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Saving Energy in the Workplace

By Wolfgang Huber, Friends of Willow Park

When I started work in Australia 25 years ago, an older engineer rebuked me.  I had expressed surprise that the company was using a motor twice as large as required on a belt that was part of a 24 hour operation.  “In Australia, we have plenty of cheap energy. We don’t have to worry about it”, I was told.

I was shocked by this.  I had grown up in Switzerland.  In the 70’s I had experienced the oil crisis.  The country had responded with many measures including car free Sundays.  Europe was also experiencing acid rain.  I saw forests die and mountain streams which were completely clear because everything in them was dead.  The political debate in Switzerland was energetic and focused.  How could limited resources be allocated to provide equity worldwide?  Who would bear the cleanup cost of pollution? Switzerland’s industry was under stringent pollution controls, but the environmental and economic cost of acid rain was enormous.  Was the best way to solve the problem not to create it?

I reflected on these issues as I worked around the globe in the flour milling construction industry.  Is the cheapest solution the one that deals with the underlying problems?  Saudi Arabia with vast resources thought nothing of huge waste.  In Nigeria, corruption led to waste.  In parts of Europe I also saw a commitment to reducing waste.  An underpinning philosophy of waste reducing became part of my professional life.

Twenty five years ago an additional 1KwH in a 24-hour operation would cost the company $1,000 per year. Now the cost is approximately $1,800.  Putting in a new motor can have payback in less than a year.  As manager in a South West Victorian stock feed mill it was easy to make plant modifications that reduce plant power consumption and cost.  Correctly sized motors and converting the boiler from electricity to gas saved the company $400,000 per year.  At an Albury plant, changes have been made that have saved  more than $500,000 per year in direct and indirect savings.  These include insulating chilled water pipes, changing the compressor from conventional high pressure to low pressure and introducing more efficient lighting.  The new lights are movement and light intensive sensitive.  When they detect movement they come on a full brightness then reduce to the required level. 

Being a green engineer doesn’t mean you switch off everything.  Instead you assess the requirements and stop wastage.