In recent years the demand for outsourced steam solutions has grown significantly as steam-reliant businesses continue to look for ways to reduce their costs, increase their efficiency and cut their fuel use. The latter has become especially important as the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war has resulted in an increase in the global demand for coal, once again adding to the operational costs of local businesses that rely on this commodity. With this in mind, South African companies that use steam in their day-to-day operations should understand their options in order to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive landscape.
This is according to Jonathan Probert, Head of Business Development for EP Steam – a division of Energy Partners and part of the PSG group. “Probably the biggest factor driving this change is the fact that businesses are increasingly becoming frustrated with their own ability to efficiently operate and maintain their steam infrastructure without passing the increasing cost on to customers. In addition to the risings costs associated, this is as a result of the fact that the skills around maintaining steam operations have become scarcer.”
The result, as Probert explains, is that many businesses are in a situation where they have to maintain the efficiency of ageing infrastructure with fewer and fewer skilled individuals at their disposal.
“There is also another prominent issue that some have begun to experience, which is an overall decrease in the quality of the coal that they can acquire for their budget. Again, the current global economic climate has had the biggest impact this, with coal prices expected to average around 80% higher in 2022 compared to last year. Naturally, using lower grade coal decreases the efficiency of one’s system, which also hikes up one’s operating costs. It takes expert skills in steam generation to manage this kind of challenge and the majority of companies just don’t have this at their disposal.”
Probert points out that until relatively recently, the majority of businesses simply didn’t have a way to deal with these challenges, leaving them with few options short of installing new systems. “Of course, the cost of this is massive and generally beyond the capability of many companies – especially in a depressed economy. Until about ten years ago, outsourcing your steam production was an unknown phenomenon in the industry, and it is only now that outsourcing has gained momentum as a solution to the problem of degenerating efficiency levels.”
He states that partnering with a service provider who owns and operates boiler and steam systems, while selling the steam to the business as a utility gives a business access to cutting-edge skills in this discipline, as well as the latest technology in steam generation without the need to spend any of their own capital. “Should your company make the move to outsourcing, a good service provider can now come in, take over your entire steam generation system (from operation to maintenance and upgrading) and provide you with immediate cost savings.”
He explains that Energy Partners, as an example, not only brings much-needed skills into the mix, but also state-of-the-art boiler and control systems that ensure optimal running efficiency and therefore ensures a reduction in energy use. “Real-time monitoring for steam systems is a game-changer. The simple fact is that newer steam generation systems are more reliable and can produce much more consistent results. Dedicated and constant monitoring and maintenance is something that most businesses are not equipped for, but it is completely within the capability of a dedicated service provider,” Probert notes.
“Whether it is food production, paper production, textiles or any other business, being able to increase the efficiency of your steam production without the need for capital outlay is becoming even more valuable. Outsourcing this incredibly important component of your business is possible, available and becoming the norm for more and more companies in these industries,” Probert concludes.