potential savings from rethinking conventional processes.
"At the smelter, we use casting molds into which we pour molten metal," explained Oatway. "These molds need to be dried and heated so they don't get an explosion when they do the pour. They had a large burner that rotated continuously, heating hundreds of these molds.
"Someone had the idea of linking the process to production and only preheating what we need to preheat," she said. "That's a fantastic example of employees coming forward with great ideas. Ideas like that are saving $700,000 per year."
Another major energy-saving project is about to get under way at Creighton Mine, where it's hoped that a ventilation on demand pilot program will take a big bite out of its $4 million per year ventilation bill.
"Our energy costs for ventilation at Creighton are double the cost of ventilating any other mine in Sudbury, so it's a prime candidate for a ventilation on demand system that we're going to be piloting.
"Typically, when you design a ventilation system for a mine, it's designed for the final requirement of the mine. Up until then, you have fans operating even when they're not required.
"With ventilation on demand, the system looks at activities that are going on in the mine and where people are located. It matches up the ventilation that's required to meet all of the regulatory requirements and it only provides as much ventilation as you need, where and when you need it, and it makes all of these adjustments automatically."
The system will be installed as part of a pilot program on one level and will be eventually rolled out to the rest of the mine, if it's successful.
According to Oatway, the initial outlay of $150,000 will reap savings of over $210,000 per year.
Another priority for the energy department will be to implement more metering and monitoring of energy usage.
"We all know that you can't control what you can't measure," said Oatway. "It's like not having a speedometer on your car or not having a gas gauge and being surprised to find yourself out of gas on the highway. Metering is essential to identifying opportunities."
By quantifying energy use for specific processes and assigning accountability for energy use, managers will be able to benchmark and compare consumption.
Inco's leadership in energy conservation is beginning to attract the attention of other large industrial energy consumers. Teams from Placer Dome and other companies have met with Inco energy department staff and toured its operations, and, at the annual Ontario Mining Association conference September 22, the Ontario Power Authority presented the department with a certificate of recognition.