Seasonal Readiness: Powering Safe, Reliable Operations

Inclement weather conditions can cause catastrophic impacts on power plants, especially during the winter months with periods of extremely frigid temperatures. Severe conditions can be forecasted in advance or hit without notice — Either way, they can become disruptive, dangerous, and costly.

In this blog, learn about the importance of seasonal readiness planning, what happened when an energy provider didn’t effectively prepare for extreme weather, and how energy companies can increase operational reliability to protect against service disruptions.

Be Prepared with a Proactive Approach to Maintenance

The Electric Power Research Institute, Inc. (EPRI) describes seasonal readiness as “a systematic, defined process that includes preparation, execution, restoration, and feedback mechanisms to ensure that lessons learned are captured to continually improve the overall process.” 

Depending on a plant's geographic location, seasonal readiness planning is usually conducted for winter and summer months due to harsh temperatures and weather conditions. Through readiness programs, energy companies can establish and implement procedures to help prepare for the unpredictable and ensure reliable operations every day. 

Seasonal readiness planning empowers energy providers to take proactive steps in preparing plants or entire fleets for reliable, safe operations, especially amid inclement weather. When developing a program, it’s important to create highly repeatable processes to quickly identify, monitor, fix, and continue tracking potential problem areas before the winter or summer season takes place. 

Best practices can be identified from lessons learned to strengthen operations year after year. Per the EPRI Seasonal Readiness Guide, best practices can include activities such as updating the Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) to create, prioritize, and track seasonal readiness tasks to completion, confirming that building penetrations are properly insulated and sealed from the harsh winter elements, developing contingency plans for weather effects to incorporate into emergency action planning, and updating training requirements for operations and maintenance staff to include seasonal awareness.

The primary winterization activities in a readiness plan are inspection and maintenance to identify vulnerabilities and ensure operations are functional amid weather conditions. When effective inspection and preventative maintenance protocols are in place, energy companies can proactively combat challenges and avoid asset failures to better control costs and provide customers with uninterrupted service. 

Understand the Impacts: Asset Failure Left Thousands in the Dark

Unexpected asset failures can result in rolling blackouts that leave large regions without power, including residential areas, hospitals, and nursing homes. On Christmas Eve, a major power provider faced the harsh reality of not being able to produce enough electricity for its customers amidst extreme winter weather conditions. This company faced the perfect storm of high demand, below-freezing temperatures, and failing plant equipment. 

The power company reported that demand was higher and temperatures were lower than expected. However, it’s since been reported that multiple assets were offline or not responding. The energy provider simply couldn’t produce enough power to meet demand due to its failing assets, leaving more than half a million people stranded without power. 

This situation could’ve been prevented with a seasonal readiness plan that had the right inspection technologies in place. With access to in-depth data that illustrates where damage is occurring as well as the level of severity, the facility could’ve proactively identified areas of degradation, prioritized maintenance on critical assets, and fixed the issues during a planned outage without disrupting service, potentially saving the facility millions of dollars.

Power Your Plant with Actionable Analytics

Unfortunately, many facilities aren’t aware of their problem areas until it’s too late. The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) stated that more than half of forced outages at coal plants are caused by boiler tube leaks – a type of asset failure that can be avoided with proper protocols and access to accurate data. 

The more a facility understands its asset health, the better its operational reliability will be. Simply put, failures typically happen where inspections don’t. A primary step in building an effective seasonal readiness plan is starting with a thorough inspection to establish asset health baselines, proactively identifying structural vulnerabilities and monitoring progression. 

Ultrasonic inspection robots perform nondestructive inspections to provide insights into the current condition of critical assets. Using specially designed sensor payloads, the robots measure wall thickness and inspect for pitting, corrosion, and many other forms of degradation. By relying on a turnkey robotic solution, facilities can achieve the highest scan quality and coverage at record-fast speeds compared to traditional methods. Additionally, automated robotic solutions equipped with encoders make it easier to repeat the inspection in the future for year-over-year comparison and analysis.

As the robots collect extensive amounts of data, the information feeds into an intuitive software platform to create comprehensive maps and 3D models for a realistic view of the data. These data visualizations map the thickness readings, clearly illustrating areas with corrosion and damage, to deliver a complete assessment of the asset’s current health and to help predict future failures. 

With full-coverage data collection, artificial intelligence (AI) analytics efficiently identify and decode patterns within the data to help discover deep insights about the asset. The software platform can help facilities move from a baseline understanding of damage to predicting damage progression through models with customizable timescales. Data visibility can help ensure assets are up and running without disruption during peak periods and under extreme conditions, providing reliable energy production for customers. 

Once a power plant gains a holistic understanding of its operations, the facility personnel can routinely monitor assets and prioritize a maintenance plan based on the severity of the identified damage. This data makes it easy to plan predictive maintenance activities during the outages preceding the summer or winter seasons. With an objective baseline established from in-depth, accurate data, energy companies can confidently make decisions about their next steps, potentially saving millions of dollars.

Your Blueprint to Reliable, Safe, and Efficient Operations

For power providers, asset reliability is critical. The presence of unknown asset degradation can hold heavy consequences – causing asset failures that lead to power outages and widespread blackouts that can disrupt communications, affect access to basic necessities, and create a wave of economic and supply chain issues. 

The best way to improve operational efficiency and reliability is by taking a proactive approach that relies upon in-depth, accurate data. This need is only amplified during peak demand periods and seasonal extremes. 

Energy providers should focus on reducing risks by getting the full picture with the right technologies in place. Be prepared for the unexpected by obtaining complete asset health data to extend asset life cycles for resilient reliability. 

Download this case study to discover how a Kentucky power plant reduced boiler tube leak failures and forced outages by rethinking its traditional maintenance methods. 

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