What industrial plants could learn about tracking energy from nuclear plants
Watson: I didn’t know you had experience in nuclear plants.
Holmes: I don’t but I was fortunate to have the Assistant Station Manager and the Chief Operator for a nearby Nuclear Plant in a couple of my Thermal Systems and Power Systems classes when I was teaching for Purdue.
Watson: For some reason when I think of a Nuclear Plant operator I get a vision of Homer Simpson.
Holmes: Homer is a cartoon character, kind of like you. These guys couldn’t have been any less like Homer.
They were very sharp. They kept me on my toes. Both former Navy “Nucs” (as they referred to themselves) they had served on nuclear powered vessels in the Navy and gone on to Nuclear Power Plants after they got out. They had been in some type of training continuously the entire time they had been in the Nuclear Field and the Purdue classes were a part of the continuing education requirements to maintain their credentials.
Watson: How were you able to teach them anything about Nuclear Plants when you had never worked in one?
Holmes: Do you remember when you first started to work with me and I said that all energy systems follow two basic principles, Heat In = Heat Out and Mass In = Mass Out? Well I may have fibbed a little; Nuclear reactions are an exception in that a very small amount of fuel (mass) is actually converted to a very large amount of energy.
Watson: But the basic principle of Energy In = Energy Out still applies, right? And these guys completely understood what happened in the Reactor.
Holmes: On many levels they did but they came up to me after class one night when we were studying Energy Balances and said that I had cleared up something that had bothered them their entire careers.
Watson: That must have made you feel good, particularly coming from those two.
Holmes: Of course it did but remember you often learn as much or more from teaching than the students do. I asked them to explain what they meant and they said they had to do an Energy Balance every day of their lives in order to account for every gram of fuel that was consumed in the reactor. All radioactive material is strictly regulated and tracked.
They told me that even though they had always done Energy Balances they had not completely understood them until my class.
Watson: If I understand what you are saying, they knew how much energy or “heat” every gram of fuel released and they had to account for where it went.
Holmes: Exactly. Whether it’s a jet engine, slaughterhouse, donut factory or Nuclear Plant, the Energy In has to equal the Energy Out. They all follow the same Laws of Thermodynamics.
My students invited the class to tour their plant so we could see the physical equipment and understand how they made electricity from a nuclear reaction. I took my classes for several years.
Watson: What was the main thing you learned from the plant visits?
Holmes: I think it was even with the immense size of the plant which covered several hundred acres, it was possible to track all of the energy flows through the plant. I took my ten year old son along on one of the trips and on the drive home he said, “other than the nuclear reactor that is used to generate the heat, isn’t the rest of the plant just like every other electrical generating plant?”
Watson: Pretty sharp kid. He was right though. From the Power Systems classes I had in engineering school I would guess that an Energy Balance of a Nuclear (or a coal or natural gas or oil-fired) Plant would show that maybe two thirds of the energy entering the plant would be lost as heat through the steam generators, turbines, pipes, pumps, heat exchangers and cooling towers while approximately one-third ends up as electricity.
Holmes: Those would be good ballpark figures. The point is that the operators had to measure and account for all of the heat transfer, all of the losses as well as the actual power produced. They had to satisfy all regulatory requirements as well as maintain the highest plant efficiency, the greatest output with the least amount of energy lost.
That was the genesis for our first Energy Monitoring System. I thought if they can account for all of the energy in and out of an immense Nuclear Power Plant, then I can do it in smaller and less sophisticated buildings. Even though a large facility may seem overwhelming at first, it can be broken down into its individual systems and equipment.
Watson: So you designed your first Energy Monitoring System to be a Continuous Energy Balance that compared all of the energy coming in through the utility meters with the energy being used in all of the energy systems in the building.
Holmes: Right. And when we discovered that 20% or 30% or more of the energy entering most facilities cannot be accounted for, we realized that was the waste, the opportunity for savings.
Watson: So the question that building owners and managers should be asking is, "Where Do All of the Energy Dollars go in My Building?"
Holmes: Right. We specifically addressed that question our Blog "Where Does All of the Energy Go in an Industrial Plant". Read the Blog
Tell us about your experiences, both good and bad with energy professionals, what has worked and what hasn’t. Send us your comments, thoughts and suggestions on how to improve our profession so we can all continue to learn from each other. Thanks – Holmes & Watson.