Reliability–A Strategy for Power Generators

Author: Douglas Morris

Where it is installed, renewable generation is altering the operating landscape for power producers. Wind and solar assets are typically placed into the power grid whenever they are available, but since they are intermittent, formerly base loaded power plants are cycled in order to balance the grid.

Unfortunately, many plants were not designed to operate like this and the increased amount of plant cycling induces additional thermal stresses to equipment which can lead to premature failures and forced outages.

Unless it is addressed, cycling can both reduce unit availability and increase operations & maintenance costs, something no plant staff desires. The United States-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory states that, “A major root cause of increased operations & maintenance costs for many fossil units is cycling.

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)–Western Wind and Solar Integration Study Phase 2 Research. From a fossil fuel generator perspective, cycling costs increase with increased wind and solar penetration.

To help mitigate the effects of operating like this, plants need to embrace robust reliability programs. Sometimes reliability programs are thought to be part of a maintenance or reliability departments, but this is old thinking because strong reliability programs should be considered a business strategy for competitive advantage.

Maintenance savings are only a small part of any program benefit; in fact Emerson’s Reliability Consulting Group (formerly MRG) estimates that top reliability programs can achieve operational savings that are 5 to 10 times of any maintenance savings.

If your plant cycles, the question to consider is not whether you have a reliability program, but rather how can your reliability program be turned into a competitive advantage?

From Jim: You can connect and interact with other power and reliability experts in the Power and Reliability & Maintenance groups in the Emerson Exchange 365 community.

One comment so far

  1. Traditional maintenance and reliability programs rely heavely on manual data collection which is time consuming, error prone, and generally not frequent enough. Power plants can benefit greatly from deploying a plant-wide WirelessHART network to automate the data collection associated with relaibility and maintenance. See further explanation in this article:

    Most power plants were built with minimum instrumentation for basic operation. Due to the high cost of automation in the past due to 4-20 mA and on-off signal wiring and I/O cards, power plants were not instrumented sufficiently to meet today’s demands on reliability, energy efficiency, and on productivity or new health, safety, & environmental regulatory compliance. Maintenance inspection is manual and infrequent resulting in outages. Energy is wasted by steam loss and inefficiencies. Not all air & water emissions are checked. Imagine instead a power plant full of sensors continuously monitoring the condition of pumps & fans, detecting failure of steam traps or leaking relief valves, and where all emissions are monitored. Instead of the operators collecting the data, the data comes to the operator. A solution to these challenges.
    Power plants can be modernized with a second layer of automation for Pervasive Sensing solutions; a new strategy for maintenance, energy efficiency, incident and response time reduction, and optimization using sensors which require no wires and mostly are non-intrusive and therefore can easily be deployed. Specialized diagnostic software in a separate system distills the raw sensor data into actionable information; such as which equipment need service and which ones don’t.
    Wireless sensor networks & analytics software are a new technology trend in the power industries enabling new levels of asset management, energy conservation, and productivity. Pervasive sensing infrastructure is the basis for the Internet of Things, which will take sensing even further in the future. For instance, analyzing thermal efficiency, detect steam trap & relief valve failure, mercury removal in boiler box, HRSG outage planning, detect water intake filter blocking, manage fuel inventory, prevent coal stack fires, fire fighting system integrity, valve diagnostics, pump & fan condition monitoring, water balancing, leak detection, wastewater pond selenium reduction, ash landfill leachate pumping, and more.

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