Ways of increasing energy efficiency include monitoring and charging energy consumption to relevant departments. This builds an awareness of costs and focuses management on meeting targets. Variable overhead costs can also be minimised by ensuring planned, systematic maintenance; this will maximise process efficiency, improve quality and cut downtime.
With proper maintenance a steam plant will last for many years, and the condition of many aspects of the system is easy to monitor on an automatic basis. When compared with other systems, the planned management and monitoring of steam traps is easy to achieve with a trap monitoring system, where any leaks or blockages are automatically pinpointed and immediately brought to the attention of the engineer.
This can be contrasted with the costly equipment required for gas leak monitoring, or the time consuming manual monitoring associated with oil or water systems.
In addition to this, when a steam system requires maintenance, the relevant part of the system is easy to isolate and can drain rapidly, meaning that repairs may be carried out quickly.
In numerous instances, it has been shown that it is far less expensive to bring a long established steam plant up to date with sophisticated control and monitoring systems, than to replace it with an alternative method of energy provision, such as a decentralised gas system. The case studies refered to in Module 1.2 provide real life examples.
Todays state-of-the-art technology is a far cry from the traditional perception of steam as the stuff of steam engines and the Industrial Revolution. Indeed,
steam is the preferred choice for industry today. Name any well known consumer brand, and in nine cases out of ten, steam will have played an important part in production.
Steam is flexible
Not only is steam an excellent carrier of heat, it is also sterile, and thus popular for process use in the food, pharmaceutical and health industries. It is also widely used in hospitals for sterilisation purposes.
The industries within which steam is used range from huge oil and petrochemical plants to small local laundries. Further uses include the production of paper, textiles, brewing, food production, curing rubber, and heating and humidification of buildings.
Many users find it convenient to use steam as the same working fluid for both space heating and for process applications. For example, in the brewing industry, steam is used in a variety of ways during different stages of the process, from direct injection to coil heating.
Steam is also intrinsically safe - it cannot cause sparks and presents no fire risk. Many petrochemical plants utilise steam fire-extinguishing systems. It is therefore ideal for use in hazardous areas or explosive atmospheres.