Plant & Works Engineering
Bridging the gap to greener steam technology
Published:  16 July, 2021

Matt Watson* explores potential solutions as to how organisations might mitigate current demand and bridge the gap between old technology and new.

Attitudes toward sustainability in the  UK engineering industry are rapidly changing post-pandemic. Among pressing climate commitments, many are considering adopting greener steam boiler solutions, but logistical issues, straitened postpandemic budgets and surges in demand have rendered integrating new equipment difficult.

Steam is a vital process to the UK engineering and manufacturing industry. Its uses range from simple ones, such as sterilisation or moving liquids and gases through pipes, to more complex ones, like atomisation and humidification. In some shape or form, steam can likely be found within almost every process across the nation’s manufacturing industry, and its importance as a power source and utility only continues to grow.

At present, steam power is directly responsible for as much as 35% of the manufacturing industry’s heat demand, which in turn makes up 73% of the sector’s total energy needs. While these figures are already staggering, the nation’s appetite for power only continues to increase. Between 2014 and 2019, energy bills for UK manufacturers rose by 37%, and show no signs of slowing down in the near future.

With steam’s importance to the manufacturing field already substantial and energy demand on the rise, it is clear that increasing the efficiency of steam boiler solutions will be critical if the Government’s 2050 net zero targets are to be taken seriously.

UK manufacturers are looking to go green

The UK manufacturing sector is one that has historically struggled with rising costs and legislative pressures to upgrade ageing equipment. However, with newer, more efficient steam boilers able to yield immediate energy savings of 10% and upwards, it is clear that investing in this technology will be a key factor in aiding industry’s recovery while falling in line with climate commitments.

Fortunately, attitudes towards adopting green technology are changing. A recent survey conducted by Aggreko of over 200 public and private sector businesses discovered that 68% of respondents were in favour of investing in sustainable equipment alternatives postpandemic. Primarily, this is due to the need to accelerate recovery with by kick-starting investment, with ‘competitiveness’, ‘rising energy bills’ and ‘rise in demand’ cited as the three most popular reasons for doing so.

Hurdles to adopting new steam technology 

The clear enthusiasm for moving towards greener technology is a heartening sign, particularly with the UK’s net zero targets in mind. However, with the pandemic creating new challenges to adopting steam technology while exacerbating those that existed beforehand, it is clear that the nation will continue to lag behind its emissions-lowering goals until the transition to new solutions is made more accessible

Primarily, the key barrier to investing in new steam boilers is not the technology itself, but the demands of manufacturing as a whole. COVID19, though frequently thought to have had a negative effect on business for most, has fostered substantial growth for some specific sectors within UK manufacturing. In turn, this has increased the required output of steam boilers within these processes and left them under strain.

With existing steam solutions already operating at maximum capacity, businesses simply cannot afford the downtime necessary to allow older boilers to be replaced with new ones. As such, manufacturers find themselves in somewhat of a catch-22 situation. Despite the technology required to mitigate demand being readily available, it is precisely because of this demand that they are not able to integrate it.

Interim solutions

The peaking steam requirements of the UK manufacturing industry have rendered the gap between old technology and new even larger than usual. As such, it is clear that innovative short-term solutions will be required to manage the current industry demand while newer solutions are properly integrated.

The hire of steam boilers is just one solution that could alleviate industry pressure and bridge the gap while new technology is installed. In this, interim boilers would be brought in to temporarily bolster the output of steam, allowing companies to introduce more efficient technology without losing out on productivity. Specifically, by renting, organisations are able to access the benefits associated with newer steam boiler equipment while maintaining maximum uptime on their processes.

Aggreko’s research indicates that this idea is popular among UK manufacturers, with 85% of those surveyed saying they would consider renting a steam boiler. When queried on their reasons for this, lowering environmental impact to fall in line with new net zero regulations was the most popular response, with costeffectiveness and support for seasonal peaks following shortly behind.

Enabling the transition

Legislative pressure surrounding climate change and increasing industry requirements are clear drivers for investment in new technology, however the logistical issues surrounding the UK’s burgeoning energy demands are making this difficult for most. The already high walls to adopting new technology have been rendered even higher thanks to the pandemic, so whether it be by renting or by other means, it is clear that short-term solutions will be required in order to enable the transition between old and new.

Interim steam boilers offer UK manufacturers the crucial flexibility that they need to meet current peaks, supplementing steam output for as short or as long as possible while newer solutions are equipped to take over. Hire services, like those offered by Aggreko, could prove a pragmatic, cost-effective solution as UK businesses adjust to the demands of the industry post-pandemic.

For more information on attitudes to adopting steam power in the UK, download Aggreko’s full report at: