Advanced Control Systems Help Streamline Plant Operations

Peter Kelly-Detwiler

Older plants often also mean older technology. Here are some of the benefits of upgrading to advanced control systems.

Today, many plant operators are dealing with older facilities. However, not only is much of the gas turbine fleet aging, but the operating software that runs plants is as well. Advanced control systems can help address the challenges created by this older technology, such as alarms in legacy systems that occur too frequently, making it difficult to discern real issues from unnecessary distractions; and plant operations that are not optimized to sync up with market conditions, leading to a deluge of data that is neither prioritized nor actionable.

While in older plants a frequent and logical response to the need for updated controls and information systems is "rip and replace," advanced control systems can reside on top of, rather than fully replace, the existing infrastructure. Here are three ways these systems allow plant operators to extend the life of their plants.

Modify Existing Systems

Advanced control systems can add an additional layer of operating intelligence at the plant level. By pulling in additional data from various areas of the plant and applying sophisticated algorithms, operators get an improved view of what is actually going on. They see a more accurate picture of the health of the facility and can migrate from a reactive, calendar-based approach to a predictive approach for operations and maintenance.

Integrate the Outside World

With a more complete understanding of their plant's limitations and capabilities, plant owners and operators can improve overall plant economics by determining when and how to run their facility.

For example, one can look at prices in day-ahead electricity markets and determine how hard to run the plant the following day. Previously, this may have been a decision made without critical inputs. Today, with the update systems available, plant owners and operators can integrate disparate sources of information, including past plant performance, maintenance schedules, anticipated weather, power prices, and compliance issues.

At the centralized cloud level, traders and central operators can evaluate this information and develop an optimization strategy based on desired—and sometimes competing—objectives. Once established, the centralized cloud sends the strategy to the operational-technology level at the plant, where the activity is automated. As conditions such as generating load, ambient temperatures, heat and ramp rates, and market prices change, the strategy is continuously optimized.

The plant operator still needs to be present but is no longer required to manually update set-points every few minutes, which allows for more visibility into plant operations. Additionally, there will be fewer meaningless alarms, better key performance indicators, and more actionable information channeled to the right individuals at the right time.

Improve Environments With Information Technology/Operational Technology Link

The new capabilities enhance the operating environment, creating a crucial bridge between operators and offsite stakeholders. In a world where multiple objectives need to be weighed against each other, this bridge is increasingly critical. Instead of having to hold multiple ad hoc conversations to balance competing objectives—for example, compliance, facility wear and tear, and revenue maximization—the various stakeholders can have integrated, efficient, and immediate conversations without replacing the existing plant's IT infrastructure. Plus, there is no need for more data from the generator, as the analytics and optimization strategies take place in the cloud.

Cloud-based IT tools combined with improved site-level OT create a new level of transparency about what is going on inside and outside the plant. This, in turn, facilitates better decisions about how much power to provide the market, based on the actual physics of running the plant.

As global power markets evolve, it is critical to utilize legacy systems while enhancing the way they operate. The right marriage of IT and OT minimizes the operator's hassle and removes many operational pain points. At the same time, there is communication with the cloud to improve performance within a larger economic framework. With the enormous existing fleet of plants in the field, thousands of generators could benefit from this approach, and it is not limited to gas-fired plants. Early adopters are already benefiting from these changes—many others may soon follow.


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