Steam System Efficiencies: Part 1

In this first installment of our three-part steam series, we look at industry-wide statistics on steam efficiency, and introduce ways in which steam systems can become more productive and less wasteful.

Hardly a novel practice, steam usage has become an integral component in the production of goods. Consumption began in ancient civilizations, gained a foothold during the Industrial Revolution, and continues to improve the means of production during the modern era. Between 1990 and 2009 alone, steam production in the United States increased by 413%. Amazingly, however, it is not uncommon to find that typical steam systems run at just 50% efficiency. In simple terms, half of the fuel—and half of the dollars—used to power these steam systems is burned and wasted. This issue doesn’t only negatively affect business’ pocketbooks, though. Wasted energy leaves factories in the form of hazardous emissions creating pollution, health hazards, and environmental damage.

The United States Energy Information Administration reported in a 2006 study that only 14,107 out of 194,733 commercial locations using steam had refitted equipment in order to make it more efficient. This means that 93% of businesses are losing money and wasting energy because they have not properly maintained and updated their systems and equipment. What’s more, less than 10% perform annual inspections and repair steam leaks, less than 7% test steam traps annually, and only 3% properly keep track of steam traps through use of a database.

What’s more, reducing energy loss is extremely cost effective and inexpensive, if handled appropriately. There are three ways in which energy loss can be curbed: (1) targeting life cycle cost reduction, (2) running equipment on-demand, and (3) optimizing the entire system. In this first installment of our steam efficiency series, we will discuss targeting life cycle cost reductions in order to improve system functions.

Essentially, less wasted fuel and resources lead to higher profits, and higher profits lead to better organizational performance due to an abundance of assets. This thereby creates a cycle that promotes success. More businesses do not implement this type of thinking, however, because management tends to focus only on current system expenses, rather than considering future difficulties that may arise. When looking at this method of operations, when equipment eventually does encounter future problems, they have become larger and more costly than anticipated. Updating steam systems and regularly checking them leads to both greater efficiency and production, and will experience fewer complications.

Estimated Reading Time: 1 minutes

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2 thoughts on “Steam System Efficiencies: Part 1

    • Harry –
      While individual systems may vary, by increasing steam system efficiencies, one can save as much as 45% on energy costs as a result of decreased fuel consumption. In the second steam series installment, which will be posted soon, more information will be provided on how to increase system performance and decrease costs.

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