Reducing Drum Level Variability at Different Loads

by | Jan 14, 2008 | Industrial Energy & Onsite Utilities, Industry, Services, Consulting & Training

Jim Cahill

Chief Blogger, Editor

The Automation.com list server has an interesting thread, Three Element Drum Level Control Problem. The question asked was:

We have a waste heat recovery boiler that is supplied by exhaust of a 20MW Gas Turbine. We’ve seen that at lower turbine loads (75% and below) the three element drum level controller cannot maintain the drum level at desired setpoint. As soon as the load on the Gas Turbine is increased to more than 75% of rated load, the stability keeps getting better. At rated load (20MW) the drum level is very stable and close to the setpoint.

There have been several responses discussing the tuning at various loads. I asked around to see what advice we might have to offer. Emerson’s Jack Tippett, a variability management consultant noted that it is critical to know your process dynamics. His point:

If you don’t know the process dynamics, control tuning is an art not a science and good control performance is an accident not a certainty.

Once you know your process dynamics, it is important to design your strategy to assist in achieving the process objectives in light of those dynamics. Jack noted a similar situation from his past where he tuned the levels in a 450-megawatt heat recovery steam generator (HRSG) system.

There were six boilers including two lines with high, medium and low-pressure drums. This power producer was unable to achieve a station ramp rate of 25 MW per minute necessary for automatic generation control (AGC) due to serious swings in the drum levels.

After measuring and determining the process dynamics, the process was re-tuned and they were able to achieve the ramp rate and achieve good level control at less than 70% load.

Jack also noted that they chose a single-element control strategy for the following reasons:

  1. Feedwater flow control requires a working flow meter: the sense lines for the flow transmitter were outside and were subject to freezing. The Fisher valve had a DVC positioner and AMS software to monitor incipient valve non-linearities (which are the main reason for the second element.)
  2. The open loop dynamics (changing the feedwater valve position manually and watching the response to level) on all six boilers showed very small dead times (1 to 6 seconds). This meant that the proportional-integral (PI) level tuning could be very aggressive. As a result, there was no value in the third element (steam flow feed forward)–the level control could be fast enough to respond the changes in level due to steam demand changes. The real need for the feed forward from steam is when the level dynamics are very slow (30 – 90 seconds dead time) so that the feedwater flow can anticipate the long-term level changes (due to steam demand) in spite of the shrink/swell effect.

By having good measurement in the flow, valve position, and valve characteristics and good understanding of the process dynamics across its operating range, Jack and the plant engineers were able to successfully implement a simple single-element control strategy.

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