Plant Flexibilization:  An Evolutionary Paradigm in Power Generation

By Riby George

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Summary

A joint presentation by silver sponsor, Steag, at ARC’s Sixteenth India Forum provided a detailed view on the application of latest technological solutions and services for “flexibilization” flexibilization rgview1.PNGof thermal power plants.  BP Rao, Managing Director, Steag Energy Services, India, observed that renewables are coming in a big way and conventional power is increasingly being replaced by cleaner renewable power, which is approaching cost parity with conventional generation.  The addition of renewables to the energy mix disrupts the traditional electricity operating model.

Steag Energy Services coined the term  “flexibilization” to describe the company’s multi-faceted approach for helping existing fossil fuel electric generating plants adapt to this new paradigm, which requires them to operate with much greater flexibility than they were designed to.  Plants must have systems, processes, and procedures in place to deal with the merging of conventional and renewable generation in today’s power grids, and thus help ensure effective utilization of both conventional and renewable generation.

In his presentation, Dr. Tomasz Kaminski, Project Director, System Technologies, Steag Energy Services, Germany, focused on the importance, drivers, and constraints of power plant flexibilization and Steag’s related solutions and service offerings.

Importance, Drivers, and Constraints of Power Plant Flexibilization

The global power industry is experiencing a gradual transition from conventional thermal power to cleaner and (ultimately) more affordable renewable power.  Most traditional power plants were designed to provide stable power to the electricity grid.  The widespread dependence on this type of generation around the world has increased the world’s dependence on fossil fuels and contributed significantly to carbon emissions.  But while renewable generation can help reduce this dependence on fossil fuels, renewable energy generation – particularly wind and solar - has its own drawbacks relative to capacity, reliability, and predictability.  As a result, renewables need to be backed up by power from other, more stable electricity generating sources, such as fossil (and nuclear) generation.

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This is where flexibility comes into the picture.  Flexibility is the new paradigm for power generation today and is gaining popularity among plant owners and operators across the globe.  According to Steag, its plant flexibilization approach – which includes applying advanced process control and other technologies to optimize startup procedures, reduce minimum loads, increase load change rates, and improve power control to maintain grid stability - helps ensure future security and reliability of power supply and stabilize the electricity grids, while enabling maximum utilization of renewables.  Steag’s approach also recognizes and makes provisions for the increased stress that frequent changes in load rates can have on conventional generating assets.

Steag’s Model for Facilitating Flexibilization in Electricity Generation

Most, if not all, of the thermal generation assets currently in operation have not been designed to respond to the changes in energy demand.  They need to be upgraded to provide immediate response to the growing fluctuation in energy demand and remain competitive.  The technical and economic aspects related to enhancing the flexibility of the plants can be daunting for owner-operators. 

Based on its decades of experience in thermal power generation, Steag has developed a software toolkit that offers economical and technically advanced plant flexibilization solutions.  According to the company, it has successfully completed numerous plant flexibilization projects and follows a customized approach, combining the elements of operating expertise, innovative software solutions, and special engineering services.  The Steag software solution (which can run in industrial PCs) helps obtain much faster ramping of the power plant than the standardized ramping provided by the boiler producer.  The solution can predict temperature differences in highly loaded components and high fatigue depending on the current rate of the fuel.  The solution helps the operator take predictive control of the unit while maximizing the utilization of the resources. 

Steag’s solution also encompasses:

  • Process and mechanical engineering retrofitting
  • Enhancements to control systems
  • Reduction of boiler minimum load
  • Analysis of limiting factors, such as live and reheat steam temperatures, turbine ventilation and erosion, flame stability, and flue gas temperature
  • Modifications of controls and interlocks to ensure all identified limits are observed automatically, operation in circulation mode is stable for long time periods, transition between once-through and circulation mode is smooth, and oscillations or inadmissible temperature time derivatives are avoided
  • Implementation of lifetime monitoring and condition assessment to ensure safe and stable operation and increased efficiency

Conclusion

Many in the audience found this Steag presentation to be particularly relevant and enlightening.  The speakers shared insights on the requirements for increasing the flexibility of conventional power plants to be able to remain effective, competitive, and relevant in today’s new electric paradigm and presented the technology solutions that can help power plants achieve flexibilization as the way forward.  

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Keywords: Plant Flexibilization, Renewable Energy, ARC India Forum, Steag, ARC Advisory Group.

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