Best-Kept Secret in Energy Efficiency
Insulation Association Says Mechanical Insulation Saves Money
an economic recovery in the United States remains tepid despite
relatively positive economic news for the first few months of 2010,
commodity prices have rebounded significantly. Energy prices for
oil and industrial natural gas are substantially higher than their
2009 lows. High energy prices could undermine any sustained recovery
and especially dampen any rebound for manufacturers already battered
by the recession. Faced with uncertain energy prices for the foreseeable
future, manufacturers and energy managers may want to consider
options to reduce price volatility in their energy supply inputs.
They may not be in a position to invest in a capital project that
uses up scarce resources during a slow business climate. They may
likewise need options that generate a payback under short time
horizons. One such (often overlooked) energy efficiency strategy
option is mechanical insulation.
To corporate energy or plant managers,
mechanical insulation may not evoke the same excitement as other
industrial systems with
gauges and other electronic monitoring controls. However, mechanical
insulation's low-tech benefits are hard to ignore. First, they
come in countless commercial and industrial applications. They
can cover vessels, ducts, boilers, and piping and can crosscut
numerous industries. Systems cover both hot and cold scenarios
and can ensure thermal, acoustical, and personnel safety.
application of mechanical insulation systems doesn't generate interest
in itself, then one should consider the effect they can
have on the annual operating budget. Often, mechanical insulation
systems have a payback period of 12 months or less, which equates
to a 100% annual return. Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy's
Industrial Technologies Program (ITP) has been working with the
National Insulation Association (NIA)—a long-time partner
of ITP—to specifically analyze Save Energy Now energy audits
and extrapolate information to put mechanical insulation's benefits
into context. Together, ITP and NIA analyzed over 700 Save
Energy Now assessments conducted since 2006. Though the audits focused
on mechanical insulation for just process heating and steam systems
and not insulation's wider potential application for the reviewed
plants, savings were significant. Across small, medium, and large
plants, mechanical insulation improvements had an approximate 9–12-month
payback period. Clearly, mechanical insulation upgrades have the
potential to save large quantities of energy and even larger amounts
over wider applications, especially considering the opportunities
in the commercial market.
Mechanical insulation systems are also
among the few manufactured products that save more energy than
it takes to produce them. NIA
estimates that over a 20-year lifespan, mechanical insulation systems
save between 140 and 500 times the energy that it takes for manufacturers
to produce them.
Despite the belief that mechanical insulation
is not an "exciting" subject,
NIA's Executive Vice President and CEO Michele Jones recently said, "It
is essential to begin thinking differently about mechanical insulation
and the value it can provide." During construction of a new
facility, it could be dangerous to consider mechanical insulation
under "economic thickness" calculations, given that energy
prices have risen substantially over the last 10–20 years.
Original cost assumptions may change as energy has become more
expensive. Furthermore, value engineering "mechanical insulation
almost always means compromising the insulation thickness, changing
the materials or system (a cheaper substitute), or eliminating
the insulation." The problem with this is that with insulation
reduced, "the equipment works harder, thus increasing operating
costs" and decreasing the equipment's operating life. You
may end up paying more by not investing up front. Usually, insulation
is thought of as an expense. Instead, managers should think of
it as an investment with returns often in under a year.
resources exist to help facility managers make smart mechanical
insulation investments to their systems. Of course,
ITP's Save Energy Now assessments can analyze insulation improvements
for industrial heating and steam processes. The National Institute
of Building Sciences has a mechanical insulation design guide containing
several free online calculators (http://www.wbdg.org/design/midg.php).
The North American Insulation Manufacturers Association has a free
software tool called 3E Plus, available for download online at
http://www.pipeinsulation.org. This program can eliminate the complexity
in determining the appropriate insulation thickness. It can calculate
British thermal units saved, cost of reduction, the available return-on-investment
opportunity, and emissions savings for gases such as nitrogen oxide
and carbon dioxide. This tool can also analyze the upgrade-versus-replace
scenario for a potential project.
Other resources may become more
widespread as mechanical insulation gains more attention. Adding
insulation beyond what is required
by ASHRAE 90.1—the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating
and Air Conditioning Engineers' Standard 90.1 (Energy Standard
for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings) and one of
the most recognized building energy standards—has real benefits,
and ASHRAE is reviewing higher insulation levels for its next update.
Looking to secure Congressional funding, NIA and the International
Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers are
working together to launch a national education and awareness campaign
to promote mechanical insulation as a cost-effective energy-saving
option for industry. An initial scope of work for such a program
is in development with ITP. Through this program, there will be
Webinars—some of which ITP may host—videos, and other
marketing efforts to increase the awareness of mechanical insulation's
"Mechanical insulation is one of the best-kept
secrets in energy efficiency, and we need to turn it into one of
the first things
people think about when they want to save money. It not only saves
energy but reduces greenhouse gas emissions and extends the life
of equipment. The numbers speak for themselves—we just need
to get the word out," says Glenn Frye, president of NIA.
information can be found at www.insulation.org
National Trade Contractors Coalition
for prompt payment provisions
The National Trade Contractors Coalition of Canada
(NTCCC) is “encouraged” by
response from politicians both at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa
to its campaign for enactment of prompt payment provisions.
coalition of nine national trade organizations is preparing draft
prompt payment provisions for review by the Ontario government
in the wake of meetings at the legislature in late April.
changes have been suggested to the federal government contract
form to include provisions for trade contractor payments.
Currently, the payment clause deals only with the relationship
between government and the general contractor.
The coalition last
month joined forces with the Building and Construction Trades Department
for meetings on the Hill with dozens of MPs and
NTCCC spokesman Richard McKeagan said the coalition
is encouraged by the fact “that there seems to be an interest
in Ontario on the part of MPPs and some fairly senior officials
with the industry to try and get prompt payment provisions legislated.
“On the federal side, what is also encouraging
is that a lot of the politicians that we visited agreed that prompt
all industries was extremely important and that they would promote
some sort of regulation change to encourage prompt payment to subcontractors.”
payment is one of the most significant issues facing trade contractors.
During the normal course of business, a trade
contractor carries substantial upfront costs, which have “an obvious
all areas of their business when payment is delayed, the coalition
“The payment status quo is clearly is not
Bob Blakely, director of Canadian affairs at the
Building and Construction Trades Department in Ottawa said his
organization supports the
prompt payment concept in addition to “fair and appropriate” contractor
prequalification processes and no bid shopping.
“It’s pretty tough to run a business
when somebody is stretching payment out to 120 days,” said
Blakely, whose office is an umbrella group for 14 affiliated AFL-CIO
unions in Canada.