Optimizing Outages with Outage Readiness Analysis

In order to ramp up the success of planned outages at its power plants and lower the risk of unexpected and costly problems, OG&E management has begun using the outage readiness index process. This method identifies and defines the scope of the work needed prior to the commencement of an outage and quantifies the amount of preparedness needed to implement the outage in the most cost-effective manner.

In the current challenging financial climate, U.S. power plants are trying more than ever to maximize the work their personnel carry out during planned outages. In addition to trying to execute routine outage work in the most efficient way, plant staff often have to deal with adding technological modifications such as air pollution control upgrades in order to comply with new environmental regulations.

“At OG&E, we currently are in the process of implementing the outage readiness index (ORI) process, which commences the outage planning effort one year in advance of the scheduled outage start date,” Ken Johnson, vice president of OG&E’s Power Supply Operations, told POWER in January.

OG&E has a service area that covers 30,000 square miles in Oklahoma and western Arkansas and a generation fleet that consists of five coal-fired units, six combined cycle units, nine conventional gas-fired steam units, nine simple cycle gas turbines, and three wind farms with 222 wind turbines. Total fleet capacity is approximately 6,300 MW.

How the ORI Process Works

Johnson explained that “the ORI process was adapted from similar work done by the Construction Industry Institute (CII) for project planning.” The CII, based at the University of Texas at Austin, is a consortium of more than 100 leading owner, engineering-contractor, and supplier firms from both the public and private arenas. (See “Real-time Proactive Safety in Construction” in the Jan. 2012 issue of POWER for more information about the CII.) These organizations have joined together to enhance the business effectiveness and sustainability of the capital facility life cycle through CII research, related initiatives, and industry alliances.

In simple terms, CII’s planning process consists of a series of weighted checklists specific to each project milestone (360, 270, 180, 150, 120, 90, 60, 30, and 14 days ahead of an outage). The ORI checklists touch on each aspect of outage planning in increasing detail as the outage date nears.

A scoring scale indicative of the status of each item in terms of completion or “readiness” is used to calculate a score at each milestone, which can then be compared with an optimum score. This gives the outage manager and plant management a quantitative indication of the planning process’s progress.

The intent of the ORI process is consistency in planning outages, Johnson explained. Some flexibility is afforded plants based on plant-specific needs, but consistency in the process is the intent. The ORI process requires routine meetings during the course of the year-long planning cycle, and these meetings are conducted at each plant by the assigned outage manager. After each outage season, a meeting is conducted with all plants and outage managers in order to discuss lessons learned and potential refinements to the process.

Johnson described how the staff at OG&E’s plants are selected to be the leaders who implement the ORI process. “Typically, a member of the plant staff is designated by management to function as the ‘outage manager’ for the outage and is tasked with leading the planning and execution effort utilizing the ORI process.” The outage manager is responsible for assembling the outage team, consisting of a variety of personnel from the plant, including from the technical services support organization, the supply chain, the safety division, and, in many cases, primary contractors.

“The ORI process provides structure and rigor to the planning process, including scoring at each planning meeting to gauge ‘readiness’ to execute the outage and quality of the planning effort,” Johnson said.

A specific outcome of each ORI meeting is the generation of an action list related to any deficient areas, with assignment of responsible individuals to deal with such deficiencies and due dates required to “recover” prior to the next milestone meeting. Currently, OG&E is implementing a target score vs. an optimal score for the 2012 goals at each plant, Johnson explained.

Boosting Plant Performance

Johnson said that OG&E’s improved outage planning approach has contributed to the utility’s overall success. “In simple terms, better quality advance outage planning translates into higher quality and more efficient management of planned outages. To OG&E, this means that the optimal amount of necessary work gets accomplished during the planned outage window, and that ensures that the unit is reliable over the next overhaul interval.”

Well-organized outage planning and management also helps OG&E power plants save money because better planning translates into more efficient performance of the outage work. Johnson added that, “in an environment where the availability of skilled craftsmen can be an issue, higher quality advanced planning tends to potentially lower the number of craftsmen required for an outage.”

More effective outage planning does more than just help the bottom line. Johnson pointed out that it also enables OG&E power plants to better comply with environmental regulations. “Higher quality outage planning and execution favorably influences unit reliability,” he said. “As a result, the performance of all plant systems, including boiler and environmental controls systems, is improved as far as supporting compliance.”

He emphasized that to the extent that improved unit reliability has a favorable influence on unscheduled outage rates, the potential for adverse impacts on environmental compliance due to unit startups and shutdowns is avoided.

New Directions in Outage Planning

Looking ahead, Johnson sees a couple of trends in the power generation sector that should make outage planning more effective: “The name of the game is improved advanced equipment condition assessment coupled with a solid, rigorous planning process to ensure optimal duration and quality planned outages supporting unit reliability.”

Angela Neville, JD, is POWER’s senior editor.