With past precedent relying heavily upon end users to shoulder the burden of determining their plant's cooling needs, the benefit of cooling technologies to overall plant productivity and performance often is overlooked. The opportunity to maximize thermal performance and increase output has been lost to those who fail to recognize the inherent value of a cooling system -- viewing it as a necessary evil, rather than a long-term revenue-generating asset.
To be sure that your plant is realizing the benefits of cold water, ask yourself the following four questions:
1. Have You Been Guilty of Short-Term Thinking?At many facilities, the plant owners and managers are responsible for assessing the plant's current cooling needs and presenting a detailed spec to be put out for bid. Typically, this is done by identifying current capacity requirements, choosing between wet and dry technology, detailing flow type, and relaying environmental factors to potential bidders. Depending on bid responses, usually the plant owner or manager determines which system to purchase based on the needs that have been identified.
Too often, the result of this process is that the selected cooling system is based solely on the plant's cooling needs at the moment the spec was created. Even when additional cooling is anticipated, short-term budget constraints often force end users to install the lowest cost solution capable of meeting current requirements with minimal consideration given to the facility's future potential. Consequently, many plants operate with patchwork fixes -- problems that have been remedied through repairs and temporary cooling solutions. These remedies not only are expensive but can significantly hinder plant productivity and efficiency.
Other considerations should be part of the decision-making process, such as the advantages of new technologies, the benefit of hybrid technologies, and water quality vs. water temperature. It is these aspects of a cooling system that can mean the difference between a system built for today and one that will work well into the future.
2. Is Your Average Process Doing the Talking?Many of the cooling systems operating in today's plants are defined by a single "design point" specification. Design engineers have multiple and often disconnected methodologies for picking the design condition. It may be based on a worst-case scenario: picking the absolute extreme conditions that might arise, which may mean that the installed system is over capacity 99.99 percent of the time. Conversely, some end users choose to select an 80 percent, 90 percent or average design point. Regardless, in many cases, the ultimate design point is determined by compromising performance for installed price.
With the sophistication of statistical process control (SPC) and simulation technologies, the traditional methods of selecting a design point are becoming inefficient and obsolete. For example, a typical power plant cooling system may be designed to operate at peak performance during 90 percent of predicted atmospheric conditions, with reduced performance (elevated cold water temperatures) during the hottest 10 percent of the year. Over the life of the system, this may seem like a good choice on paper, especially considering that there may be a 30 percent to 50 percent cost increase associated with installing the additional 10 percent capacity.
At first glance, the extra 876 hr per year of full-capacity operation does not seem worth the cost increase. However, by statistically analyzing the plant and market pricing dynamics, it may be determined that the market price of the power produced during those 876 hr are two to three times greater than the average annual sales price, making this the most profitable time to operate the plant. From this standpoint, the additional cooling capacity may be easily justified.
Therefore, steady-state design point analysis no longer is adequate when plant operations and market dynamics continue to increase in complexity. Today, the most successful cooling systems should be optimized over a broader range of operating and market conditions, which requires a significantly higher level of sophistication during design and engineering.
3. Did You Choose Only on the Lowest First Cost?When purchasing a cooling system, users frequently focus on keeping capital expenditures low, especially during challenging economic times. This mindset often leads to decisions being made based on lowest first cost without taking into account the potential long-term benefits of cooling technologies. Yet these highly technical cooling systems can be put to work generating greater plant performance.
More and more companies are evaluating the net economic value that the system contributes over the service life of the asset. With the use of more advanced analytical tools, more technical and financial options can be evaluated in a short period of time. By analyzing operation and maintenance costs, productivity impact, power and water use, and investment, customers can make better long-term investment decisions to ensure maximum financial return on every infrastructure dollar invested, discarding short-sighted policies of minimizing the initial investment in favor of smaller or negative returns.
4. Are You Just Taking the Water from the Well?Existing aged cooling systems and cooling-loop temperatures frequently are viewed as an uncontrollable plant parameter driven purely by atmospheric conditions, with customers feeling they are stuck with what they have. With pressure to increase plant productivity greater than ever, more plant managers and production engineers are discovering that their 10- to 20-year-old cooling systems can be upgraded easily to reduce temperatures or operating costs.
Many of these systems were designed and installed before the advent of today's cooling technology. All too frequently, customers rely on dated information provided by in-house employees or independent consultants who do not have direct access to emerging technologies, analytical tools or optimization methodologies. To achieve true optimization in today's environment, such dated and compartmentalized expertise just about always falls short. It is important that cooling system experts have an intimate understanding of the downstream impact of the associated processes, whether it is power generation, manufacturing, chemical processes or other process cooling operations, to ensure that the best economic decision is made.
There is a new breed of cooling expert whose knowledge can make a difference on plant performance. No longer should the customer carry the burden of making the cooling system work for the plant. The expectation should be that the cooling technology company will provide the best cooling solution based on specific facility needs. This partnership allows for full participation in the long-term performance risk and creates rewards in the form of increased output and fully realized capacity well into the future.
By following old protocol, industrial manufacturers are left vulnerable to outdated or underperforming cooling systems. Rather than viewing cooling technology as a necessary item bolted to the plant, it should be viewed as a valuable asset with revenue-generating potential. By taking advantage of new technologies, new experts and new trends focused on productivity, a cooling system can deliver real value even under changing load conditions.
More than ever before, the market should expect the cooling technology manufacturer to understand what the customer needs and participate in the shared risk/shared reward of a cooling system. The cooling technology partner must be accountable for educating plant owners and managers on the various cooling options and opportunities. Plant owners and managers also have accountability -- to expect more and get more from their cooling systems.