Fleet-wide M&D puts ‘Big Data’ into practice

A CCJ exclusive report by Jason Makansi, Pearl Street Inc

Many large and mid-size utilities and independent generating companies have installed fleet-wide monitoring and diagnostics (M&D) centers (photo). While the practice began more than a decade ago, in many ways, it is now poised for even greater expansion, thanks to breathtaking growth and declining cost of backbone digital chip technology, cloud computing, wireless sensors, mobile and hand-held digital devices, and robust algorithms and analytics.

NV Energy M&D

NV Energy Monitoring and Diagnostics Center, one of the most recent to become operational, exemplifies an arrangement to foster collaboration, a goal of all M&D centers. About 100,000 information points from 50 separate generating units at 10 powerplants are collected and modeled to support production, asset management, and engineering

However, the digital architecture of fleet-wide M&D is likely to change over the next decade. Technology promises to pose fewer challenges than optimizing how technology fits into organizations. As one example, the notion of “aggregating” the digital signals and human specialists in one centralized location is somewhat specious, given that the data can be, and often are, made available anywhere on most any digital device (within security limitations of course). Likewise, collaboration can take place anywhere too, with a camera and a microphone on the computer, or over mobile hand-held devices.

In short, the concept of a “center” may be an artifact of an industry focused on centralized utility grids. The concept of a “cockpit,” though, may have more staying power, as it implies face-to-face collaboration, perhaps more vital during emergency and upset conditions, to ensure all of the available expertise—human and automation—is being brought to bear in coordinated fashion.

Some perspective. Before the industry had 1300-MW coal-fired units, there were (and still are) 1300-MW coal-fired stations comprised of five to 10 individual units. At one time (circa 1950s), such a plant might have been built with two control rooms, each serving a bank of units. In an earlier time, each unit might have had its control/monitoring room, with much of the actual control localized at the equipment.

Today’s remote M&D center is simply part of this evolution, made possible by wired and wireless data networks and telecommunications. Also, in an earlier time, many plants had a “results” engineer responsible for calculating and monitoring performance—especially heat rate. Maintenance was performed largely on a preventive basis, machines routinely disassembled, inspected, and re-assembled, and components replaced based on an operating-hour schedule.

Being a fully regulated, cost-plus, assigned rate-of-return industry completely focused on reliability helped maintain this status quo until deregulation and competition became more than glints in the eyes of financial engineers by the 1990s. More recently, combined-cycle plants became more and more similar as they were built around standard gas turbine, steam turbine, and HRSG modules from OEMs. With a far more homogenous fuel than coal (natural gas), comes greater commonality in plant design, which allowed for more distributed expertise to manage these assets.

The enablers. On the technology side, the enablers of fleet-wide M&D include the following:

• Distributed digital control systems (DCS) progressively installed at powerplants beginning in the late 1980s.

• Data historian and storage technology capable of taking data from a proprietary DCS and converting them into a standard format usable by software applications.

• Data highways and data networks employing standardized communication and routing protocols, including over the Internet, allowing further propagation of plant data.

• Computer hardware and software operating on non-proprietary desktop and PC operating systems.

• Inexpensive liquid crystal displays (LCD) and digital displays in larger and larger flat-screen formats, and in the other direction, ever-more-capable mobile devices and tablets that have essentially become hand-held computers.

Whether a bricks-and-mortar “central” facility exists or not, the remote M&D concept is driving the integration of digital powerplant assets.

To dig deeper into the subject matter presented in this special report, consider attending “The Digitally Integrated Power Plant: Optimizing Process Improvements” and accompanying pre- and post-conference workshops, February 25 – 28 at the Hilton Anatole, Dallas, Tex. Host utility for the event is Luminant. Sponsors include PAS and Emerson Process Management. CCJ ONline is the media sponsor. Details here.

More from this special report:

M&D Part 2: What’s behind the dashboard; diagnostics and prognostics
M&D Part 3: No ‘big brother’ here
M&D Part 4: A glimpse into the future

Posted in Controls |

Comments are closed.