By Jacob Klimstra
Most probably, many readers of this magazine regularly attend exhibitions, and any observant attendee will notice the presence of people from varying backgrounds. One can meet equipment suppliers, equipment users, consultants, researchers, sometimes journalists and occasionally a policy maker, investor or student. In general, the majority of the exhibition floor is comprised of booths from equipment suppliers, who are there to try and convince customers to buy their wares.
The big question, however, is how to align product advertising with customer needs. For consumer goods, one might try to create a market by appealing to people’s deepest desires or by creating hype. But such common tricks tend not to work in the decentralized energy sector – one would be unlikely to find a customer who wanted to purchase a burner, boiler, genset or heat exchanger because of a warm fuzzy feeling towards it. Products in the energy sector are normally needed for producing electricity, as mechanical drives or for heating purposes, with the ultimate aim of any equipment investor being to make a profit by increasing production or by reducing costs.
In my experience, it seems some product suppliers do little more than wave a magic wand when trying to understand a customer’s needs. Sometimes they proudly advertise a particular product feature oblivious to the fact that the customer has no interest in it at all.
The consensus in our industry is that customers just want the highest possible fuel efficiency, but in reality they prefer the lowest possible kWh production cost. Moreover, I have met many owners of cogeneration installations who only realized after a major failure that what they really wanted was a reliable installation rather than the cheapest one. Repeated and prolonged malfunctioning of equipment can mean buying expensive electricity from the grid and producing heat via a separate boiler. Ultimately, one can only have a happy customer by fully understanding what they really need and by optimizing products to satisfy those needs
The most serious situation arises when manufacturers succeed in selling not-fit-for-purpose equipment, or as I like to call it ‘witchcraft equipment’. During my time as a researcher, I had the misfortune of meeting inventors who were maliciously selling technology that they knew could never work. In one case, a gentleman came to our lab with an air ionisation machine and claimed it could reduce an engine’s fuel consumption by up to 30%.
In another case, a company was promoting a magnetic fuel molecule straightener, promising up to a 10% fuel cost saving. Most worrying a government body had officially approved the invention and a well-known industrial company had bought it and believed it worked. Perversely, installing such a fraudulent system can sometimes help to cut fuel consumption because either the installation was not properly adjusted before the system was installed, or the fuel flow is restricted by the new equipment resulting in a lower output. Thus, checking the ultimate output of an installation requires professional measurements and that is often not carried out.
Again, dear reader, my intention is that this magazine helps manufacturers, users, investors, consultants and any other specialist in better understanding the basic wants and actual possibilities in our sector. By properly communicating what is needed and what is possible we can further promote the high-value benefits of CHP and on-site power, which is undoubtedly better than relying on wands.
Jacob Klimstra Managing Editor