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Unleashing the Power of Data: Optimising Plant Performance

May 25, 2023 8:54 pm

Unleashing the Power of Data: Optimising Plant Performance
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Predictive maintenance, equipment improvements, and process optimisation are priorities for power plant operators and utility providers. This conversation looks at how digital technologies like data analytics and artificial intelligence may be used to monitor plant operations, discover abnormalities, and improve performance.

India’s power plants are facing significant challenges when it comes to efficiency. The country’s power sector is dominated by coal-fired power plants, responsible for a large share of India’s greenhouse gas emissions. These plants are often old and poorly maintained, resulting in lower efficiency and higher emissions. In addition, India’s power infrastructure needs to be improved, with a large percentage of the population needing access to reliable electricity.

Balancing routine maintenance with the requirement to maintain efficient operations and generation from power plants is a critical task. Regular maintenance ensures power plant equipment’s reliability, safety, and longevity. It involves periodic inspections, repairs, and replacements of components and preventive measures to prevent breakdowns and optimise performance.

Balancing routine maintenance and efficient power generation in power plants
Power plants need to maintain efficient operations and generation to meet the growing electricity demand and maximise profitability. Efficiency directly impacts the cost of generation, and any decrease in efficiency can result in higher operating expenses and reduced competitiveness in the energy market.

Finding the right balance between routine maintenance and efficient generation is crucial. Excessive maintenance activities can lead to increased downtime and higher costs, while neglecting maintenance can result in equipment failures, safety hazards, and unplanned outages, leading to financial losses and reputational damage.

Mr. Sanjiv Prasad, Vice President and Plant Head at RILDMD, emphasises that the efficiency of generations or operations depends on the health of the equipment. Operating it well and safely ensures optimal performance and reduces costs. The key lies in having access to data and effectively managing that data and the available historical records. Performance management processes play a crucial role in collecting and analysing data to understand what is happening and identify any issues. This involves predictive analysis and expanding the scope of coverage between outages. Ultimately, optimal equipment operation is achieved when it starts and stops as needed, without tripping or interruptions. This indicates that the operating and maintenance processes are well-controlled and managed.

Mr. Vinit Priyadarshi, Regional Client Account Manager for Black & Veatch’s O&M Solutions Portfolio in India & APAC, echoes Mr. Sanjeev’s insightful remark that emphasises performance excellence stems from maintaining robust data. The quality of our data plays a vital role in accurately measuring performance and facilitating improvements. This principle extends to our commitment to safety as well. We establish baselines for crucial metrics like lost time, injury rate, and near misses. For every incident, we strive to understand how to prevent its recurrence and minimise future occurrences. I wholeheartedly concur with Mr. Sanjeev’s viewpoint, as it aligns perfectly with our approach towards achieving exceptional performance and safety standards.

Identifying early degradation of equipment via condition monitoring
Maintenance in the power sector encompasses three distinct approaches: corrective maintenance, preventive maintenance, and predictive maintenance. However, there is a growing shift towards risk-centred maintenance, which prioritises techniques like vibration monitoring and thermography. Mr. Vinit observes that most power stations have implemented these techniques, especially for critical equipment. Vibration monitoring is widely used, while infrared thermography is employed selectively when there are suspicions of leakage or thermal losses.

However, other valuable techniques, such as lube oil analysis, debris analysis, and motor current analysis, have yet to be uniformly adopted across all stations. “Despite their immense potential in preventing unsafe situations and ensuring equipment longevity, their implementation remains selective”, he explains.

Speaking specifically about the Indian power sector, we have witnessed some noteworthy advancements in maintenance practices. A greater emphasis is on predictive maintenance, utilising state-of-the-art technology to avoid failures. This development is highly encouraging. For instance, real-time vibration analysers provide detailed plots and amplitude analysis, enabling a deeper understanding of vibration levels. Similarly, acoustic systems are gaining popularity in power stations for early detection of boiler tube leakages. These systems promptly alert operators, allowing for safe and proactive responses instead of reactive and unsafe situations. While we have made significant progress, there are still milestones to be achieved in this journey of maintenance excellence.

Mr. Subrata Das, Power Plant Consultant, SSSD India, accentuates the importance of condition monitoring in power plants. He asserts that condition monitoring is not only mandatory but also essential for the efficient operation and maintenance of power plants. Power plants can only effectively address potential issues and ensure uninterrupted operations with proper condition monitoring practices. He further highlights that condition monitoring needs to be put up for discussion or debate; it is a strict requirement imposed on all power plants. This mandatory practice ensures that power plants adhere to industry standards and regulations while maintaining operational efficiency and reliability.

Streamlining repair and maintenance processes in power plants
Within a power plant, we have these three important departments: the scheduling team, the maintenance staff, and the strategic planning division. These departments are crucial for planning and coordinating all the activities that keep the power plant running smoothly. These divisions need to work together seamlessly, with every staff member following the guidance of the planners and sticking to established procedures.

The planners bear a significant responsibility: to guide the operation by determining the appropriate heat rate and load capacity. These values are typically predetermined and can be found in the forthcoming document. Additionally, the document contains vital information such as ambient temperature, expected output quality, and the required load that must be generated.

To simplify matters, Mr. Subrata consolidates all this information onto a single sheet. He develops a model based on it, and everyone follows it. By doing so, Subrata can have peace of mind, knowing that he has delegated tasks and the team is adhering to them. Furthermore, the maintenance staff receives instructions from the planners, keeping them informed about any equipment that needs to be shut down or may be approaching a shutdown. Subrata can oversee post-maintenance planning with a monitoring system and ensure everything operates as intended. Safety naturally becomes a top priority when all these tasks are executed in a disciplined and pre-planned manner.

Integrating renewables and optimising maintenance to save costs
We are dealing with two different domains here. Renewable energy sources generally have lower maintenance requirements compared to traditional power plants. They don’t demand as much attention. Of course, there is a certain level of care needed for setting up and establishing renewable energy systems, and initially, they can be costly. However, their maintenance needs are relatively lower, with fewer frequent maintenance intervals than conventional power plants.

Mr. Sanjiv shares an example of a large solar power unit that requires minimal human resources for maintenance. On the flip side, though, it’s essential to consider the potential impact on employment opportunities. It often happens in remote areas when generating significant solar or renewable power. Therefore, these two scenarios are different regarding maintenance strategies.

Mr. Vinit elaborates on this in two parts. First, plant owners consider a baseline cost in power plant operations and maintenance (O&M). Vinit highlights that the cost of generation is influenced by variable costs tied to equipment procurement. Efficient equipment operation is crucial for cost control, aiming to minimise variable costs while keeping fixed costs constant. As mentioned by Mr. Sanjeev earlier, Indian businesses strive to save on O&M expenses and meet planned targets. However, balancing cost optimisation and system improvement can sometimes be challenging.

He further emphasises that effective maintenance is vital to reducing the overall cost of power generation. However, reducing maintenance below a certain threshold can increase costs, leading to unexpected equipment failures and safety risks. This jeopardises cost savings and can result in legal and insurance complications. Businesses must consider multiple factors beyond cost to address these challenges and meet stakeholder expectations.

On the other hand, Mr. Subrata highlights the importance of integrating renewable energy sources into the power sector and existing power plants. He points out that renewable energy sources cannot be directly compared to conventional power plants. However, if we specifically compare renewables to a conventional source, biomass can be a relevant comparison point considering the products or services it generates and its sales viability.

Speaking specifically about biomass, its main advantage lies in its cost. It is readily available, and the overall cost is relatively low. While boiler efficiency does play a role, it is not the sole determining factor. The Government of India mandates that 5 to 7 percent of power generation must come from biomass. Consequently, collective efforts are being made to reduce costs and explore strategies to minimise the 5 to 7 percent loss.

Integrating renewable energy sources and optimising maintenance processes present potential solutions to mitigate cost complications in the power sector. Renewable energy maintenance processes are relatively straightforward, involving specific tasks and limited analysis requirements. However, direct comparisons between renewables and conventional power plants are challenging due to their different cost metrics driven by factors like fuel costs. Biomass is a relevant point of comparison, considering its cost advantage and the government’s mandate to generate a portion of its power from biomass.

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