Fuel prices in the U.S. fluctuate on a daily basis and, as Americans, we can adjust to change in a relatively short period of time. In the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, we saw natural gas, gasoline, fuel oil, and electricity rise and fall.

It's Different Across The Pond

In recent months, we have seen most energy prices drop as the economy drops. And so we adjust again to these lower energy costs because we know that this month the pressure is off us being concerned with energy conservation and/or the need for high-performance equipment.

If you live in Europe, things are different. The pressure to conserve energy is never off the inhabitants there. Energy prices have always been much higher than in the U.S. and, as a result, they have always had a need to continuously strive to improve equipment performance so that they could conserve energy.

Some months ago, I had an opportunity to visit a European boiler manufacturer's plant and saw several interesting innovations that differentiate their boilers from the local competition.

During my visit, it occurred to me that we should be striving for "a better mousetrap" here in the U.S. and, more specifically, in the boiler replacement and/or retrofit market. We can't afford to base our decisions to save energy on the monthly cost of energy. We need to learn from those who have faced a continuous energy crisis, and who have no expectation of ever seeing the cost of energy drop.

Ideas To Put Into Practice

With the European perspective in mind, here are some "homegrown" energy performance ideas, starting with maintenance and operation (O&M) practice:

  • Thoroughly review the preventive maintenance (PM) work order and inspect the work after it has been completed. Over a period of time, short cuts with implementation of PM do occur that can compromise performance and life cycle.
  • Assess current O&M procedures, critique actual practice, and then do better.
  • Establish detailed operating logs that go beyond routine inspection and then train the operators to appreciate and use these enhanced equipment management tools.
  • Monitor, meter, and trend equipment performance including energy in, energy out, and flue gas data, and then set up alarms that indicate when the system is not performing.
  • Revisit chemical treatment and water treatment programs and clearly understand why these treatment processes are appropriate for your application.

When addressing equipment and system improvements, consider the following:

  • Complete pertinent efficiency testing and compare with latest equipment technology to consider performance improvements.
  • If equipment is in good condition, consider adding heat recovery to continuous blow down and/or flue gas exhaust. Also consider energy-efficient, flue isolation damper.
  • If equipment is questionable, consider a thorough inspection including non-destructive testing of tubes. Include in this assessment the risks, downtime, and liabilities associated with loss of this equipment.

If equipment is deemed to need replacement, consider the following opportunities:

  • High-performance equipment relative to equipment efficiency (i.e., condensing boiler) and the benefits of this type of boiler application. Also include consideration toward utility rebates, LEED-certification options, and low NOx performance.
  • Revisiting the boiler room ventilation and more particularly the combustion air ventilation system for improved performance relative to cold air entering and leaving the room. Also consider energy recovery options from waste heat.
  • If the boiler is steam, revisit the need for steam application and consider a hot water boiler system. If the equipment remains a steam application, implement a steam trap waste-energy assessment.
  • Take a fresh look at the operation strategy and boiler on-line management and reassess what should be the optimum master plan relative to equipment size, redundancy, and future boiler operation management.

And when you have considered and/or done all the above, recommission or retrocommission the boiler installation to maintain excellent documentation, verification, and training. Then we can let "Europe know what we really do know." ES