Combining optimization and sustainability is no easy task because it requires reconciling some historical differences between these two goals. To help customers resolve these issues, Endress+Hauser relies on its expertise in energy efficiency in utilities and plant optimization with instrumentation.
Mark Thomas, industry marketing group manager at Endress+Hauser USA, spoke with Control’s executive editor, Jim Montague, about these capabilities, and how its customers can implement them to go green and profit at the same time.
Jim Montague: Sustainability has become a priority for businesses globally. How does a company know if they're behind in their sustainability efforts compared to their peers?
Mark Thomas: Sustainability is on almost everyone's radar at this point. We know business owners want their companies to do well for a long time, have a positive impact on their customers and employees, and leave a positive impression. It's a very broad topic, but measuring sustainability efforts against your peers may not be the best approach. Reflection is a good place to start. Look at things you want to improve as a company, and then look at your customers, and think about what they expect from you and how you can meet those expectations. And then, based on understanding and knowing where you want to go, start putting a plan together. It's never too late to start driving this topic of sustainability. At Endress+Hauser, sustainability has been at the forefront for a long time. We have a sustainability charter with goals and activities that keep us driving in that direction, and we share it with our customers because it's something we're proud of.
Jim Montague: What are the downsides of being a laggard with energy efficiency, management and processes for utilities?
Mark Thomas: Falling behind or not prioritizing energy management, especially regarding utilities, can be the difference in finding efficiency gains and losses. For producers of chemicals or refined products or even energy companies, their utilities have been considered fixed costs. In today's competitive environment, we have to figure ways of reducing fixed costs, so we can pass savings along to consumers. For example, to keep a boiler system operating as efficiently as possible, plant personnel must routinely monitor for leaks that could be in the valve bodies, pressure regulators, pipe connections or steam traps. Also, steam quality must be measured directly in the pipes, including wet, saturated and superheated steam. Energy losses here are often high due to inefficiencies, and measuring them is the best way to gauge losses and start to assess required actions. This is a good way to make sustainability actionable for driving business decisions, and increasing profits, safety, quality and a few other key metrics.
Jim Montague: So where do we see the most sustainability issues in terms of energy management? Is it heating and cooling, steam, compressed air or something else?
Mark Thomas: You can almost say all of the above. They’re all critical in the grand scheme of proper energy management. Sustainability can fit in each of those applications, but the process measurements and the data they provide plant managers is what can be considered to make informed decisions. So, a simple starting point can be an analysis, such as our Installed Base Analysis service. You choose an application and do an audit to consider where or what you might want to measure. Measurement is important because you can't set a goal for something that's not tangible and can't be measured. For instance, if we start in the utilities unit of a plant, we can say we need to improve our energy measurement, but step one is what are we using to measure our steam? A lot of energy can be used in boilers, so what devices do we have installed? Are they the most effective and most efficient to when it comes to steam, quality, flow, measurement, pressure and temperature measurements? Once we get them, we can start to build a baseline and work on efficiency gains.
When you already have measurement devices installed, we can get more into maintenance and troubleshooting. If you're using differential pressure to measure level on a steam drum, there are maintenance and environmental issues that can lead to it being less accurate or more maintenance intensive. That's a great application and opportunity to look at upgrading to something newer and more modern, which can reduce maintenance and improve efficiency.
Jim Montague: For companies that have yet to optimize their energy management in process and utilities, what steps should they take to reduce energy consumption and costs over the next five years or so?
Mark Thomas: A first step could be putting together an energy management plan that defines a desired area to emphasize and starts with an audit. Once you pick an area, ask a consultant or company like Endress+Hauser to look at that application, see what you’re measuring and what you're not, and start to analyze the measured values.
One great tool is creating an energy performance indicator list. This can include all types of things, such as starting with energy savings, creating a baseline and target for yourself, reviewing energy intensity and total consumed energy, and defining some energy-optimization measures. The last piece I’d add is accomplishing sustainability by considering some artificial intelligence (AI). We’re hearing a lot about AI lately, but what does it mean? Many oil and gas and chemical companies are looking at it as a new tool for rapidly meeting sustainability objectives by utilizing information and machine learning (ML) in ways that weren’t even considered just a few years ago. Companies could consider how these new advancements, ideas and technologies could potentially provide benefits with finding efficiencies and improvements. Companies will continue to make sense of what could and will work for them.
Jim Montague: Finally, how does modern instrumentation improve energy efficiency in heating, cooling, steam and compressed air? Can you give us an example of one or more of them?
Mark Thomas: We break modern instrumentation into two categories. It's existing measurement and instrumentation that’s been around a long time. They’re tried-and-true, but they've been modernized to improve accuracy or provide more access to data. The other category of modern instrumentation is niche instruments made specifically for these types of applications. So, if you take a device that measures flow for a steam drum or a boiler, such as a vortex flowmeter, it’s still a go-to for operators looking to measure steam outside of using a differential pressure device.
However, newer vortex meters provide more than flow data, such as measuring steam quality with an embedded RTD for temperature. There are even some options with pressure transducers. So, one flowmeter that 10-20 years ago just gave a flowrate is now a multivariable device that delivers a full picture of that steam. These flow and quality parameters from that one device can really drive operational improvement opportunities. And, if you look at modern instrumentation providing deeper insights, we can use onboard verification techniques. Here at Endress+Hauser, we'll call it Heartbeat Technology.
Heartbeat verification enables operations maintenance users run a verification on an instrument without removing it from or disturbing it in the process. At the same time, it also checks and monitors how the device is performing compared to when it was initially manufactured. This lets operations teams quickly and effectively check on instrument performance in a matter of minutes without leaving the safety and convenience of their control room. This is a nice way of taking existing technologies, and modernizing them for the present and future.