Wholesale gas prices have seen unprecedented hikes in 2021 which has led to many energy companies folding under the pressure. It emerged that the UK’s sixth-largest energy company with 1.7m customers, is seeking a bailout to stay afloat and this trend is set to continue.
For starters – what’s caused the gas crisis?
Natural gas prices have soared to record highs in Europe because of tight supplies ahead of winter. In August alone, they rose by more than 70 percent.
A prolonged cold winter over 2020-2021 drained natural gas storage and kicked off the concerns about supplies. Not only is there now a lack of storage, the storage that we do have has not been refilled at its normal pace during the summer months, when demand is slower.
Lower solar and wind output is another factor in the price hike, less windy weather has lowered contribution to the grid, meaning that demand for natural gas has increased.
With the UK and Europe phasing out coal plants in recent years and many companies (rightly so) working towards carbon reduction targets, this has impacted on our ability to create energy and has reduced our overall available energy.
Looking at the current position, should we look further into demand side reduction?
Amid this crisis, is it worth considering whether energy efficiency audits could provide a much-needed lifeline?
Optimising the efficiency of your steam system could be easier than expected. Take for example steam traps, which are the most important link in the condensate loop. Regular maintenance of your steam trapping can help you to lower your energy consumption, maintain product quality, and increase productivity.
In the current climate, the frequently discussed engineering skills gap also affects many organisations. Calling in steam system specialists to provide expert service and support can often prove to be the most realistic and cost-effective way to keep your system running at its optimum performance. By bringing in expertise from outside of your organisation, specialist steam engineers can help you to identify opportunities for improved efficiency in your processes, including energy and water savings. All of which can help you to meet carbon neutrality targets, demand side reduction, water management and efficiency targets.
We have seen plants where outsourcing steam system optimisation services has made an immediate impact. Take for example AB World Foods. At its Lancashire site, they use steam for a variety of applications including sterilisation, clean-in-place (CIP) and process hot water generation to produce its range of Pataks sauces. In lieu of rising energy prices, AB World Foods sought to identify areas of the plant where efficiency gains could be made – looking at the plant’s steam trap population was the perfect place to start.
“As gas prices increased, it was vital that we handled our steam use as efficiently as possible,” says Tony Marsh, AB World Foods Engineering Manager.
“Previously, steam trap maintenance was only carried out if a trap interfered with the process, so we may have missed the odd failed trap. Now we can be sure that our system is running to its best”.
Opting for a three year steam trap management contract, Spirax Sarco steam specialists carried out steam trap surveys and any required maintenance every six months at the Lancashire site. This ensured the system was running at maximum efficiency all year round. The site not only achieved payback in just eight months, the site also saved a total of 708 tonnes of carbon dioxide over during the contract.
Could audits provide part of the answer and help to improve energy efficiencies?
Let’s try not to skip ahead. We are fully aware that audits are not a fix-all solution. However, in times like these, it’s important to consider all avenues and if we could provide part of the solution, then we should try.
When looking to improve the performance of your complete steam distribution loops, as well as the thermal energy usage of your plant, a thermal energy audit can help you to take a holistic deep dive of your steam system to discover where extra savings and efficiencies could be hiding.
Bringing in external steam specialists can help you to gather, prioritise and action the improvements you need to meet challenges, such as gas shortages, rising wholesale energy costs and increasing market competition head on.
The missing puzzle piece - Auditing efficiency
What can be easily forgotten when it comes to audits is their effectiveness in providing a framework for the productivity and profitability of a business.
Steam and thermal energy audits do exactly that. They use the knowledge of specialists with decades of experience to identify areas in which your plant could improve, creating opportunities for you and your team to make changes, improve efficiencies and even implement some form of preventative maintenance.
Past customer successes speak for themselves: an audit for a hospital, for example, identified the need to improve and optimise the control, generation, and distribution of steam. The team is now working with Spirax Sarco to realise the identified savings, which could reach more than £200,000 if our advice is implemented. Impressive, right?
Audits can help to identify areas and focus efforts where clear efficiency gains and system improvements can be made (the insights). What’s different with our offering is that we also can help to act upon those improvements (the doing).
An expert in steam and thermal efficiency can help you to do the right thing, while ensuring that it’s your profits, rather than your bills, that see the biggest rise.
Implementing an effective steam trap management plan, doesn’t need to be complicated. Lowering Carbon output, increased production and energy savings are all benefits you could achieve from regular management.
Steam is an incredible heat transfer medium and, it’s come a long way from its traditional associations with locomotives and the Industrial Revolution. Today it’s an integral, clean and essential part of modern technology. Without it, our food, textile, chemical, medical, power, heating and transport industries could not exist or perform as they do.
Surveys cover a wide range of equipment including steam traps, high limit control equipment and condensate pumps. Each survey first measures your system's current efficiency and identifies areas of improvement and the potential savings to be gained.
For plant managers, two things in life are certain: manufacturing uses a lot of energy; and that energy costs money. In fact, a survey by The Daily Telegraph and YouGov revealed that 28 per cent of manufacturing companies spend more than £250,000 a year on energy . That’s enough to make anyone’s eyes water.
With ever-increasing energy bills and ambitious emissions targets occupying your mind, it can be hard to find the time to unlock the full potential of your steam system.
Scottish food manufacturer Strathmore Foods has successfully enhanced its health and safety, process productivity, and sustainability performance after an audit of its Forfar plant identified a series of potential improvements.