Full steam ahead, why an age-old power source is the future of sustainability




Companies across the UK and Europe can hit their net zero and sustainability goals by optimising their steam systems. By combining modern technology with one of the oldest power sources, businesses can boost their green credentials and save time, energy and money, says Rebecca Bowen, Solution Delivery Manager at Spirax Sarco. 

When most of us think about steam power, we tend to think about old steam trains. The Hogwarts Express chugging along, churning out plumes of steam and leaving trails of soot behind. But did you know that steam power goes back well beyond steam trains? You can actually trace it back to the first century AD.

Since the 17th century, it’s been commonly used to power many technologies. Steam was the driving force behind the industrial revolution and changed the world. Yet despite all steam has made possible for humanity, it’s purely water from start to finish. It’s the fuel source that needs to be considered. 

That’s why the most exciting period for steam is the future. 

Despite its age and the prevalence of combustion engines and other fuels, steam energy is going through a renaissance. This is because, unlike many power sources, steam has the potential to be completely clean. With the proper application, steam could be the key to a sustainable future.

With the need to reduce carbon emissions growing increasingly severe and governments pressuring businesses to hit net zero goals, steam is an incredibly viable solution. 

The benefits of steam

Steam power is often considered to be old and outdated technology. A relic of the industrial revolution and the power of the past. But steam is still widely used in the 21st century across a huge range of industries. 

It’s used for generating electricity using steam turbines, sterilisation by pharmaceutical and medical companies and direct heating by breweries and food companies. And there are some very good reasons these industries still use steam power

Firstly, steam is incredibly versatile and flexible. It has many applications, from powering turbines to vulcanising rubber. It can be tailored to meet specific industry needs and optimised for efficiency. 

Speaking of efficiency, advanced steam technology like steam traps and heat recovery systems allow companies to reduce their energy consumption and save time and money. 

The biggest benefit of steam power is that it can be generated from various renewable energy sources. Unlike other power sources, steam power can be generated using solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass energy. This makes it a much more sustainable and environmentally friendly energy option than fossil fuels. 

The problem with steam lies in its application. 

Optimising steam for the future

We’re all aware of the need for clean energy sources. The effects of climate change are getting worse every year, and there’s only a certain amount of time to turn things around

But there’s no magic solution to our problems. Steam is not the perfect solution — at least not in its current form. But with the right application and technology, it can be. 

One of the best things companies can do is adopt renewable energy sources. But beyond that, there are plenty of things companies using steam can do to be as sustainable as possible. 

Invest in modern steam technology

Companies should invest in advanced steam systems. The latest steam technology offers higher efficiency, lower emissions and reduced water usage compared to older steam systems. They operate at higher pressures and temperatures, making them more efficient and eco-friendly. 

Implement energy-efficient design principles

Businesses should also go beyond modern steam technology by incorporating energy-efficient design principles. This includes proper insulation, steam traps, heat recovery and advanced control systems. These principles can reduce energy consumption and minimise heat loss to reduce operating costs and carbon emissions. 

Install smart monitoring and maintenance systems

Monitoring and maintenance are absolutely crucial, too. Regular maintenance of steam systems can prevent energy loss through leaks, faulty equipment and inefficient operation. And by using advanced smart monitoring and control systems, companies can identify problems and system failures as they happen and solve them quickly. 

Adopt waste heat recovery technologies

Finally, businesses can reduce waste by installing waste heat recovery systems. These systems capture and reuse excess heat from steam processes. This heat can then be used for preheating feedwater, space heating and generating electricity. 

Embracing a steam-powered future

The importance of sustainability in energy use cannot be overstated. In a world facing the challenges of climate change, it's more important than ever to adopt clean and sustainable energy sources. 

Steam energy is a critical part of the solution, offering a low carbon footprint, versatility, and flexibility. It's time for industries to embrace this sustainable energy source and take full advantage of its potential. 

The good news is that it looks like we’re heading in the right direction, with a recent market forecast showing steady growth for the steam turbine market.

The future of energy is full steam ahead.