Compressor shop saves taxpayers $1k per employee, per month as part of Tinker energy conservation effort

  • Published
  • By Chris Seaton
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

If Tinker Air Force Base had a heat map for energy usage, Bldg. 210 would be white-hot.

It’s the home of the compressor shop for 76th Maintenance Support Group.  With only 15 personnel, they’re relatively small, but they’ve got a big mission working with even bigger equipment.

The largest of their three air compressors runs about 3,000 horsepower and is capable of delivering up to 320 pounds per square inch at up to 8,000 cubic feet per minute through a wide pipe. For reference, that’s 12,000 times more power than the compressors found in most home garages.

They need to be big too. One of their primary functions is to provide enough airflow to mimic a jet engine in flight so maintainers can test flight components. That means heating massive amounts of air to upwards of 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Add the requirement to dehumidify that air and you have a warehouse full of equipment that requires more energy per square foot than any other building on base.

For years, the shop has taken pride in knowing end-users had air pressure when and where they needed it. By all accounts, they had met that mission without fail.

“Our job is to make sure the compressors are running and the test stands have the air they need,” said shop supervisor Patrick Duff. “We were successful in accomplishing that mission.”

They had no idea just how much their effectiveness was costing.

Enter Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex Energy Manager Joseph Cecrle. During a certification process for the command, Cecrle had the task of identifying areas of significant energy use. He keyed in on the compressor shop and asked them to see if they could make some adjustments.

Those adjustments sound simple – turn off the equipment when it’s not being used. To them, though, that simple solution was a major philosophy shift. Turning off air meant potentially hindering a round-the-clock production schedule.

Duff did what his command asked, though. In May, his shop put more effort into targeting airflow around expected production times. That meant a lot more communication and planning but they were willing to try in the name of what the ALC calls “cost-effective readiness.”

“I think everybody expected we could probably reduce our energy by 10 percent,” said Duff. “That was our goal.”

They overshot that goal by a wide margin. By August, they saw a 34% reduction in energy use. In September, it was 40%; then 42% in October and 48% in November. All told, so far those numbers add up to an average savings of about $15,000 per month.

“If you think about it (OC-ALC has) 10,000 employees. So, from an organizational level, when I’ve got thousands of people painting aircraft and doing these other things, (high energy numbers) would not catch my attention,” said Cecrle.

“How important is something that 15 people do?” he asked. “Well, now we’re saying you could be talking about a thousand bucks per employee, per month in savings if the crews run a little different.”

These shifts in philosophy are part of a large-scale effort by Tinker’s energy team. As a whole, the base has noticeably reduced energy consumption, even as it has continued to grow. From fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2020, Tinker reduced energy consumption by 10% and water consumption by 25%. That adds up to just over $3.5 million in savings.

That fact alone won the U.S. Air Force one of six Federal Energy and Water Management Program awards, announced in December 2021.

The recognition is new but the downward trend in energy savings is not. Last fiscal year OC-ALC’s utility bill was $16.9 million. By contrast, in fiscal year 2012, according to Cecrle, that number was a staggering $33.7 million per year – nearly double the amount in non-cost-adjusted savings.

The command hopes that success is contagious and is still convinced they can do more; but Cecrle says the hard part is keeping the gains they’ve made already by ensuring managers at all levels understand the cost-effective readiness philosophy as staffs and managers continue to change out.

“This is not something that is solved just once and we’re done,” he said. “It requires a little bit of thinking from a production mindset because they’ve got delivery dates. If you’re the new person and things have been going smooth for a month, and then all of a sudden, ‘hey what happened to my compressed air?’ – you’ve got to train that person not to freak out.”

“The immediate reaction is, well, I want 110% all the time in case I might need it,” said Cecrle. “This is something that we’re going to be keeping an eye on indefinitely.”