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Energy-wise staff help save $20M (11/03)

A joint effort between management and staff at Inco Ltd. has helped the company realize over $20 million in energy savings over the past four years. Inco Ltd. has taken a lead in energy conservation and has recently been awarded for its efforts.
A joint effort between management and staff at Inco Ltd. has helped the company realize over $20 million in energy savings over the past four years.
Inco Ltd. has taken a lead in energy conservation and has recently been awarded for its efforts.
In March 2003, Inco was awarded the federal government's Energy Efficiency-Continuing Results Award, an award that recognizes continuous energy efficiency efforts.
Canada's annual Energy Efficiency Awards celebrate the efforts of companies that demonstrate a high degree of technical innovation with a particular focus on energy efficiency.

In total, 19 projects were selected to receive an award this year from across Canada from various sectors.

Inco Ltd., is one of Canada's largest electricity and natural gas consumers through its operations of extracting, transporting, refining and smelting of ore. For years Inco has focused efforts on energy conservation and has reduced total consumption by more than 10 percent over the last few years, without reducing the amount of ore mined and refined.

This is all part of Inco's program entitled Power Play, which since its first year in 1999 has reduced the company's energy expenditure by more than $20 million.
Heading the project is John LeMay, who has worked with the company for more than 35 years. In a recent report, LeMay states that Inco aims to trim $17 million a year from the annual $200-million energy budget at the company's operations in Ontario, Manitoba and the United Kingdom.

Sean Brady, project engineer, energy market transition at Inco, says what is important to keep in mind is that the program directly involved plant employees.

"The ownership of the ideas rests with the employees of the plant," says Brady. "Essentially what we tried to do is bring a group of people together, who were outside resources, who were not necessarily familiar to what was going on in a particular plant. (The aim was to) work with the operating maintenance people and the supervision to try to bring out the ideas and give them a structure to moving those ideas forward to completion."

Brady adds that thousands of great ideas were forwarded.

Employees were encouraged to question every aspect of the operation, from plant operations and
processes to working environments.

For example, an area of one of the Sudbury plants was constantly heated even though workers were there only during the day. It was recommended by an employee that he come to work early to turn on the heater. That alone trims close to $20,000 a year.

Other ideas were much more complex and required investments in research and equipment.

According to Brady, changes were made to the smelter's oxygen plant, which cools air to extract pure oxygen.

"They cycle the temperature up and down in a cooling stack and they control to the midpoint of that cycle...high and low. They re-examined why they were controlling to that specific mid-point and it turns out that it was an operating practice that had been there for a long time with no real sound support for why it was operating there. They found that they could raise that temperature very slightly, which means that they had to use a little less energy in order to maintain that temperature."

And that in itself, says Brady, saves the company hundreds of thousands of dollars, just by changing these operating set points.

Energy efficiency initiatives through the Power Play program do not just involve large-scale efforts.

According to Brady something as simple as lowering thermostats, installing new energy saving light switches and even employees just shutting off lights when not in use are just some minor initiatives.

"It's about taking ownership of the energy and trying to include energy in the daily operating practice decisions that all the operators and maintenance people can make everyday. It's kind of like re-establishing a new relationship with energy."

Energy conservation links directly to the amount of greenhouse gases produced. And with Inco's success in energy conservation, it also produces less emissions. And because of that, the company was also recently presented a Leadership Award from Canada's Climate Change Voluntary Challenge and Registry, also known as VCR. The award recognizes extraordinary commitment, action and leadership toward the voluntary reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Inco reports, from 1990 to 2001 the company reduced absolute emissions of greenhouse gases at its Canadian operations by eight per cent. The Kyoto Protocol calls for a target six per cent greenhouse gas reduction from 1990 levels.