How to increase plant efficiency through positive O&M

Robert Shepard and Phil Webster
Black & Veatch

With the recent economic downturn of the power industry in the United States, it has become increasingly important for every plant owner to ensure that each facility is performing at its peak. In order for that to occur, plant owners must continue to improve plant operations and maintenance (O&M) through improved tools, technologies and processes. Black & Veatch has identified five main categories for plant O&M optimization including the following:

  • Optimization of fuels and combustion processes;
  • Performance improvement;
  • Component health reporting system;
  • Condition based maintenance;
  • Life cycle planning to ensure long term value and capability.

These tools do not take the place of a sound O&M strategy and competent execution. However, they do provide opportunities to improve total plant performance, which in turn supports asset and portfolio strategies.

Optimization of fuels and combustion processes

Optimizing fuels and combustion processes breaks down further into six alternative methodologies that benefit an O&M program, including fuels analysis, boiler optimization, coal analysis, coal pipe balancing, burner air flow measurement and carbon loss measurement. Implementation of these methodologies will yield the lowest fuel costs for generation. It is supplemented by the reduction of NOx, minimization of reagent usage and an extension of catalyst life, which can result in life cycle savings.

The benefits of burner air flow measurement, and therefore better airflow control, especially in low NOx burner installations, is the ability to operate at lower stoichiometry levels at the burners, which should allow the operator to improve or at least maintain, the unburned carbon levels in the flyash. The benefits of carbon loss measurement is increased awareness of a degradation in unburned carbon losses resulting in potential improvements in plant efficiency and reduction in O&M costs. An additional benefit is the improved salability of combustion byproducts potentially reducing disposal costs and possibly providing a revenue stream to the utility.

With performance data readily available and linked with other key component information, plant staff can trend unit performance parameters and provide an early indication of equipment or system degradation. This information is critical to a complete component health monitoring process and life cycle planning, which allows for an improved planned maintenance program as opposed to a reactive maintenance program. Linking the performance data to condition assessment data, and further to the life cycle planning process, can help the asset owner reduce its operational risk through optimized O&M planning for the asset.

Component health reporting

The component health reporting process—as a continuous assessment—is based on condition assessment being critical to performing the right maintenance at the right time on the right equipment.

By planning capital and O&M improvements, the condition assessment process becomes an integral part of the overall asset management and planning cycle. Whether it is routine maintenance planning, major maintenance outage planning or planning for a major plant upgrade, it is necessary to have current condition assessment information to support the planning process.

All pertinent information must be used when determining the condition of plant equipment and deciding which improvements and maintenance are necessary to provide the capability, reliability and efficiency necessary to be the successful, least-cost producer of electricity. A comprehensive component health (condition) monitoring program will allow the owner/operator to:

  • Make informed, defendable, confident decisions;
  • Lower their risk position;
  • Optimize O&M costs through intelligent planning, targeted problems and reduced expedited work;
  • Improve plant performance, availability and quality through improved monitoring techniques and maintenance methods;
  • Implement asset and profit preservation, life extension;
  • Improve capital planning and cash management;
  • Optimize resource utilization;
  • Improve understanding of financial worth;
  • Improve accountability;
  • Accurately measure key performance indicators;
  • Leverage investment of legacy systems;
  • Increase productivity of critical workflow through automation;
  • Reduce breakdowns and infancy failures, less rework;
  • Shorten repair times;
  • Extend the duration between repairs;
  • Provide early problem identification.

Life cycle planning should be used to support and direct short-term and long-term business goals. Life cycle models will help support the business strategy, budget and outage processes. Short and long-term effects at the plant and system levels should be considered when outage schedules and scenarios are being developed so that effects on reliability, risk, capability and cost are controlled. Major failure risk assessments benefit the plant and the corporation by identifying those areas that may place the plant, the people and even the public at risk for major failures such as loss due to fires and explosions.

Increasing and optimizing efficiency at a modern power generation facility is a continuous and multi-faceted challenge.

However, inherent in the process of optimization are a number of O&M tools and processes. The most effective tools and processes for a given facility will depend on the specific culture and characteristics of each facility. The value and benefit of each tool or process should be measured and evaluated based on the potential impact to the same financial, process, technical and operational measures utilized to gauge and manage the facility’s performance.

The asset owner must understand that with the abundance of tools available today, implementing the most valuable tools and processes is not a simple task. The tools and processes addressed earlier provide opportunities that should be evaluated with respect to the specific facility and the opportunities that exist therein. Through diligent analysis of the potential of each process/tool with respect to the specific facility, there will always be opportunities to improve. The asset owner can enhance the probability of success by measuring the costs and benefits of the optimization tool or process using the same measures including financial, process and technical, used to manage and control.

Shepard is a project manager in the Asset Management Services Group of the Energy Services Division. He is the segment leader for Outage Planning and Management Services.

Webster is a project manager, operations and maintenance consultant, and services business developer assigned to the Power Generation Support Services (PGSS) area of the Energy Services Division (ESD) of Black & Veatch.His current duties involve management of the power plant operations services.

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