Use infrared imaging for energy auditing

With training, you can do it yourself


With infrared camera prices dropping and their capabilities increasing, many large energy users are considering doing their own infrared energy analysis rather than hiring specialists.With infrared camera prices dropping and their capabilities increasing, many large energy users are considering doing their own infrared energy analysis rather than hiring specialists. This may be a good idea, but using a camera and accurately interpreting results are two different things. You probably can do it, but your users will need some training, or the exercise may be a complete waste. 

Regular Audits Becoming the Norm

Increasingly, facility owners recognize that energy auditing is not a one-time procedure. It needs to be a continuing routine to assure that manufacturing processes and buildings are operating at optimum efficiency. Processes change, equipment ages, and buildings are modified and can also change in their efficiency through time.

For this reason, organizations today frequently organize internal energy audit teams. For these auditors, digital infrared imaging has become an important tool. Until quite recently, infrared imaging was seen as an activity best out-sourced. For complex projects, or for companies that do not have staff and training, that is still often the case. But an increasing number of companies are taking advantage of lower equipment prices and improved infrared imaging capabilities to buy their own equipment and use their own staff. 

Companies Offer Range of Imaging Equipment

Brad Risser from FLIR was a recent presenter at a Technology and Market Assessment Forum sponsored by the Energy Solutions Center. FLIR is one of the global leaders in the manufacture of digital infrared imaging, and offers units ranging from quite basic “point-and-shoot” models to sophisticated professional units. Risser noted that the interest in digital infrared is increasing because it allows users to identify heat gradients and spot thermal anomalies. He notes, “This technology allows us to ‘see’ heat.” 

Can Quickly Spot Problems

The most basic use of a digital infrared camera with an on-board screen is to allow the user to spot anomalies in a manufacturing or mechanical room such as overheated bearings, belt rubs, failing pipe or fitting insulation, hot electrical connections, bad switches, overheated motors, or steam and condensate leaks. The point-and-shoot camera is ideal for these applications.

In addition to process applications, the camera can be used to evaluate building energy concerns by identifying uninsulated areas, leaky windows and doors, water damaged areas and other anomalies. A section of exterior wall without adequate insulation will not be detectable by visible light, but this area will show up clearly on the imaging tool as a hot spot. Thus the infrared camera is a useful supplement to other building energy audit resources. 

Camera and Training Vary with Purpose

Gary Orlove is an application engineer with FLIR and is curriculum manager for FLIR’s infrared camera training activities. He says that the choice of cameras and the amount of training varies with the intended application. “It depends on several factors: How much is the auditor’s time worth? What type of equipment is being evaluated, what resolution is needed on the equipment surface, and what temperature range is needed?” He points out that a foundry would be a very different infrared environment from a meat packing plant. 

He adds, “A qualified auditor can make use of any of the cameras, just like a photographer can use an inexpensive camera, but the results would be better with a better camera.” He explains that the same camera equipment can be used for energy auditing on the building and on process equipment. “Prices start just below $2,000 and go up.” 

In-Depth Training for Detailed Analysis

Orlove feels that the needed amount of training depends on the depth of analysis the auditor is going to do. “Is the auditor just looking for insulation problems, or is it necessary to measure R values and calculate energy losses and savings? For the latter, a minimum of 32 hours of classroom and a couple of weeks of hands-on experience are needed.”

He points out that FLIR offers these types of training sessions. “We do it at our campus, at regional courses we set up, and at customer sites. We offer all three. Beyond the basics on using the camera, the courses include interpretation of the image and procedures for correct temperature measurement.” While some energy calculations are taught at the infrared class, the majority of that training is usually included in the auditor’s general energy auditing learning program. 

Images Can Be Stored, Transferred

Orlove points out that all of the cameras have the capability to store the images as desired. “The images are initially stored on memory cards in the camera, and then transferred to a PC for archival and report generating purposes.” Because the images are in standard file formats, they can be transferred to other sites for analysis or for training purposes.

Fluke Offers Combination Imaging

Fluke is a broad spectrum manufacturer of electronic test tools and also offers a line of digital thermal imaging cameras. An interesting feature available on some of the imaging systems is what is called IR-Fusion technology. This capability allows the user to merge visible light images with infrared images, thereby speeding identification of specific problem areas and simplifying reports on audit results.

In addition to general purpose infrared imagers, Fluke offers point-and-shoot imagers designed for process applications as well as units designed specifically for building efficiency analysis. Fluke also emphasizes the importance of training for users of infrared imagers, and offers online basic and in-depth training courses and webinars, as well as training classes conducted by Fluke’s training partner, The Snell Group. Classes are set for multiple training levels. 

Include Training in Your Plans

A wide range of thermal imaging products are now available from multiple manufacturers. Whether your interest is doing occasional trouble-shooting or incorporating the imaging equipment into an ongoing audit process, there is equipment made for your needs. Remember the importance of your staff getting startup and continuing training in the use of the equipment. Done the right way, infrared imaging can pay for itself in a very short time. 

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