Power generation represents a varied and evolving landscape, both globally and within the U.S., with numerous technology types contributing to the energy mix. From traditional simple cycle gas and turbine peaking plants to modern photovoltaic (PV) solar, battery energy storage systems (BESS), wind, hydro and distributed generation facilities, the energy sector continues to experience dynamic transformation and growth to meet new or increasing energy demands.
As the world embraces a more sustainable future, effective utilization of a diverse set of power plant technologies is essential to meet today and tomorrow’s energy challenges. Energy production facilities require a more centralized approach to plant management to ensure safety, economic viability, consistent generation, preventative maintenance to keep equipment running efficiently and emergency repairs to address unexpected damage that can affect their ability to produce power.
In many of these instances, the management and upkeep of a power facility can be optimized by working with a remote operations partner.
Typical Challenges Faced by Differing Power Plant Technologies
- Simple Cycle Gas Turbine Peaking: Lower efficiency and higher operational costs
- Simple cycle gas turbine peaking plants face challenges related to productivity and operational costs. They have lower efficiency compared to combined cycle plants, resulting in higher fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions per unit of electricity generated. Additionally, the rapid start-up and shutdown cycles required for peaking operation can lead to increased maintenance costs and mechanical stress on the turbines.
- PV Solar: Intermittency and weather dependence
- PV solar plants rely on sunlight to produce electricity. Their intermittent nature means that power generation fluctuates based on weather conditions and the time of day.
- Battery Storage (BESS): Limited energy storage capacity
- While battery storage systems are essential for storing surplus energy, capacity is still limited, and expansion without significant cost increases remains a challenge.
- Wind: Intermittent in nature
- Like solar generation, wind power is unpredictable in availability and dependent on weather patterns, making energy storage solutions essential to maintain a consistent power supply.
- Hydro: Environmental impact
- While hydroelectric power is a renewable energy source, large-scale hydro projects can have considerable environmental consequences, including habitat disruption and altered water flow.
- Distributed Generation: Integration into the grid
- Coordinating and integrating power generated from various distributed generation sources into the existing grid infrastructure can pose technical challenges.
Overall, each power plant technology type has promising qualities but also comes with unique obstacles that must be addressed to ensure effective and reliable operation and pave the pathway for a successful transition to a greener energy future.
The Benefits of Working with a Remote Operations Partner
In the dynamic setting of power generation, it has become increasingly common for companies to deploy different technologies to seek external assistance for better and more streamlined production facility optimization. A remote operations partner can offer valuable support by augmenting a power-generating company’s workforce and providing the necessary knowledge, technical expertise and manpower to continuously maintain and manage diverse projects.
Remote operations centers (ROCs) serve as centralized hubs from which multiple power facilities can be monitored and controlled. Given the remote and distributed nature of these facilities, traditional on-site management may prove inefficient or even impractical, making virtual operation capabilities a crucial component in advancing the shift to sustainable generation powered by renewable energy sources.
By collaborating with a virtual operations partner, power generation providers can reap various advantages, such as:
- Addressing staffing shortages: ROCs can efficiently handle day-to-day plant operations, allowing on-site staff to focus on other crucial on-site tasks. This alleviates the impact of staffing shortages, particularly in regions where recruiting qualified personnel may be challenging.
- Minimizing operational risk: The robust technical expertise of a virtual operations and maintenance (O&M) team ensures safe and compliant plant operation, and working with one that specializes in the specific type of power generation being managed guarantees optimal safety and efficiency.
- Increasing efficiency and productivity: Power generation facilities often rely on Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems for monitoring and management. In cases where multiple technologies are involved, such as a distributed wind power installation, coordinating multiple SCADA platforms can be complex. A ROC can centralize these systems into a single human-machine interface (HMI), streamlining oversite and enhancing productivity.
- Providing a mobile technical team: ROCs can dispatch technical experts to address issues impacting isolated power installations and equipment. This flexible approach is much more cost-effective compared to retaining a full on-site support team for distributed or detached facilities.
Partnering with a remote operations provider leads to a more effective and lucrative method of managing and operating power generation projects.
Keys to Selecting the Right Remote Operations Partner
When choosing a partner to oversee virtual plant maintenance, it’s crucial to make a highly informed and well-researched decision to ensure the partnership’s success. If you’re in the process of looking for a firm to support remote O&M at your power facility, consider asking the following key questions before making the final call:
What is the provider’s level of experience? The firm should have a proven track record in operating and managing your portfolio’s power generation technology while also being well-versed in NERC (North American Electric Reliability Corporation) and NERC compliance, to guarantee full adherence to important regulatory standards.
What types of technology will be used? Understanding the solutions used by the remote operations center is essential for seamless integration with existing systems and streamlined monitoring. Important questions to ask here include:
- How are native SCADA systems incorporated into the remote operations center?
- What level of automation is utilized?
- How are alerts handled to reduce false alarms?
- Is there a provision for remote “eyes on site” capabilities for off-hour monitoring?
- What kind of weather reporting proficiency is offered to aid in operational planning?
What operational and maintenance services are offered? Comprehensive O&M services should cater to site-specific requirements and support the smooth, continual functioning of your facility. These offerings should include:
- 24×7 O&M outsourcing with comprehensive services and major maintenance support
- Customized training programs and operations procedures
- Preventative maintenance plans, methods and schedules
- Project management assistance for remote operations center implementation
- Instrument calibration and upgrades
- Support to fill or address skills gaps and personnel shortages
- Financial reporting and administration
Does the provider offer service level tiers? Look for firms that extend scalable service level options tailored to the specific needs of differing power generation technologies. A flexible approach ensures that your company receives the required services without paying for unnecessary additives to further accommodate business growth.
During the selection process, pay attention to factors that may indicate unsuitability or inadequacy, including:
- Little or no experience with your plant technologies.
- A rigid scope of work that does not align with the required services and site-specific needs.
- Lack of formalized plans to address explicit facility requirements and support growth.
- An inflexible or unscalable control room that cannot accommodate future expansion.
- Ineffective alarm filtering that can lead to excessive warnings and false alerts.
If any of these issues arise during the evaluation process, continue the search for a more qualified partner that will help achieve your core operational needs.
As power plants continue to expand and more virtual installations are incorporated into the grid, leveraging services from a qualified remote operations partner will also become increasingly evident. The ability to seamlessly operate and manage power facility equipment remotely is crucial for long-term success and continual energy generation.
Look for a flexible provider with a proven track record in the specific power generation technology type that will collaborate with your company to optimize your facility’s production capacity while maintaining compliance and minimizing cost. With the right remote operations partner, there’s no limit to how far your power plant and business can grow.
—Amy Komatsuzaki is vice president of Remote Operations for IHI Power Services Corp.