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IT Focus – Real-time for a change?

Information sources from power plants are vast and often hard to access. E.ON UK decided to implement Capula’s electronic logging process as part of an investment programme in real-time business intelligence.

Simon Coombs, Capula Ltd, UK

The aim of every business is to maximize shareholder value; in the power industry this is achieved through operating reliable plant safely and efficiently. In addition, environmental obligations and social responsibility are becoming increasingly important. Power industry management teams must balance these different pressures in what is a highly competitive and changing market.

Having the right control, operational and management information systems in place is key to achieving this agility. By spanning these systems across power plants, electricity transmission and distribution, through to consumption, organizations can co-ordinate the management of individual assets, managing them as a fleet; further improving the precision with which they control their efficiencies, regulatory compliance and social and environmental responsibilities.

Real-time data logging processes allow for the monitoring across a fleet of power stations at any one time
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Most of the large energy companies in the UK are vertically integrated and have a portfolio of power stations, along with the ability to distribute and sell energy directly to the end user; industrial or domestic. Their generation assets will range in size and flexibility from small combined heat and power (CHP) plants, wind farms and renewable plants through to medium sized combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) gas stations, up to large coal fired and even nuclear.

The older plants, many of which would have been built in the 1970s, will have gone through various equipment refits and in the case of the process control equipment, it will probably have been replaced and upgraded a number of times due to electronic and computer technology being constantly updated, resulting in a complex mix of equipment of various vintages and capabilities.

The introduction of modern IT and control technologies has seen a big improvement in the reliability, flexibility and maintainability of these systems, and the business as a whole, enabling a reduction in operating costs through the reduction of personnel, greater automation and reduced maintenance.

Real-time and historical information can be captured and disseminated to more and more staff, which has allowed the entire organization to restructure and optimize their business processes.

Valuable data sources

One of the most valuable sources of information is the operational plant. Information sources from plant at a power station are vast and often hard to access, ranging from real-time control systems such as SCADA, DCS and PLC to intelligent relays, smart meters, manual log sheets, laboratory information, operator inputs and computer files.

Information sources from plants at power stations are vast and often hard to access
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Often within a fleet of power stations, users employ different systems to record operational events in their control room logs. The recording of events is a statutory requirement and includes the capture of environmental and safety related information. Much of this information is used in the UK in monthly reports to the Regulatory Authorities. e.g. the Emissions Exceeding Limits Report to the Environment Agency (EA). Many of these reports require the manual transfer of information. The installation of a suitable logbook system will automate event capture and enable statutory reports to be generated in a more efficient manner, enabling managers to monitor their responsibilities across all parts of the business through timely access to all operational logs.

E.ON UK plc decided to implement an enterprise-wide electronic logging system as part of its investment in real-time business intelligence.

The system will be used across 21 of E.ON’s operational UK sites including CCGT power stations, CHP power stations, as well as traditional coal and gas power plants.

E.ON was looking to improve the consistency and quality of information from their sites and the electronic logging system will enable them to use shift log information as a reliable and visible management information source, to make quicker and better informed decisions. Information from the electronic logging system will be used to analyse trends, track events and manage assets.

E.ON’s project manager, Jean Ord, commenting on the project said, “The primary purpose of logging events is to record significant items that need to be communicated across shift teams and other functions of the business to improve awareness of plant issues.”

Pressure to perform

Under increasing environmental pressure, generating processes and plant are being modified to reduce emissions and comply with legislation. Another major issue for the generators is the need to remove obsolescence and unreliability. These issues are addressed through replacement, refurbishment and upgrading of the systems.

Large coal fired power plants in the UK have been or are currently being fitted with flue gas cleaning equipment in order to meet the current legislation set down by the DTI and under the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD). This includes the removal of sulphur dioxide and the reduction of nitrous oxide from flue gases.

Energy companies need to constantly review their asset portfolio
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Coal fired electricity generators are also given incentives to burn renewable fuels; this has proven to be very profitable and therefore many biomass plants have been built and commissioned.

Implementation of these initiatives requires the modifications to existing control and IT systems and in some instances these initiatives need new systems.

The generators are all in competition with each other; each has to continually strive to stay ahead of the game by a process of continual improvement of their business processes.

Using control systems to manage and operate power plants is established practice in the generation industry; with second and third generation systems being implemented adding a level of intelligence to the control of operational plant. Much newer in the market place is the growing trend to implement real-time business intelligence (RtBI). Companies around the world have transformed operational, maintenance, planning and engineering information into powerful data using real-time information systems.

Competitive advantage

Operators in the energy industry are capitalizing on the vast quantities of real-time information they can gather from their plant. This valuable information is made accessible by real-time business intelligence systems.

Once available, this information can be relied upon to make decisions to improve operational efficiencies and ensure regulatory compliance. It can also be used over time to monitor, record and predict market trends and operational performance.

A typical real-time information system consists of a data repository, recording and storing information at an operational level and Microsoft products such as SharePoint at management level to access, view and manipulate data.

Moving forward, energy companies need to review their asset portfolio, and where the marketplace permits, build new plant and close older plants when they become inefficient. The future of the power industry relies on the planning, design and construction of new power plants.

At the heart of this process in the UK are the much-anticipated plans for the construction of new nuclear plants, but these are not expected to come on-stream for a few years yet, therefore the increasing demand for energy and increasing environmental regulation will necessitate the building of new power stations in the UK in the short term.

The government’s aims of reducing carbon emissions will mean that all new plant must be efficient and low in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. There is also a desire to maintain a balanced mix of fuel dependencies to give security of supply.

Therefore it is expected that new large-scale plants will comprise of new clean coal technology, closed cycle gas fired plant and renewable energy plants; supplemented by the introduction of further smaller scale renewable energy sources such as wind energy, wave power, waste to energy and biomass.

Designers will have to ensure that these plants are as environmentally clean, efficient, reliable and as flexible as possible. To achieve this, the generating plants must have a modern process control system together with a powerful and sophisticated information management system built into the design from the start, allowing them to operate their assets to meet their aims.

Although many existing power plants have such systems in use now, there are restrictions and inefficiencies in the processing and manipulation of real-time information. In future there will be a greater demand on these systems to provide a seamless delivery of accurate information to all management levels, not only on a specific site, but across a fleet of power plants, involving all aspects of the business such as electricity trading, materials handling and maintenance to make rapid and well informed operational and investment decisions, allowing electricity producers to maximize their market share and profitability.

Information is king

Advance automation and control systems coupled with real-time business intelligence solutions are enabling operators in the energy market to unlock and maximize the potential held in their own assets.

At older sites it is the refurbishment of control systems and the additional implementation of real-time business intelligence solutions that is releasing these hidden gems, but on new build projects the operators have the opportunity at the very beginning to install a control and IT infrastructure that will enable them to be information rich.

Overall, the successful power generators will be those that can integrate across all these systems to maximise their overall performance whilst fulfilling their social and environmental obligations.