Cost of Compressed Air - Rule of Thumb

Compressed air can be a very expensive method of transferring energy because of the total energy supplied to a compressor, as little as 8-10% is typically converted into usable energy. This is because around 30% of compressed air generated is lost through leaks, poor maintenance, misapplication and poor control.

Cost of Compressed Air over a ten-year period

If you really need to know the true cost of compressed air, as a rule of thumb it is 10 times the cost of electricity. (Rule of thumb refers to a principle with broad application that is not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable for every situation. It refers to an easily learned and easily applied procedure or standard, based on practical experience rather than theory. Source: Wikipedia). Which means the cost of energy to run the system far outweighs the capital investment.

Cost of Compressed Air according to BCAS

Compressed air is an essential energy resource but it is commonly misused and wasted which incurs unnecessary cost and environmental impact. In order to make investment decisions to better manage your compressed air utility or to improve the reliability of your system, you need to know the true cost of compressed air. It is often quoted that compressed air is 10 times the cost of electricity but this is not necessarily useful or accurate for the purposes of making investment decisions.

Another widely quoted estimation is:

Annual running cost = kW rating compressor x annual hours of operation x unit cost of electricity

However, this is merely the cost of running a compressor, not the whole system. To arrive at an exact figure will take some time and effort. As a guide, the more variables you include the more time you will spend and the more expensive compressed air will appear to be.

BCAS Cost of Compressed Air 'rule of thumb'

To save time, adapting generally accepted average figures accepted in industry - companies that have gone through the process of establishing their cost for compressed air, normally end up with a figure:

Per cubic metre (m3) of air compressed costs between £ 0.01 and £0.03

This is the total cost of producing a cubic metre of compressed air, i.e. it includes energy, capital, maintenance and management.

Variables affecting the cost of compressed air

There is this degree of variation in costs due to the wide range of factors affecting the cost of compressed air, the factors include:

  • unit cost of electricity
  • working pressure
  • leakage level
  • air demand profile / operating hours
  • type and age of compressors
  • effectiveness of maintenance
  • control systems
  • level of air treatment
  • distribution system sizing

Some factors are easy to quantify (e.g. pressure and electricity cost), others such as the effectiveness of maintenance is less so.

So how can you minimise the cost of Compressed Air?

Cambs Compressors offer a FREE Performance check on your installation. Our knowledge and vast experience allow us to offer effective and cost saving solutions to suit your needs or application. You’ll get a full report outlining the cost of your Compressed Air, and how you can reduce it.

Contact us here



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