POWERful Insights: Getting more out of existing assets

2014-04-03 - Unlike ever before, the power industry is transforming and utilities are facing new disruptive challenges. One of these major challenges is how to get more of out of existing and often aging assets. For example, the average power transformer in the United States is 42 years old, that’s two years beyond its designed lifetime! Couple this challenge of aging assets with the impact of retiring coal facilities and the need to reinforce the existing transmission system to handle the changes in power flow and maintain reliability standards, and you get a far more complex issue.

What do you want to know about improving reliability or how to mitigate other disruptive challenges? Join ABB at the IEEE PES Transmission & Distribution conference in Chicago in booth #6725, where we will have Smart Squad experts “on tap” at our Smart Bar throughout the duration of the show. >> Have a question for one of our experts? Submit it now and we will provide the answer at the show

To help answer these challenges, Rodney Durban, Director of ABB’s Clean Air Initiative; Shawn Lyndon, Solutions Manager, Senior Vice President & General Manager – Asset Health Solutions for Ventyx, an ABB Company; and Craig Stiegemeier, Business Development and Technology Director for ABB's North American Transformer Remanufacturing Engineering Services (TRES), offer POWERful Insights. All three will be available in our Smart Bar at IEEE for further discussions: Shawn and Craig are on tap on Tuesday, April 15 at 3:15 and 4:15 pm and Rodney is available Wednesday, April 16 at 11:15 am.

Where are we in terms of industry adoption of advanced (i.e., predictive) maintenance programs?

Rodney: When I began my career in power in the early 1990’s, regulated rates were the norm and calendar-based preventative maintenance was the most widely employed strategy. After about five years in the business, I went to work for an exempt wholesale power generator and the attitude toward maintenance changed drastically. Instead of watching the calendar, we watched key parameters like run time to drive our maintenance schedule. The duration between scheduled outages was extended, expenditures shrank and – as measured by Equivalent Forced Outage Rate (EFOR) – reliability didn’t suffer.

Many investor owned utilities still operate on the traditional regulatory compact – allowable returns on prudent expenditures. It’s tough to paint the entire industry with a single broad brush; but, generally speaking, regulated utilities have less incentive to change maintenance practices that have been working for several decades. As regulators are more willing to allow competition in electricity markets, the need to have a competitive cost structure will push owners to look at ways of eliminating unnecessary expenditures – including maintenance expenditures. Asset management solutions will be an important enabler in that quest for lower operating cost.

The ability to move beyond time and usage based maintenance to condition based maintenance has been around for many years. However, the move to predictive and optimized maintenance is only now being considered. This is evident by how few companies have budgeted initiatives for predictive asset health and maintenance. That said, we are seeing this change dramatically in the past six months as companies embark on enterprise wide asset health and predictive maintenance strategies.

Most of our customers clearly see the need to move past a time based maintenance philosophy into an era of condition based maintenance. In fact, we’re helping them move into reliability centered maintenance solutions that identify issues long before they put the transformer at risk. Services are conducted to return the aging transformer to predictable reliability.

Which assets should the utility focus on first when considering strategies for extending asset life?

The key assets to focus on are always the ones that have the most importance on the system in terms of reliability. Also, if an asset is lost, recovery time to recuperate system stability must be a prime consideration. A good asset management approach will combine the risk of failure and the importance of the asset. This will give a clear picture of the assets that should get the most attention in terms of resources and efforts to improve asset reliability.

In my experience, there are four drivers for asset selection. They are criticality of the asset, compliance requirements, asset capital replacement cost and maintenance costs. This criteria leads many organizations to adopting asset health on transformers, breakers and batteries first.

Can investments in T&D defer the need for larger capital outlays in generation? How?

Absolutely. In fact, during recent years, we’ve seen a marked increase in the number of static VAR compensators being installed on the grid. We expect to see that trend continue for two reasons:
  1. Most regions in the US have an excess supply of electricity.
  2. Coal fired facilities are retiring to comply with environmental regulations, the economics of inexpensive natural gas, and an aging coal fleet.
As long as the oversupply of electricity remains in the US, the retirement of coal fired capacity can be absorbed; however, there will continue to be a need to provide a source of reactive power in many cases. This is just one example of how an investment in transmission can eliminate the need for investment in generation. Of course, across the country we see many other examples, including the construction of new high voltage transmission lines between key locations, as well as HVDC links to move renewable generation in remote areas to major load centers where power is consumed.

The ability to move large amounts of power is essential for a reliable grid. In reality, they must be balanced so that users of power have as open as practical access to sources of power. Future energy storage solutions will be developed, but until then, the need to move power from remote generation to power consumers will be essential. A stronger transmission system allows optimal use of existing generation sources.