How power plants realize big savings using virtual commissioning
Consider this recent example. A coal-fired plant in the Midwest pre-tested new FD fan logic on a simulator before implementing it in the plant. During simulation, they discovered that the logic was looking at the wrong pressure transmitter. Starting the real fan in the real plant with the wrong damper configuration could have seriously damaged the duct work and the FD fan. By virtually commissioning before start-up, this plant dramatically reduced their risk. Using the simulator they identified and addressed equipment and control issues, perfected their operating techniques, and averted at least one costly catastrophe. In another case, a major East coast utility saved significant time and money by using a simulator while bringing a new CCGT plant online. The financial risk was huge. Timely commissioning and startup were essential. During design, utility personnel used the simulator to evaluate both steady-state and transient conditions with plant design data. As a result, they better understood plant process dynamics and were able to develop enhanced troubleshooting tactics, leading to more accurate control strategies under normal and abnormal operating conditions. They then tested, perfected, and approved these strategies before implementing them in the plant. Also, by pre-testing the data links they further reduced commissioning time. Finally, to ensure optimal plant performance, the utility used its simulator to familiarize its operators with equipment and plant models that precisely duplicated the CCGT plant. Before actually starting the plant, they were able to train and develop experienced operators for a plant that did not yet exist. By reducing commissioning time from four months to one month, the utility saved millions of dollars. Eventually, they saved even more by commissioning a plant with a fully trained staff of experienced operators who could efficiently and effectively run the plant.
Understanding the benefits of power plant virtual commissioning
Simulators are often thought of solely as training devices, and a well-designed simulator performs that service well, enabling you to train operators in a real-world environment with no danger to actual plant equipment. But as these examples demonstrate, the creative use of the simulator can also serve as a design and engineering tool. By moving the risk of upgrading a plant, or commissioning a new one, from the real plant to the simulator, you turn a training device into a potential source of millions of dollars in saved revenue. When building or modifying a power plant, with so many variables to consider and contend with – EPCs, equipment vendors, controls vendors, construction, commissioning equipment, and performing an initial start-up – countless things can go wrong, and countless things must go right to ensure successful implementation. By virtually commissioning your modifications, or testing plant designs on a simulator, you’re much more likely to begin generating power according to your schedule and plans. Each problem you identify and overcome on the simulator is one you won’t confront when taking your plant live. What is your lost profit for one day of missed operations? And don’t forget any fines incurred for a missed startup. These are just a few of the many reasons it so often makes sense to invest in a high-fidelity power plant simulator.
Why High-Fidelity Simulation Matters
A high-fidelity power plant simulator is the ideal testing environment for new plant designs or plant modifications. When integrated with the DCS, the simulator responds exactly like your real plant. This enables your team of engineers and operators to test various control schemes, electrical logic, and interfaces before implementing the changes or design in the live plant. If you catch a problem such as an oversized valve in the simulator, you’ll be able to test for and avoid any future consequences that would be caused by that valve. How do you trust the simulator when no operating data is available? The answer lies in the high-fidelity predictive models built into the simulator design and not on canned models tuned to the results. Moreover, with a high-fidelity power plant simulator, you can test an endless array of possible solutions to find the solution that produces the best results for your plant.
Some of the most forward-thinking A&Es, EPCs, and utilities have learned how to maximize their investment. They’ve unlocked substantial cost-savings through their simulators and are able to realize a complete return on investment, sometimes even before the first day of training. Once you’ve made the decision to use your operator training power plant simulator for virtual commissioning, make sure it’s high-fidelity so that you can trust the results. If you could start up one day earlier or save just one day of downtime, what would that be worth to you?