Energy Conservation Initiatives at Columbia Steel
The spirit of conservation runs deep at Columbia Steel. Whether it’s our recycled sand and slag program, our water conservation initiatives, or the steps we take to ensure the air our employees breathe is clean, we’re always looking for innovative opportunities to reduce our environmental footprint. One critical area that receives constant attention is our electrical consumption. Over the years, we’ve found ways to dramatically reduce our plant’s electricity usage for the benefit of our neighbors and the environment we all share.
A Strategic Partnership
Our team has worked extensively with Energy Trust of Oregon to understand our energy usage and create strategies to consume less of it. For most projects, an engineering company authorized by Energy Trust of Oregon visits our plant and installs data loggers on equipment that we’re investigating to reduce energy costs. After a week, engineers remove the loggers, analyze the data, and make a list of recommendations to reduce our electrical usage. The engineering firm also estimates the cost savings we could expect.
Once a project is accepted by Energy Trust of Oregon, Columbia Steel pays for the project up front. This would include any new higher efficient machinery or upgrades. After a project proves a reduction in power usage, a percentage of that money is reimbursed in rebates. This arrangement makes for an effective partnership that accomplishes real improvements. Over the years, Columbia Steel has partnered with Energy Trust of Oregon on several different projects, including:
Switching out existing lighting is the low-lying fruit of electrical conservation. However, it’s also highly effective. Several years ago, we removed inefficient metal halide and high-pressure sodium light fixtures and converted to fluorescent lighting. Now, when a light fails, we’re replacing it with extremely efficient LED fixtures and lamps, which last 25 times longer and use at least 75% less energy than traditional lighting.
Air Compressor Redesign
In our industry, air compressors are a significant energy user that power many systems and tools. Compressors typically have high horsepower motors that continually run to keep up with plant demand. With the help of Energy Trust of Oregon, we replaced old compressors with new higher efficiency models that operate online/offline and have upgraded controls. These controls allow the compressor motor to shut down completely. The motor will then automatically start back up again when needed. We also added air storage tanks which give our pneumatic systems reserve and allow them to stay offline longer. We’ve even taken this a step further by creating a preventative maintenance work order to seek and repair air leaks in our systems that would make our compressors run less efficiently.
Arc Furnace Efficiencies
As you might imagine, melting steel requires a lot of electricity. However, we’ve upgraded an arc furnace to give us more control over the melting process and improve our output and throughput efficiency. As a result, we have seen an energy usage reduction of approximately 12 percent.
Dust Collector Improvements
We have 23 dust collectors distributed throughout our plant, which pull in air to filter out fine sand and other particulates. These collectors run on high horsepower electric motors and can consume quite a bit of electricity. Using Energy Trust of Oregon, we installed variable frequency drives to control fan motor speeds that allow us to optimize fan efficiency. In some instances, we also replaced fan assemblies with airfoil type fans that increase airflow while using less horsepower.
Ongoing Energy Conservation
Even when we’re not working with Energy Trust of Oregon, our team implements strategies to reduce our plant’s electrical consumption. For example, we’ve monitored our workflow and identified lulls when we could turn specific machines off and installed timers that shut off large horsepower equipment after a certain amount of downtime. We’ve also moved to melt all our steel at night during non-peak hours, which not only lowers our utility costs but also reduces electrical demand on Portland’s power grid. As Pacific Power’s largest northwest customer, we also pay a fee with our electrical bill that helps pay for research and development of alternative power sources. In 2020, Columbia Steel supported 1,632,000 kilowatt hours of renewable energy through Pacific Power’s Blue Sky Program.
A Good Steward and Considerate Neighbor
We’re fortunate to enjoy relatively inexpensive electricity here in the Pacific Northwest, thanks in part to our abundant hydroelectric power sources. However, it’s still critical that we do everything we can to improve efficiency and reduce electrical consumption. As a company with significant energy demands, we take that responsibility seriously and do everything within our power to be a good steward of our natural resources and a considerate neighbor to the other members of our community.