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Steam Flow Energy Measurement

From facilities management to district heating applications, accurate steam flow energy measurement is a critical flow measurement needed to incur substantial savings on energy and maintenance costs. However,  steam flow energy measurement is also the most difficult flow measurement to make due to the unknown factors of what type of steam is being produced, various pipe sizes, and difficulty in steam flow meter installation. In most cases, you need to shut down the steam production, which can cost thousands of dollars in lost productivity, to install the steam flow meter.

Glen Coblentz, VP Sales North America for Sierra, has over 30 years experience dealing with the challenges of getting accurate steam flow measurements in facilities. Learn some tricks of the trade in his new Flow Tip Video, “Do You Know Your Steam Flow Measurement?” He tackles 3 important questions for accurate steam flow measurement:

  1. What kind of steam is your facility making? Are they producing saturated or superheated steam?
  2. What type of measurement, mass or volumetric, provides the most accurate steam flow measurements?
  3. What do you do when you absolutely cannot shut down the process, but you find you need to measure steam flow?

Determine if your Steam is Saturated or Superheated Steam

To measure steam flow effectively,  you need to know what type of steam you are producing. Saturated steam and superheated steam are very different and measuring incorrectly for either one will cost you big time.

It may seem like this would be obvious, but let’s say you are creating superheated steam.  If you have to continually add lots of heat (energy) to the steam so that you can create the superheated steam you may have something wrong with your process. When you specify, your steam flow meter make sure you know what type of steam you are measuring as this determines how the steam flow meter is set up from the factory. Incorrect set up results in incorrect steam flow readings. The density of saturated steam varies with either temperature or pressure, while superheated steam varies with temperature and pressure, so multivariable vortex flow meters assure the flow meter’s density calculations are correct, and therefore, mass steam flow measurements are correct maximizing steam productivity. Sierra’s multivariable vortex flow meters provide steam accuracy of +/- 1% of reading, 30:1 turndown plus pressure and temperature compensation.

Use the Right Flow Meter Technology to Ensure the Most Accurate Steam Flow Measurements

While there are a multitude of steam flow measuring technologies out there, an insertion multivariable mass flow vortex meter will be your best option for accurate data to help make informed decisions about your steam flow system.

Unlike differential pressure devices commonly used for steam flow which are inherently volumetric flow measurements, a multivariable mass flow vortex uses mass flow as its basis of measurement. This is important,  because changes in pressure and temperature will change the mass flow rate of steam. Even a “small” change of 10 percent in steam pressure will result in a 10 percent error in non-compensated mass flow. This means that, in a typical differential pressure measurement installation, the volumetric flow rate measured by the device must be compensated by measuring temperature and pressure, and then these three measurements (ΔP, T and P) integrated with a flow computer to calculate mass flow.

Choosing an insertion multivariable vortex meter gives engineers the benefit of using one instruments and one process connection to simultaneously measure mass flow rate, temperature, pressure, volumetric flow rate, and fluid density.

When Shutting Down is Not an Option – Hot tap

In many facilities, a very real challenge is the need to measure steam flow but shutting down your process is not an option. So, what do you do in these situations?

The answer is to use Sierra’s 241i insertion vortex flow meter. Unlike other options out there, the 241i has full packing gland and hot tapping capability allowing engineers to insert the sensor into any size pipe they want, anytime they need to do so to make a steam flow energy measurement without shutting down the process.

    • Insertion probe up to 72 inches (2M); optional hot tap
    • Ideal for saturated or superheated steam, gas, and liquid
    • Low-cost alternative to Coriolis meters for large pipes and ducts
    • Easy single-point installation; hot tap and hot tap retractor available
    • Volumetric flow rate or mass flow
    • Multivariable for five measurements in one device with one process connection:
      • Mass flow rate
      • Volumetric flow rate
      • Temperature
      • Pressure
      • Fluid density
    • Complete suite of digital communications
    • Rugged, long-lasting design for the toughest applications; no leaks with all welded gasket-free flow body

Learn more about Sierra’s vortex volumetric flow and multivariable mass flow meters.

Discover how vortex flow meter works.

Best Flow Blogs of 2018

best of 2018 facebook

2018 is now in the history books, and 2019 has begun with gusto. Can you feel the electric energy of a fresh start in the air?

This time of year is a perfect time to reflect on the previous year and to set goals building on the success of the previous year to ensure an even better year ahead.  So here’s a look at the most read blogs by you, our customers and fellow flow measurement enthusiasts!


Top Blogs of 2018

Understanding the iSeries Totalizer for Gas Mass Flow Rate

The number one most read “How to” blog addressed questions regarding flow meter totalizers, specifically, Sierra’s iSeries flow meter Totalizer App that comes standard with every QuadraTherm 640i/780i Thermal Mass Flow Meter. Discover how to correctly use flow meter totalizers and understand the power of the iSeries flow meter totalizer in this top read blog.   



social-image-how-waterflow-meter-works-110817How Does a Water Flow Meter Work?

Water measurement is one of the most common applications and biggest market, so it doesn’t surprise us that so many want to learn how liquid flow meters work and the benefits of the varying measurement technologies. This blog discusses the four types of flow meter technologies for water application and how they work.


ammonia-blog-image-1200-630-012218Flow Meter Do’s and Don’ts with Ammonia
Ammonia measurement is a tough measurement to make, but possible.  And you have consistently wanted to know more about the “do’s and don’ts”. We have updated this blog to reflect the changes in flow measurement technology while keeping the original spirit and content of the piece – measuring ammonia flow correctly. 


suspended-animation-facebook-1200-by-630-030818Turning Science Fiction into Reality
When you mix sci-fi and flow measurement innovation, you have a winning story. This is case study of how one scientist uses Sierra’s flow controllers for a cool and innovative gas mixing application to achieve suspended animation in mice. Now, this breakthrough is used by NASA. Learn about suspended animation and how it’s used to save lives.


Blog-image-1Flow Energy Management Applications-Installation Tips & Tricks
Proper installation is key! Often times when your flow meter “doesn’t work,” it could just be that your flow meter is not installed properly.  Part 2 of our 3 part Flow Energy Management Applications blog series offers insightful tips and tricks to consider for successful installation of your flow meter.



Oldies, but Goodies …Still

Since their first appearance on our blog, these older posts remain some of the most read and popular content by our readers:

Tuning Your Boiler for Energy Efficiency
Improving energy efficiency and cost savings will forever be a popular topic. This blog describes 3 ways to tune your boilers to meet government BoilerMact regulations and details the various boiler applications.

Insertion Flow Meter Straight Run Requirements
A flowmeter is only as good as its installation and, in this blog, Sierra offers expert advice on straight run requirements for the best installation.  

Challenges with Submetering Natural Gas (Part 1)
Who doesn’t want to save money on their natural gas bill? Learn how to save on natural gas billing by analyzing sub-metering in your facility or campus.

More To Come In 2019

This year, you can expect even more in-depth content from Sierra Instruments that focuses on “how to” content to achieve accurate flow measurement, increase energy efficiency, and save money on energy costs. 

Welcome to 2019! Let’s make it a great one.

3 Tips for Avoiding Costly Mistakes in Water Measurement

Whether you are running a large municipal water facility or one of the over 37,000 rural water utilities in the United States, water usage rates and costs drive your decisions. For any water system, it’s critical to answer key questions like:

  • What’s your water usage and/or production?
  • How much water are you distributing or allocating?
  • How can you identify & fix leaks in the system

3 Tips to Avoid Costly Mistakes

  1. Identify Leaks in the System with Accurate Water Flow Meters
    In many older water systems, eroding pipes and mismanagement of water measurement data lead to suspicion of water leaks which signifies money dripping out of your water system. The only way to identify leaks in your system is to compare the total production of water flow to the total water flow of your allocated and distributed water. To get water flow data, it’s critical that you choose the most accurate and flexible water flow meter. Paddle meters, for example, are notorious for getting clogged thus skewing your water flow data. This inaccurate measurement could give you a false positive-showing you may have a leak but you are reacting to false water flow data.
  2. Reduce Maintenance Costs With Proper Equipment
    Maintaining a large or small water system constitutes a continual maintenance cycle of the complete water system including the water flow meters and fixing the leaky pipes. One way to reduce maintenance costs is to lower the total cost-of-ownership of your water flow meters by lowering the installation costs, downtime, and cost to stock spare meters. A local water company in Florida learned this the hard way. They were measuring their water flow with traditional magnetic water flow meters which is a solid technology but not very economical to purchase or maintain. They also stocked 10 plus “mag” meters as spare parts which became very costly, especially as the pipes got larger. When a mag meter needed to be replaced, facilities managers had to build a new spool piece and shut down the system for installation. These maintenance efforts cost this water company up to $10,000 for each water flow meter replacement.
  3. Select Clamp-On Ultrasonic Water Flow Meters to Reduce Costs
    This water company made the switch to clamp-on ultrasonic flow meters which lowered their initial investment, cost-of-ownership and provided flexible and accurate water flow measurement. The beauty of clamp-on ultrasonic flow meters is that there is no pipe cutting, no system shutdown, and flexible measurement options. Use one clamp-on ultrasonic flow meter at various locations to get your total allocation rate which helps to track down leaks and inefficiencies. Clamp-on flow meters also are easy to install and can fully integrate with water management systems through BACnet and other digital protocols.

Case Study: Ultrasonic Flow Meters Offer Big Savings in Carmel, California

Carmel Riviera Mutual Water Company is a rural water company serving 600 homes along California’s beautiful and rugged Big Sur coast. Historically, their estimated annual water loss through leaks, waste, evaporation and other losses was around 30%. The company budgeted almost $60,000 per year in initiatives to reduce these leaks, including labor and materials for surveys and expensive repairs.

Sierra’s Solution

In their efforts to expand operational efficiency, Carmel Rivera investigated using Sierra’s InnovaSonic® 207i Clamp-on Ultrasonic Flow Meter. It promised to help determine waterloss percentage, improve production efficiency, improve water quality (reducing back flush) and more accurately identify over-users. The versatility of the clamp-on flow meter made it a perfect tool for the small, often cash-strapped, water company. Simply clamp the sensors onto the outside of the water pipe and extremely accurate measurement was now possible–no need for costly system shut downs, pipe cutting and plumbing.

After six months of using the InnovaSonic 207i, Carmel Riviera found their actual loss rate to be only 12% of their production – uncovering an 18% discrepancy in original water loss estimates. The improved production and usage figures derived from the InnovaSonic enabled the company to significantly reduce their $60,000 annual maintenance and operations budget to target more funding on improving conservation and efficiency.

Here’s What Makes Sierra’s InnovaSonic 207i an Ideal Choice:

  • Highly accurate (+/- 0.5% of reading)
  • Reduces maintenance costs by providing accurate usage rates
  • One meter for pipes 2” to 200”
  • Clamp-on sensors are very easy to install with no pipe intrusions
  • Includes complete data logging and analysis tools

Download Tech Note

Thermal Energy/BTU Ultrasonic Flow Meters Improve Energy Efficiency HVAC System

Almost every facility, campus, or hospital in the country has a HVAC process that heats and cools the building. With the current hot topic of improving energy efficiency, how do facilities managers and facilities engineers know that their HVAC process is running as efficiently as possible and not wasting energy? The key is to calculate the thermal energy/BTU of the system.

How do you calculate the Thermal Energy/BTU ?
The best solution is to use a clamp-on ultrasonic flow meter with thermal energy/BTU capability. A critical element of any thermal energy/BTU flow energy measurement is determining the amount of heat transferred between the cold and hot flow legs of an HVAC process. Often with only a small difference in temperature between the two flow legs, a precise measurement makes a huge difference. From this data the ultrasonic flow meter calculates the thermal energy BTU measurement of the system.

clamp-on ultrasonic liquid flow meter

Figure 1. 207i ultrasonic liquid flow meter with transducers and clamp-on RTDs thermal energy/BTU 

What to Look for in Ultrasonic Thermal Energy/BTU Flow Meter Selection?

High Accuracy 

The most advanced ultrasonic flow meters, like Sierra’s InnovaSonic 207i, take into account the temperature difference as well as all NIST traceable fluid properties required to accurately measure flow and make ultra-precise temperature measurements between the cold and hot flow legs. Since transit-time ultrasonic flow meters measure liquid flow rate by detecting the speed of sound in the liquid, a small change in liquid density will impact the speed of sound measurement and thus impact accuracy. Unlike other ultrasonic meters that assume a fixed liquid density, the 207i calculates liquid density in real-time by adding a temperature input from a transmitter provided by Sierra or by using an external input from an existing transmitter. This ensures accuracy of +/-0.5% of reading from 0.16 to 40 ft/s (0.05 to 12 m/s) even if liquid density changes as the temperature of a flowing liquid moves up and down over time

Flexibility & Ease-of-Use

For ease of use and installation, look for ultrasonic flow meters that come with a comprehensive software package of apps, field upgrades, and calibration validation.  To make installation easy, the 207i  has a unique visual sensor spacing tool on the local display, or  software app, that allows end users to slightly move the sensors together or apart to position an indicator line between “goal posts” to ensure optimal signal strength.  This gives peace of mind that the meter is installed correctly and ready to measure flow.  Software apps offer engineers and operators apps like MeterFit™ to help optimize signal strength to ensure best performance.   EnergyPro™ allows you to fully configure your thermal energy/BTU flow energy measurement system, including data-logging and totalization of all energy functions.  Apps like ValidCal™ Diagnostics make field calibration validation easy. Engineers and operators can use apps for easy setup, field upgrades, and validation of hardware and firmware.

Lowest Cost-of-Ownership

Clamp-on ultrasonic flow meters make installation easy and cost effective – no pipe cutting or expensive plumbing. This also means that there is no downtime to the system which saves on maintenance costs.

[VIDEO] Learn Tips on How to Use Ultrasonic Flow Meters with Thermal/BTW Capability to Assess Energy Efficiency of HVAC System

After choosing the perfect ultrasonic flow meter, the key to assessing the efficiency of your HVAC system is to determine the temperature differential of the hot and cold legs of your system. If the temperature differential between your hot and cold legs is not as expected, you may have a problem with your pipe insulation or heat exchanger. These critical measurements give you information to fix your system and save money.

Watch our recent Flow Tip Video, “Energy Efficiency in Hot/Chilled Water BTU” by Glen Coblentz, VP of Sales, to learn more tips on how to use the 207i InnovaSonic ultrasonic flow meter with thermal BTU capability to assess the energy efficiency of your HVAC system and make smart energy saving decisions.

Benefits of InnovaSonic 207i Ultrasonic Flow Meter for Hot/Chill Water Measurement

Designed, built and calibrated for non-intrusive liquid flow metering, the 207i transit-time ultrasonic flow meter with thermal energy BTU capability is an ideal solution for determining the hot/chilled water BTU of your system. This provides facility managers with the high quality flow energy data required to manage energy costs.

  • Clamp-on or insertion transducers measure bi-directional flow
  • One meter for a wide range of pipe sizes from 2 to 236 inches (5.0cm to 6.0M)
  • Accuracy +/- 0.5 percent of reading from 0.16 to 40 ft/s (0.05 to 12 m/s)
  • Clamp-on or insertion PT 100 temperature inputs for thermal energy/BTU measurement
  • Software apps for easy set up for optimal signal strength
  • Upgrade meter firmware and software in the field

The InnovaSonic 207i is also part of Sierra’s Big-3 iSeries, one complete flow energy management solution for any gas, liquid, or steam flow measurement.



Thermal Mass Flow Meters Increase Boiler Efficiency in Co-generation Applications

Did you know most chemical plants use electricity derived from an on-site natural gas power plant or co-generation plant burning waste gas streams? 

In large boilers, power plants bring together air and fuel (natural gas, waste gas, oil or coal) for combustion, which creates heat. The heat boils the water, creating steam. The steam runs through a turbine, which causes the turbine to spin, thus generating electricity. Measuring the flow energy — flows that cost money such as natural gas, waste gas, water and steam — in these boiler applications is critical for improving energy efficiency, identifying waste and minimizing the greenhouse gases going into atmosphere. Only with accurate mass flow measurement can you make informed decisions to improve energy efficiency. Therefore, to improve boiler efficiency  it’s critical to know your options when selecting the appropriate flowmeter technology to measure natural gas, water and steam in power generation . 

Increasing Combustion with Optimal Fuel-to-air Ratio

Power generation requires inlet air and fuel (natural gas, waste gas, oil or coal) for combustion. Engineers must measure the air and gas ratio accurately for efficient combustion in the boilers. Too much gas is wasteful, dangerous and costly, and too little will create insufficient flame to boil the water efficiently.

Choosing the Right Meter to Monitor Fuel-to-air Ratio

Orifice and Turbine Meters. Monitoring fuel gas to boiler units traditionally is accomplished with an orifice or turbine meter. However, these are not the best measuring devices for this application because they both are subject to failure and require frequent skilled maintenance to provide an accurate and reliable measurement.

Constrained piping conditions can also give engineers headaches. For example, an orifice meter requires 10 to 50 diameters of upstream piping to eliminate the effect of flow disturbances. Because long straight pipe runs are hard to find, most flow measurement systems are affected adversely by varying flow profiles within the pipe.

The biggest cause for concern, however, is that orifice and turbine meters measure volumetric flow. Additional pressure, temperature and differential pressure sensors, as well as a flow computer, are required to calculate or infer mass flow. This not only degrades the flow measurement accuracy, but the installation and maintenance costs with this type of compensated measurement increase the cost of ownership.

Thermal Mass Flow Meters. In contrast, thermal mass flowmeters are suitable for the direct mass flow measurement of gases, not volumetric flow. Because thermal mass flowmeters count the gas molecules, they are immune to changes in inlet temperature and pressure and measure mass flow directly without compensation. In inlet air and gas flow boiler applications, thermal flowmeters perform well because the optimal fuel-to-air ratio for efficient combustion in boilers is calculated on a mass basis, not volumetric (Figure 3).

In a thermal flow meter’s simplest working configuration, fluid flows past a heated thermal flow sensor and a temperature sensor. As the fluid’s molecules flow past the heated thermal sensor, heat is lost to the flowing fluid. The thermal sensor cools down, while the temperature sensor continues to measure the flowing fluid’s relatively constant temperature. The amount of heat lost depends on the fluid’s thermal properties and its flow rate. Thus, by measuring the temperature difference between the thermal and temperature sensors, the flow rate can be determined. 

New developments in four-sensor thermal technology coupled with stable “dry sense” sensor technology as well as advanced thermodynamic modeling algorithms enable some thermal flowmeters to attain ±0.5% reading accuracy, rivaling Coriolis flow meter accuracy at less cost. On-board software apps also enable gas-mixing capability, in-situ validation, and dial-a-pipe.


Case-in-Point. Purified Terephthalic Acid (PTA) in China uses Sierra’s thermal mass flow meters to improve boiler efficiency, cut costs and meet government regulations.

Purified terephthalic acid (PTA) is the precursor to polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the ubiquitous material used worldwide in plastic bottles, textiles and elsewhere. A PTA chemical plant in China generated steam and electricity from its on-site power plant using coal as a fuel. It also had a wastewater treatment station that produced methane, which then was flared off. Both processes are major greenhouse gas emitters.

New government regulations required the company to reduce its CO2 emissions. The plant decided to modify its four boilers to burn both coal and the previously flared-off waste gas (methane), estimating a savings of approximately $0.5 million in coal each year. Working with a single-source supplier, engineers reworked the boilers’ designs and installed Sierra Instruments’ industrial insertion thermal mass flowmeters to measure its combustion air and waste gas fuel, ensuring optimal combustion (Figure 7).

One thermal flowmeter measures the waste gas flow, while the other four thermal flowmeters provide sub-metering of this gas stream to each boiler. Another four meters measure pre-heated (200°C, 392°F) combustion air to each boiler, allowing the boiler control system to optimize the fuel-to-air ratio. The Sierra mass flow meters provided both precision flow data for complying with government regulations and helped the company reduce waste while increasing efficiency.

Discover More Ways to Improve Boiler Efficiency through Tuning your boiler


How to Choose the Perfect Flow Meter to Reduce Flow Energy Costs in Your Facility











It’s almost October and Fall is in the air. 2020 has turned out to be a tumultuous year and things seem to only be heating up. COVID-19 continues to be a daily factor in our lives, civil unrest is abundant, and the US economy remains volatile.

However, despite these obstacles, common among all manufacturing is a desire to optimize business processes, cut costs where they can, and keep the doors open while still providing the best possible service for their customers. A tangible way to do this is to focus on managing the flow energy in their facility to control costs, increase process efficiency, improve profits. And this all starts with providing facility operations managers and engineers the most accurate flow data to make informed, smart decisions about how to better manage the flow energy in their facility.

Here are some steps to identifying the flow energy applications in your facility, asking the right questions, and then specifying the correct flow meter for the fluid and application to get the most accurate flow measurement possible.

Step 1. Understand Your Plants’ Key Flow Energy Applications and Ask the Right Questions.

The key to getting the best data to manage your facility is to know your plants key flow applications. Common applications across many facilities are natural gas measurement, compressed air measurement, steam production, usage, and allocation, water and energy BTU measurement. The common denominator is all of these are flow processes that need its specific flow energy measured.

Application #1
Precise Natural Gas Measurement-Improve Boiler Efficiency/ Sub-Metering

Need to measure fuel gas flow over a wide range? A single thermal mass flow meter can measure very high flows at peak demand or very low flows during startup and shutdown to always assure the best fuel to air ratio in your burners and boilers. Additionally, thermal mass flow meters can help you to control natural gas costs with sub-metering that will deliver improved accuracy and substantial savings.

Key Questions to control costs and improve process

  • Are your boilers running efficiently?
  • What’s the inlet flow rate of natural gas to your boiler?
  • How can you accurately measure your flow over a wide flow range?
  • If temperature or pressure change in your line, how do you maintain an accurate flow rate?
  • What flow meter technology is best for natural gas measurement?

Application #2
Compressed Air Measurement-Identify Costly Leaks & Inefficiencies
Want to be convinced that the energy costs to generate your compressed air don’t go to waste? Thermal mass flow meters are ideal for detecting compressed air leaks. Due to their low flow sensitivity and compact insertion probe design, you can easily move from place to place to find and eliminate leaks when you see flow where there is no air demand.

Key Questions to control costs and improve process

  • How much compressed air are your air compressors producing?
  • How much compressed air is being allocated to other processes?
  • Are there compressed air leaks in the system?

Application #3
Steam Flow Measurement-Production, Usage, and Allocation
Concerned that pressure drop in your delivery system is affecting your steam flow? Multivariable vortex flow meters measure steam pressure, temperature and mass flow with one compact meter, so you have confidence your steam plant and delivery system are efficient.

Key Questions to control costs and improve process

  • How much steam are your boilers producing?
  • Is your steam pressure drop affecting your flow measurements?
  • How can you measure steam in large pipes without shutting down your operation?
  • When pressure or temperature change, how do you know if your steam flow measurement is still accurate?
  • How much steam are you allocating to each part of your facility or campus?
  • Do you have a steam leak?

Application #4
Water Measurement & Energy BTU Measurement-Optimize Energy Efficiency
Water supply and usage has a significant impact on costs. Measure every drop without cutting a single pipe with a clamp-on ultrasonic flow meters. Integrated temperature measurements know how many BTUs your hot or chilled water loop actually delivers.

Step 2. Find the Right Flow Meter to Accurately Measure Your Key Gas, Liquid and Steam Flows

This is easier said then done. With all the various applications, it is a challenge to find the right flow meters for these gas, liquid, and steam applications. Often many different technologies are needed depending on the type of fluid being measured and many different flow meter companies must be used. Dealing with different companies and technologies can be very time consuming, expensive, and ultimately frustrating.









Sierra has solved this issue with our Big-3™ flow energy management strategy. We manufacture one complete family of flow meters we call the iSeries which work as a team to handle nearly any flow application found in industry. They provide a complete flow solution spread across three technologies, Thermal, Vortex and Ultrasonic. They feature user friendly apps and share a common user interface, so facility managers don’t have to re-learn each meter.

Regardless if you opt for the Big-3 option or just pick and choose one or two types of technologies for your process, the meters should:

  • Have high Accuracy and repeatability
  • Ability to measure a wide flow range – meters than can measure low to high flows.
  • Have Digital Communications Options
  • Calibrated to NIST standards
  • Able to validate in the field for easy in-situ calibration ( thermal/ vortex meters)
  • Have the necessary capabilities to measure flow rates required by governmental regulations

Work with one flow energy management expert that can help ease the burden of specifying new meters and recommissioning.

Our Big-3™ flow energy management strategy gives managers a best case scenario to deal with one flow meter company to specify and support instrumentation for all your gas, liquid, and steam flow measurements. This means one point-of-contact for product specification (measurement goals, fluids, flow rate, turndown requirements, temperature and pressure) and installation, one operating system for easy integration, and one local support team over the lifetime of the product.

Sierra’s Big-3 includes:

Download Flow Energy Guide for additional details to managing flow energy in your facility.

Watch Flow Energy Videos to learn more about how to measure e air, gas and steam better in your facility.

VIDEO: Mass Flow Meters for Power Plant Applications

Generating electricity in a natural gas power plant is a complex process due to the multiple steps involved with the different types of fluids being used and optimized. Dr. John Olin, Founder of Sierra Instruments, explains how thermal mass flow meters, vortex flow meters, and ultrasonic flow meters can improve the flow energy management in power plant applications in this latest video from Sierra Instruments.

How a Power Plant Works

When most people think of power plants, they immediately jump to an image of hot coals and smokestacks towering in the sky. However, most power plants today are either burning natural gas or in the process of switching to natural gas.

To start the process of creating electricity, power plants bring together air and fuel (natural gas or coal), creating combustion. This creates an exothermic reaction and heat is released. The heat boils water in a boiler creating steam. The steam runs through a turbine, which causes the turbine to spin, thus generating electricity. Voila!

Best Flow Meter Technologies for Flow Energy Management in Power Plant Applications

Now that we know how power plants work, we see that there is gas, liquid, and steam that needs to be measured in order improve the efficiency of energy production and save money on energy waste. With efficient energy production, power plants can also minimize the CO2 going into atmosphere, which contributes to climate change in the form of greenhouse gases. The question becomes which flow meter technology measures each fluid the most effectively.

  1. Inlet Air and Fuel (Natural Gas) for Combustion – Power plant managers must accurately measure the air and natural gas ratio for efficient combustion in the boilers. Too much natural gas is wasteful and costs money and not enough will not create a flame hot enough to efficiently boil the water in the boilers. Thermal mass flow meters are ideal for combustion applications because mass flow rate, not volumetric, is the quantity of direct interest whenever the molecules of the gas are the control variable in your process. Because thermal mass flow meters count the molecules of gas, they are immune to changes in inlet temperature and pressure. Thermal mass flow meters directly measure molecular flow (count gas molecules), so they provide the most reliable, repeatable and accurate gas measurement for power plant gas flow applications. In fact, with new developments in four-sensor thermal technology and software, some thermal flow meters have +/-0.5% accuracy which rivals the accuracy of Coriolis meters at a fraction of the cost.  In some instances, you can also use vortex technology as an alternative depending on the gas flow application.
  2. Inlet Water to the Boiler -Power plant operators must also know how much water is going into the boiler to account for efficient steam production and detect any possible wasteful leaks. To measure inlet water flow to the boiler, the preferred method is clamp-on ultrasonic liquid flow meters. The benefits of this technology is that it is not affected by external noise, non-invasive with no pipe cutting and relatively easy to install. New advancements in ultrasonic technology now have on board software and apps that make the meter really easy to install, giving a “between goal posts” visual signal for a correct installation.  Here is an example of an ultrasonic meter on the market for accomplishing this task.
  3. Steam Production – To determine the efficiency of steam production from the boilers, which is critical to turn the turbine for energy production, plant operators must get accurate steam flow measurement. Vortex shedding flow meters are ideal for measuring saturated and superheated steam as well as gases and liquids. Insertion vortex flow meters are ideal for large steam pipes with easy to use hot tap retractor.  New technology and sensor advancement account for external vibration making the vortex flow meter even more accurate. New on board software apps also allow easy set up, tuning, trouble shooting, in-situ calibration validation, and datalogging.

How to Integrate Thermal Mass Flow Meters, Vortex and Ultrasonic Flow Meters into Power Plants

It is critical that all of the flow meters are seamlessly integrated into the process of a power plant. Recently, Sierra’s complete family of Flow Energy Management flow meters, coined the Big-3 (Thermal, Vortex, Ultrasonic), has been released and is perfect for accomplishing the task of integrating thermal, vortex and ultrasonic technology into power plants and other types of industrial flow processes. The beauty is that now plant operators can work with just one company to specify, install and maintain all their flow meters for all gas, steam, and liquid flow measurements.  Sierra designs, manufactures and calibrates all our flow meters at our headquarters in Monterey, California USA to assure the best quality and lifetime support.

Other Sierra Big-3 advantages:

  • Best-in-class sensor technology perfected over 40 years
  • Shared Raptor OS iSeries operating system for high quality flow rate calculation
  • On board software apps for easy set up, validation, tuning, gas mixing & datalogging
  • Calibration expertise with high accuracy gas loop and water loop facilities
  • Commissioning, global support over the lifetime of the product
    Learn More about Sierra’s Big-3 Complete Flow Energy solution for all gas, liquid, and steam applications.

Have questions on how to integrate your flow meters for your power plant? Talk to a flow expert today.

Avoid Common Flow Meter Installation Mistakes to Optimize Flow Meter Performance

In our last blog, we discussed how plant and operation managers are searching for ways to manage the flow energy in their facility to cut costs and increase their process efficiency.

After the purchase decision is made, correct installation and calibration are the next steps to maintaining the equipment over the lifetime of the product and lowering the cost of ownership to increase the cost savings of the facility overall.  Let’s look at three common installation mistake to avoid and other ways to ways to lower cost of ownership and optimize your flow meters’ performance.

Avoid Common Installation Mistakes

Once you have identified the right flow meter for each type of fluid and application, proper installation of your flow meter is critical for successful flow readings.  Many times, if you think your flow meter “doesn’t work,” it could just be that the meter was not installed properly.  Here are some installation tips for thermal mass, vortex, and ultrasonic flow meters:

  1. In order to achieve accurate and repeatable performance for thermal mass flow meters, install the flow meter using the recommended number of straight-run pipe diameters upstream and downstream of the sensor. The chart below shows basic good plumbing practice for common upstream obstructions and meter locations.

Another solution for insertion flow meters is to install flow conditioning plates in the flanges somewhere in the straight section, requiring three diameters of pipe run (two before, one after). This installation will totally disrupt the flow, creating a “flat” profile.

2.  Avoid the following mistakes when installing vortex flow meters:

    • Not having the proper upstream and downstream diameter. Unlike thermal flow meters, vortex meters do not work with flow condition plates, so they must have a straight run of pipe to function at optimal levels. In most installations, you need a straight run of at least 10 diameters upstream and 5 diameters downstream.
    • Installing the vortex meter backward. When installing a vortex flow meter, make sure the orientation of your meter is in the direction the flow, so your meter’s flow sensor can measure your fluid accurately. Most vortex flow meters have some type of flow direction indicator to help you point downstream.
    • Measuring the incorrect fluid type in the pipe. In some situations, an end user might be measuring steam flow and think they are producing saturated steam, but in fact, they have a 50% over heat and are measuring superheated steam. (add link to blog explaining this)
    • Don’t shutdown your steam flow to install a vortex flow meter. Many insertion vortex flow meters have a retractor to make hot tap installation much easier. This means you can install the insertion vortex flow meter in large steam pipes with no process shutdown.

3. For ultrasonic flow meters, consider clamp-on sensors for field flexibility and offer for easy setup. With a portable ultrasonic flow meter, you can use one in several locations throughout your flow process. Fieldwork calls for flexibility in your equipment. Look for a liquid flow meter clamp-on sensors with a high-powered ultrasonic pulse and digital signal processing that requires just one set of transducers for a wide range of pipe sizes and materials like metal, plastic, and concrete.

In-Situ Calibration Increases Throughput & Avoids Costly Shutdowns 

The measurement accuracy of your device is critical in determining efficiency, performance, and cost-savings. So the more accurate your flow meter is the better data you have to make cost saving decisions.  Thermal mass flow meters with in-the-field in-situ calibration validate the meter’s accuracy without shutting down the facility. Learn how In-Situ calibration works in this video.

Learn more about how to manage the flow energy in your facility.

Download Flow Energy Guide for additional details on managing flow energy in your facility.

Watch Videos on how to measure air, gas, and steam better in your facility.





Preventable Mistakes with Vortex Flow Meters

Vortex flow meter technology is an ideal technology for many applications particularly saturated and supersaturated steam, volumetric water applications as well as flow energy management (natural gas, compressed air, steam, water) in facilities and large campuses. In some of these applications, vortex installations can be tricky and take flow expertise for the most successful installations. Kam Bansal, the Director of Engineering, has some useful tips for successful vortex installations and common mistakes to avoid to get the most out of your vortex flow meters in your application.

Vortex Flow Meter Mistakes to Avoid

#1 – Water Hammer

If you’ve ever turned on your shower and the pipes made a loud bang, you’ve probably experienced the phenomenon called water hammer. Most commonly caused by opening or closing a valve too quickly, it occurs when a mass of water zooms through a pipe with enough momentum to pack a serious punch.

Commercial pipelines often allow these “water hammers” to reach such high speeds that they can damage the flow meter sensor. To alleviate the “water hammer” phenomenon,  try to avoid condensation in steam systems by opening and closing valves gradually to equalize pressure.

#2 – Incorrect Range or Pipe Size

Vortex flow meters are highly specialized devices, and each one is made-to-order based on customer application specifications. This means an out-of-the-box meter will only work for the original order’s conditions. Usually, you can’t make any changes once the meter is installed in the field. However, the software apps offered by Sierra’s InnovaMass iSeries allow you to change variables in-the-field with dial-a-pipe, and tune meter factors in-situ to fit your needs.  You can also adjust your vortex meter via the local pushbutton display interface. In addition, if you think your application may approach the meter’s maximum pressure or temperature, it’s better to buy a higher-rated meter than risk overheating or over pressurizing.

Now that you are aware of these preventable mistakes, think about your vortex meter installation process and specification process.

If you need a refresher, watch this short video by Director of Engineering, Kam Bansal, for an in-depth explanation on how to solve some of the common vortex installation mistakes.

Have technical questions? Comment below or contact us.

Understanding Flow Measurement for Emissions Monitoring

Take Charge of Your Boiler Efficiency & Avoid Steep EPA Emissions Fines
Sounds like an impossible task, but it’s not.

Emissions monitoring is a hot topic for plant and facility managers due to the elevating importance of three factors:

  1. Global climate-change mitigation efforts
  2. Increasing governmental regulations
  3. Social pressures

Due to this, there is also a heightened importance to accurately measure gas flow for high boiler and process-heater efficiency.  Why? Because accurate flow measurement is critical to achieving boiler efficiency.

Measuring Flow in Your Boiler

In emissions control and combustion applications, flowmeters are used to measure the flow of fuel gas (normally natural gas) and air to combustion burners within various types of process equipment to maintain a fuel-to-air ratio that will maximize efficiency while producing minimal pollutant products. Ratios that are either too rich in natural gas, or too lean, will result in unnecessary emissions and wasted fuel.


Flow measurement technologies can be used in industrial boilers to monitor the air and fuel inlet, as well as the water inlet and the steam outlet

If the flow of gaseous combustion products — including greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and unburned methane — as well as the fuel input, can be measured accurately, users can gain a full picture of the boiler’s efficiency. Accurate measurement of steam production determines whether a boiler is producing the expected amount of steam for the fuel input, or if the boiler needs to be tuned for increased efficiency.

What is Boiler MACT?

Large facilities like petroleum refineries and chemical manufacturing facilities with boilers and process heaters  must meet emissions requirements established in the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) for industrial, commercial, and institutional boilers and process heaters standards, issued by the EPA which are based on Boiler MACT.

Boiler MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) is an EPA rule to limit hazardous air pollutants (HAP) from commercial and industrial boilers and process heaters.  Driven by the Clean Air Act, the rules are Area Source Boiler MACT 40 CFR 63, subpart JJJJJJ for smaller boilers (stores, hotels, apartments, small manufacturers, etc.) and Major Source Boiler MACT subpart DDDD for large boilers (petroleum refineries, chemical and large manufacturing plants, large facilities).

The rules require two things from manufacturers:

  1. Facilities must monitor the amount of emissions of carbon monoxide, particulate matter, mercury, HCl, and other pollutants.
  2. Requires end-users to “tune” new boilers when they first start up, and then perform periodic tuning to measure the boiler’s efficiency in combusting the fuel and turning the water into steam.

Tuning Your Boiler

Tuning a boiler or process heater involves inspecting the flame pattern and adjusting the burners, as well as inspecting the system that controls the air-to-fuel ratio to ensure it is correctly calibrated and operating properly. Facilities that tune their boilers to ensure the maximum boiler efficiency can simultaneously minimize the amount of air pollutants generated.

A well-tuned boiler is 80% efficient.  If your boiler is less than 80% efficient then you are wasting energy and releasing hazardous air pollutants into the environment unnecessarily.   Improving the suboptimal efficiency could involve repairing leaks, adding insulation and cleaning heat exchanger tubes.

Highly efficient boilers and process heaters minimize the release of greenhouse gases, and accurate flow measurement is an essential part of achieving high efficiency. Flowmeter manufacturers with Boiler-MACT-compliant devices are capable of measuring the combustion gases produced.

Flow Measurement Technologies to Improve Boiler Efficiency

Flowmeters can help meet Boiler-MACT emissions limits and there is a wide range of technologies available for the measurement of gas flowrate in closed pipes for applications involving combustion and steam. Flowmeters can be categorized in several ways, but one approach is to divide them into four classes: mass, velocity, differential pressure, and positive displacement.

Available technologies include:

Key parameters for assessing the effectiveness of a flowmeter device include accuracy, durability, maintenance, and total cost of ownership. The different strength-and-weakness profiles for flowmeters partly depend on the requirements of the application, including whether the fluid being measured is a gas or liquid.

For this blog’s purposes, we are going to look at some of the available flow technologies.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Available Flow Measurement Technologies to Improve Boiler Efficiencies

The Best Choice for Optimizing Your Boiler Efficiency

For gas-flow applications, thermal mass flowmeters often emerge as the best choice. The newest models of thermal mass flowmeters are often able to overcome the limitations of previous models. For example, the accuracy of Sierra’s QuadraTherm thermal mass meters rivals that of Coriolis meters, but at lower prices. In addition, thermal mass flowmeters have wider application flexibility, and the efficiency and capabilities of the latest thermal mass flow meters have been enhanced to include better turndown ratios, minimal pressure drop and the ability to install the instruments without having to shut down a process.

Learn more about flow measurement for emissions monitoring and improving your boiler efficiency, download our new white paper “Understanding Flow Measurement for Emissions Monitoring.”

For more information about tuning your boiler, watch our “3 Tips to Improve Energy Efficiency” video or read or our previous blog, “Tuning Your Boiler for EPA Boiler MACT Compliance.”