Using steam more efficiently is vital in order to reduce costs and boost green credentials. David Bowers, product manager Pressure and Process Flow for ABB Measurement and Analytics, explains why vortex and swirl flowmeters are suitable for steam measurement


ising fuel prices and increased pressure to minimise the use of fossil

fuels are forcing industrial organisations to re-evaluate their steam distribution systems to find new ways to improve efficiency and reduce costs. To achieve this, steam use needs to be monitored accurately and continuously. High energy prices continue to have a

major impact on the UK’s industrial companies. Compared with other EU member states for example, the UK pays well above the average, with only Denmark paying more for its energy. With the price of energy predicted to

continue rising, major energy users are in line for another price hike. Currently, any organisation that sits in the top 10 highest energy users pays roughly £120m/year for electricity, with some estimates pointing to a further 42 per cent rise in future years at current consumption levels1 Large multinationals are looking


to reduce their reliance on power from the National Grid by generating their own electricity using small-scale power generation projects. However, many businesses have neither the space nor the capital to embark on similar schemes. Anticipated cost increases are now

pushing companies to reassess existing industrial processes and explore other methods of saving money. One key area is in the generation, distribution and consumption of steam. The UK Government plays a part in this

process. A government initiative: the Non- Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), for example, applies to plants that use either liquid or steam as the main heat delivery method. Businesses are encouraged through financial incentives to improve process efficiency and invest in more sustainable fuels to produce steam. Being able to better understand how

much steam is being distributed through a system and the amount that is being consumed allows operators to obtain a clearer picture of potential cost implications. By helping to identify potential areas for improvement, the burning of fossil fuels can also be efficiently controlled, helping to reduce harmful emissions and the overall carbon footprint of the site. In addition, accurate monitoring can spot any existing issues,


such as leaks, which can contribute to revenue loss if not identified and fixed. To monitor steam or gas applications

accurately, it is not sufficient to determine the actual volume flow of the steam to ascertain the amount of energy that is travelling through the distribution system. In most cases, the mass flow of the steam needs to be established. In order to measure mass flow, it is

critical to use the appropriate meter. Although differential pressure meters can do the job, they require additional equipment such as flow computers, differential pressure and temperature transmitters mounted on orifice plates,

pushing up the cost and time of installation and increasing the

chance of unplanned maintenance. To reduce cost and maintenance concerns, a better option is to use Vortex or Swirl meters, as both offer superior accuracy compared to

alternative methods, particularly in applications where the flow range fluctuates. Flow measurements are as accurate as +/-0.5 percent, with turndown – the range over which the flowmeter can accurately measure – being 10 times greater compared to traditional orifice plates. Accurate monitoring of

steam distribution systems is achieved by both meters forcing steam to rotate or form eddies. Swirl meters have static veins installed which aid the creation of steam rotations. The frequency of the spiralling rotations that are created are then measured. In comparison, vortex meters are slightly different as it is the frequency of eddies that is measured. These eddies or vortices are created due to an intentional obstruction that is installed within the meter called a shedder. Furthermore, both meters contain two

piezo elements to cancel vibrations as well as a special algorithm that guarantees consistent handling and accurate monitoring, even in harsh applications. As the frequency of the vortex street in a

vortex meter and of the secondary rotation in a swirl meter are each directly proportional to the volumetric flowrate of

Having access to accurate information about the steam and hot water flows around a site is a powerful tool for monitoring and controlling energy use, putting strategically positioned meters at the front line in high quality energy management systems. The benefits of vortex and swirl flowmeters help companies spot potential areas for improved energy efficiency and environmental performance, and make improvements to their bottom line

the fluid, there is no need to compensate for changes in pressure, temperature or density. The meters only need to know the steam temperature to calculate mass flow. When measuring direct mass and energy,

ease of installation is key. Swirl meters are simple to install, particularly when companies are looking to retrofit a meter to an existing system. In most applications, flowmeters need an uninterrupted flow either side of an obstruction to ensure precise monitoring. With swirl flowmeters, just three and two pipe diameters upstream and downstream of an obstruction are needed, with no need for additional flow straighteners, so it is suitable for installation in those locations in which space is at a premium. The best models have their own built-in

computers. For example, both ABB’s VortexMaster and SwirlMaster flowmeters incorporate flow computers that can be used to provide accurate energy measurements. Steam pressure, temperature and volume are used to calculate a mass flow reading, from which an energy measurement can be derived. The benefits of being able to measure

temperature, pressure and volume using a single device are demonstrated by the following example. With saturated steam of 6 bar absolute at a temperature of 159°C, the correct density should be 3.1817kg/m3

. With slight overheating of

Both the SwirlMaster (left) and VortexMaster (above) incorporate flow computers that can be used to provide accurate energy measurements

the steam to avoid condensation forming, for example by 2°C at a constant pressure, a density of 3.3383kg/m3

would be used

for the mass calculation without taking the pressure into account. This would lead to a density and mass

Daily Telegraph, October 29th 2017 - British industry faces an energy cost crisis - and it is set to grow


error of around five per cent. Assuming a cost of £50/MWh and an energy flow of approximately three tonnes per hour (for DN100 piping and 50% load), this five per cent error could incur additional costs of around £4,500 per month. This error can be virtually eliminated by factoring in pressure and compensation to ensure that the steam state is measured accurately and reliably.



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