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A Smarter Way to Manage Performance at Power Plants

“We have thousands of thermocouples, meters, sensors and alarms, and on a good day we can pay attention to 1 in 10,” a plant operator recently said. “We know we’re missing data that could help our performance and maintenance planning, but unless we hire 10 more operators, what can we do?”

That statement summarizes the conundrum many plant operators face. Thousands of sensors and controls provide real-time data that can give critical feedback for improving power plant performance. At the same time, large volumes of data can create information overload. As an aging workforce with decades of experience increasingly retires, knowledge is walking out the door – and plant owners must find a way to fill the gap. Fortunately, there is a solution.

One way to address the issue is through remote monitoring and diagnostics as part of an integrated data analytics program. Black & Veatch designed the ASSET360™ platform as the foundation for its Smart Analytics solutions, which combine human knowledge and experience with computer modeling and analytic tools to help utilities to better plan, operate and explore.

 

Monitoring & Diagnosing Operational Issues

Black & Veatch has worked with utilities worldwide for more than 20 years to provide remote monitoring and diagnostics services. Analytics often quickly proves its value.

Smart Analytics Case Studies

  • Case 1: A Mill Bites Off More Than It Can Chew

    Operators of one pulverized coal unit believed that their coal mills were performing within specifications, but they were surprised when remote monitoring and diagnostics engineers armed with anomaly detection software noted a small but statistically significant sudden increase to one of the pulverizer’s motor amps, along with differential pressure readings and changing hot air damper positions. Further analysis revealed that the heat rate of the unit would experience sudden variations whenever that coal mill was brought into service.
     
    Trend analysis suggested that the coal feeder was delivering more coal to the mills than indicated. Further troubleshooting revealed that the feeder was running nearly twice as fast as indicated. Because of the early warning from the remote monitoring and diagnostics system and engineers, the mill’s performance was quickly returned to normal. This avoided potential problems with both mill reliability and combustion issues.

  • Case 2: Turbine Troubles Tackled

    A coal-fired power plant in Missouri chose to use remote monitoring and diagnostics to leverage off-site engineering expertise. This allowed operators to uncover and fix several serious problems. In one case, a deviation in pressure ratios in the low-pressure turbine pointed to an expansion joint failure. An inspection during a weekend outage, uncovered that the expansion joint had completely failed, allowing steam admission directly into the condenser. The repair saved an estimated $25,500 monthly in fuel costs.

    In another case, six months after a turbine upgrade, the unit’s capacity dropped approximately 17 MW and efficiency registered a noticeable decline. Remote diagnostic efforts ruled out stop and governing valve issues, but instead pointed to turbine deposits as the root cause. A chemical wash restored the capacity, thereby allowing for a shorter outage period and saving an estimated $37,500 a month in fuel costs.

  • Case 3: Oil Is the Lifeblood of Your Bearings

    Sometimes operators are so busy responding to plant alarms and keeping the power flowing that they can miss subtle trends that point to potentially serious maintenance problems. Such was the case with one unit, where the air heater guide and support bearing temperatures suddenly increased to 160 °F from their normal 140 °F.
     
    Because this was well below the alarm point of 195 °F, no notice was taken. However, remote monitoring engineers noticed the trend and asked the operators to investigate the issue. The problem was quickly determined to be a very low oil level, which had led to a loss of oil flow to the air heater’s upper guide bearing. After adding nine gallons of oil to bring it back to proper level, bearing temperatures returned to normal, which may have prevented an unplanned outage and expensive repairs.

  • Case 4: Failure Is Not an Option

    At a plant providing both power and steam for a smelting operation in Indiana, monitoring detected a slow increase in the feedwater heater terminal temperature difference. The increase was confirmed by redundant sensors, and a visual inspection revealed a partition plate failure in the feedwater heater. The impact of this failure was significant, resulting in a loss of 40 Btu/ kWh heat rate and 0.4 MW. After repairs were made, another partition plate failure was detected in the same manner less than two years later.

Early Detection Saves Money

Overworked plant staff can’t catch every potential problem. According to Stan Piezuch, Senior Performance Engineer at Black & Veatch, “There are many examples where statistical anomaly detection has uncovered a developing problem which is still below alarm thresholds. And, of course, that’s the point, since it is beneficial to detect problems as early as possible. This gives the plant staff more time and flexibility to deal with the problem before damage occurs or they lose production.”

From Monitoring and Diagnostics to Integrated Issues Management

Black & Veatch has extended its remote monitoring and diagnostics service to include an issues management software application. While remote monitoring is effective for diagnosing individual performance and equipment issues, it is even more valuable when problems are placed in the context of other issues, existing maintenance plans and past issue resolution.

Issues management is a web-based portal for collecting and prioritizing all types of issues to expedite resolution and improve team communication. It provides a searchable history of how problems were diagnosed and resolved. The application also integrates with maintenance scheduling systems. This combination produces broader and more detailed information sets to help both the performance and maintenance teams. 

Extending the Value with Adaptive Planning

Remote monitoring and diagnostics is only half the story for the ASSET360™ technology. The other half, Adaptive Planning solutions help utilities make more informed asset, maintenance and strategic planning decisions.

“Analytics becomes more powerful with the full ASSET360™ tool chest, including forward-looking scenario assessments,” said Matt Kirchner, Black & Veatch Smart Analytics Director. “Adaptive Planning means that the models and scenarios continue to be updated, and it provides for a comprehensive, integrated solution.”  

An old saying in the data analysis world posits: “Uncontrolled information is noise and risk; controlled information is power and security.” Not only is this true, but in the case of power plant operations, controlled information is profit.

 

Subject Matter Expert
Una Nowling: NowlingUC@bv.com

@black_veatch