An efficient plant is a profitable one. It comes down to a simple question: How much more money could you make? To ensure your power plant runs efficiently day-to-day as well as in the future, you’ll need to make improvements. The key to knowing what improvements will have the most impact is measuring performance. With the help of data, you can optimise operations and maintenance (O&M) costs. This will benefit the profitability of your power plant and save money in the long run.
Improving power plant efficiency might sound easy but is actually far from it. It’s a puzzle with many pieces that all need to fit together – and all of which affect the whole. For example, I’ve seen cases where ageing of equipment due to normal wear and tear caused only a small decrease in power plant performance but proved to be surprisingly costly in the long term.
In this blog I cover the most critical factors that affect power plant efficiency and how to start improving it. In addition, I share two interesting cases with you on how our customers have succeeded in taking a holistic approach to improving plant efficiency as well as a long-term mindset in terms of cost optimisation.
The most crucial factor affecting power plant efficiency, in my opinion, is how you maintain the facility and operate the engines. To put it simply, the operational environment of a power plant changes as it ages. Therefore, it needs consistent care in the form of maintenance, upgrades, and overhaul. Other critical factors such as whether you operate the engines with optimal load or not will also make an impact.
But what if you already pay attention to these critical factors and aren’t seeing any results? In my experience, the problem lies with measuring performance – or rather that currently the focus is on just a handful of parameters or maybe the long-term trends are ignored. As a result, your visibility will be limited.
When you have data available, you can improve power plant efficiency by analysing it effectively. The key is to make sure you measure and focus on the right things. Only then – with the help of data – you can pinpoint what in fact needs improving and how you can optimise operations and maintenance costs.
A customer of ours had engine performance issues in an over-a-decade-old power plant preventing the plant from delivering the desired capacity. Engine performance declined between overhauls and overall plant efficiency was reduced as a result of focusing on short-term savings. While this was happening, the demand of electricity was increasing. As a result, the power plant couldn’t produce enough electricity for its consumers but had to rely on more expensive alternative energy sources to close the gap.
Together with the customer, we were able to optimise the efficiency of the existing plant by analysing the plant performance values and simulating the optimum operation scenarios – including upgrades – in order to change the perspective from short term to long term. First, we did a feasibility study to show the kind of gains and savings they could achieve if the power plant performance would be improved. Next, we created a plan how to maintain the achieved performance level in the future by connecting the plant into our Expertise Center providing continuous asset diagnostics.
If you combine a holistic big picture view with a long-term approach, you will inevitably gain optimal results. Should you decide to aim for these goals with us, we can guarantee you’ll reach them – and have the numbers to prove it, too.
I think this case is great proof that implementing and improving efficiency is always possible, even when the plant is older. Changing one thing is often not enough to bring about the desired results – instead it’s best to adopt a holistic view of plant operations. If you combine a holistic big picture view with a long-term approach, you will inevitably gain optimal results. Should you decide to aim for these goals with us, we can guarantee you’ll reach them – and have the numbers to prove it, too.
We got a chance to work with a customer who has heavily invested in long-term solutions right from the beginning. For example, they have made considerable investments during the life cycle of the plant to ensure reliability and availability. They were also already analysing the performance data thoroughly. As the customer was already very focused on gaining optimal performance, our job was to help them make the most of these investments and ensure that efficiency, reliability, and availability will stay at desired levels.
To do this, we continuously evaluate how much could be saved by not having to use grid electricity and what’s the most feasible way to operate the plant. Investing in technology has resulted in low-electricity costs, as well as secured a high level of production for their consumer. In addition, monitoring and regular performance checks keep efficiency at a guaranteed level. In short, we have helped them quantify results.
For this customer, investing and optimising costs long term along with monitoring and analysis has led to major savings during the first five years. Operating the plant instead of using grid electricity, among other things, has already saved our customer over 30 million euros in total. I think the most important lesson here is this: Know your numbers and what’s most feasible, then base your decisions and actions on that knowledge.
In both cases, the keys to achieving great results were shifting focus from short-term savings to long-term benefits and building a holistic view of plant efficiency by performance measuring and analysing. With our specialists’ help, we were able to find the best-suited solutions for both customers. We always aim to first understand the customer’s operating environment and then find a tailored solution that will improve their plant operations and ultimately their business.
Writer Simon Widd is a Business Development Manager at Wärtsilä Energy Business, with focus on supporting our customers to succeed during the power plant lifecycle.