Advanced Automation is the Key to Better Grid Management

by , | Apr 25, 2024 | Control & Safety Systems, Power Generation | 0 comments

Many modern power generation facilities are dealing with a two-pronged problem. On one hand, their assets are often decades old, and as a result, need a lot of attention to run at peak performance. However, the very people who have the deep industry expertise to keep those legacy assets running are retiring in droves, and the new people coming in to take their place rarely stay long enough to gain the necessary skills before they move on to a different job.

To further complicate things, modern operations require more flexibility and dynamic processes from power facilities than ever before. In many cases, aging equipment is being used in ways original engineering specifications never intended as renewable generation assets add more variability to the grid. These problems aren’t insurmountable, but, as James Nyenhuis shares in his recent article in Plant Engineering magazine, managing this new paradigm requires modern software solutions.

Automation is the answer

Modern control software has come a long way in recent decades and is the tool most successful organizations are using to manage complex tasks such as startups and shutdowns. Today’s best advanced control solutions can layer new automation directly on top of a plant’s existing control architecture to help teams capture the expert operational knowledge of their best people before they leave. Locking in that knowledge is critical to standardized, reliable operations in nearly every circumstance. James explains,

“Not only does this built-in knowledge help operators make better decisions as they guide the plant through changing operational states, it also helps ensure that the plant’s best practices are applied every time, through every stage of a workflow, regardless of who is working in the control room.”

In fact, the top performing teams are even improving their operations with advanced control and simulation, including Emerson’s digital twin technologies,

“Operations teams are also linking these advanced control solutions with simulation software to build digital twin replicas of their power operations to test new operating strategies and improve training across the workforce for faster upskilling.”

Strategies for success

James offers a number of critical strategies for successfully implementing advanced control solutions for power generation.

Assessing the current state

First and foremost, James explains, a team needs to know its starting point before it can begin a journey to more advanced automation. James offers a specific process to get started,

“Typically, this starts with an evaluation of two key elements: operator loading and alarm management. Teams should explore and document how many times an operator needs to interact with the control system on an hourly basis, and then compare that number against widely recognized standards for best-practice operation.”

Build a firmer foundation

It is also critical to have optimally defined and tuned basic process control strategies. Even the best advanced automation cannot function properly when the base automation is faulty or unreliable.

“Meeting new goals with aging infrastructure will nearly always require some reconfiguration. Leveraging specific advanced process control techniques for drum level, emissions, steam temperature, unit response, and other systems helps optimize control of plants with a more dynamic operating profile.”

Show off successes

Few advanced automation projects are the end of the line. Usually, the best projects open up new opportunities for even more advanced control. However, securing funding and approval for such projects is difficult if nobody understands how those investments pay off. Teams must share their successes with management to help them understand the value of advanced automation projects. But to do so, they must first know what they need to share,

“To sustain continuous improvements, it is critical to determine the right metrics to track performance against an original baseline, confirming the value created for the plant with each change. Utilities can get additional support in determining the best metrics to meet their plants’ objectives by working with a trusted partner with decades of global industry and operational experience.”

Benefits for all

The benefits of advanced automation resonate across a power generation facility, touching nearly everyone involved. Not only do more advanced process controls help operations teams drive more efficiency, sustainability, and productivity from their equipment, they also keep everyone in the plant safer from day to day. James shares more strategies for successfully implementing advanced control in his full article over at Plant Engineering. In reading it, you’ll also see some real-world examples, and gain an idea of expected return on investment. Head over there today to check it out!

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  • Todd Walden
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