CORVALLIS, Ore. - As energy demands skyrocket in response to record high temperatures across the nation, a small army of engineering students at Oregon State University continues to help Pacific Northwest businesses save millions of dollars in energy costs by offering free onsite audits that identify opportunities to increase energy efficiency, productivity, sustainability and competitiveness.
Since its inception in 1986, the OSU Industrial Assessment Center has made recommendations to small- and medium-sized manufacturers throughout the region that have yielded more than $86 million in annual energy savings.
The center, which employs a staff of 15 student workers each year, recently completed its 500th energy audit.
"On average, our recommendations can save a company $183,000 annually, and the average payback on implementation costs is very fast - generally one year or less," said Joseph Junker, assistant director of the Industrial Assessment Center, or IAC. "This comes right off the company's bottom line."
The IAC staff recently completed an audit for Timber Products Co., an Oregon-based wood products firm that has nine manufacturing facilities in several states. The audit showed the company could save a total of $321,000 annually at its Medford, Ore., plant if it invested $378,000 to implement a list of recommendations - an investment that would pay for itself in less than 15 months.
One recommendation called for installing a $235 air filter that would save the company almost $20,000 in energy costs because the filter would eliminate the need for an existing 200 horsepower fan.
"The OSU Industrial Assessment Center team has been very helpful in evaluating and providing solutions to increase our efficiencies in many areas of our manufacturing process," said Brad Beavers, the process control and capital projects manager at Timber Products Co. "We've implemented several suggestions provided by the OSU team with great success."
Because the Oregon Department of Energy offers a 35 percent tax credit to businesses for eligible projects that increase energy efficiency, clients of the IAC have also received energy-related tax credits worth approximately $6 million over the past several years.
Due to recent rising energy costs, total savings based on the IAC's recommendations have been increasing, Junker said.
"Given the high price of energy these days, the work this center does is more important than ever for businesses in Oregon and across the region," Junker said. "Because we help companies implement concrete changes that reduce their energy requirement for the long term, this saves the nation precious energy resources."
The program also offers OSU students valuable, in-the-field experience in energy engineering.
"Every company out there is looking for ways to save energy costs and operate in a more sustainable way," Junker said. "Our students gain hands-on experience in designing creative methods to improve energy efficiency, cut waste and operate more sustainably."
The IAC staff also develops computer based analysis tools, evaluation checklists and analysis guide sheets it shares with industry clients, energy officials and other professionals to assist them with efforts to improve the overall efficiency of U.S. industry. In addition, the center works with regional peers to offer appropriate workshops and training.
Junker recently learned, however, that the center's annual funding from the U.S. Department of Energy has been cut by 50 percent.
"We've helped more than 500 companies in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California and elsewhere save millions of dollars," Junker said. "Although we hope to locate alternative sources of funding to make up for the cuts, it's going to be tough to maintain our level of service and savings."
For more information about the OSU Industrial Assessment Center, and to read sample recommendations ranging from reducing air leaks to recycling plastic buckets, go to http://me.oregonstate.edu/iac.
Click photos to see a full-size version. Right click and save image to download.