Design & Simulation / Energy Efficiency / Electricity

Energy Saver: Sometimes Homemade Spreadsheets Aren’t Enough

Free software tools from the U.S. Department of Energy can help solve energy efficiency issues

By Alan Rossiter, Energy Columnist

Writing your own software tools is a great learning exercise.

The year I started my first job out of college, my employer’s process engineering group acquired its first computer. Yes, I know, I’m a dinosaur. About 10 years later I got my first personal desktop computer. Shortly after that, I made a life-changing discovery: the spreadsheet! This miracle of technology gave me a way to store and process previously unimaginable quantities of data. It also provided a tool for capturing calculations so that I could reuse them the next time I had to solve similar problems. At first, that seemed like cheating, but I quickly succumbed to the obvious convenience and time-saving potential. Over the next few years, I developed spreadsheets for several common energy-related calculations, including ideal heat engines, boiler and furnace efficiencies, and heat exchangers. I even wrote a monster (26-MB) pinch analysis worksheet. Don’t laugh. It works.

There is something to be said for writing your own software tools. It is a great learning exercise, as it forces you to think through both your calculation methods and the problems you’re trying to solve. I would strongly recommend any engineer to try it. However, the world has moved on, and better tools are available. Some are commercial, but many are available at no direct cost to the user. In the area of industrial energy management, some of the best in the latter category are from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO).

Since the mid-1990s, AMO has been developing software tools both to identify energy-saving opportunities and to assess and implement energy management practices. The software has included sophisticated stand-alone platforms and smaller calculator tools to analyze industrial-scale pumps and pumping systems, fans, compressed air, steam systems, process heating systems and motors. It also includes a variety of tools to track energy use at plant sites and to support implementation of the ISO 50001 energy management system.

My own use of the AMO software mostly focuses on its “Steam System Modeler Tool (SSMT)” — not least because this goes far beyond my spreadsheet modeling capabilities. The tool encompasses a configurable steam system structure with a graphical interface, including boiler, steam turbines, deaerator and condensate system with up to three headers. The tool carries out a complete energy and mass balance, based on rigorous physical property data. It can be used to highlight interactions throughout the entire steam system, calculate marginal steam prices, and evaluate the benefits of potential steam system improvements and steam-saving projects, among other things. It also includes stand-alone calculators for water and steam properties, as well as for major steam system components such as boilers, flash tanks and steam turbines. These are useful for a wide range of purposes such as boiler efficiency opportunity assessments, condensate recovery evaluations and steam turbine replacement studies.

AMO currently is upgrading its existing energy systems software platforms and bringing them together into a common tool suite: MEASUR (Manufacturing Energy Assessment Software for Utility Reduction). I had a chance at a recent conference to preview the MEASUR tools suite and a demonstration of the steam module, which will replace the stand-alone SSMT. It provides a common user interface, which is much more intuitive and user-friendly than the earlier versions, and an inbuilt tutorial with features that can guide the user at every step. The interface also offers a consistent look and feel for all of the 40+ component tools, which improves the user experience. The functionality of the previous versions has been preserved, and even improved in some cases, although some minor glitches still need resolution.

MEASUR currently is available as a beta version through the DOE Software Tools link at www.energy.gov/AMOTools. You can also access the open source code at https://github.com/ORNL-AMO. I strongly recommend you give MEASUR a test run. It could be just what you’re looking for to help solve your current energy efficiency or energy management problem.

Many thanks to Bruce Lung of the Advanced Manufacturing Office, and to Kiran Thirumaran of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, for their support of the software, and for their help with this article.


Alan Rossiter3

Alan Rossiter has more than 35 years of experience in process engineering and management, including eight years in plant technical support, design and research with Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI, United Kingdom) and nine years in energy efficiency and waste minimization consulting with Linnhoff March, before starting his own business. In 2019 he joined the University of Houston as Executive Director, External Relations for UH Energy. He is a chartered engineer (U.K.) and a registered professional engineer in the state of Texas. His latest book, Energy Management and Efficiency for the Process Industries, coauthored with Beth Jones, was published by John Wiley & Sons in 2015. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and a Past Chair of the South Texas Section of the AIChE.

You can email him at arossiter@putman.net

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