Restoring and maintaining power plants is essential to keep them operating at peak efficiency, or, under some circumstances, at all. Some locations are hazardous, either through war or through natural disaster, and other locations can be inaccessible for nonlocals, due to political reasons.
Under such circumstances, finding ways of ensuring that expert O&M personnel are able to access the site is essential. Two fundamental approaches, which can be combined, are to make as many operations as possible capable of being handled or directed remotely, or providing special protection for those working at the site.
Siemens has developed extensive equipment to enable its experts to view such sites remotely, while GE has experience of, among other locations, restoring a power plant in Mosul, Iraq, which until recently was held by ISIS fighters.
Siemens remote outage services
When it is not possible to get the experts to the site, then somehow the site must be brought to the experts. This situation can arise when access is limited, be it for political reasons, because of conflict or natural disasters, or some other reason. In such situations, ‘Remote Outage Services’, such as that developed by Siemens, become valuable.
In summer 2015, Siemens had a customer order for maintenance services in Libya, when people were not permitted to enter the country. In order to provide these services, the company had to find a way to guide the people who were on site. Solution design began in September 2015, with feasibility demonstration of a Remote Outage Services solution four weeks later, and two prototypes delivered by the end of November 2015.
The Remote Outage Services solution enables experts based in their home location to guide people on-site to carry out the work. The system works through the use of body-cameras worn by the people on-site, and additional surveillance cameras, which transmit images to locations far from the site where they can be viewed by experts. Through internet links, the experts can communicate with those on site and explain what work needs doing, sharing detailed images and documents online.
The concept is essentially a simple one. Its implementation, however, is not so simple, as there are a number of practical difficulties that need to be overcome.
The technology needs to be able to operate throughout an entire shift of eight to ten hours. There needs to be an efficient and secure network to enable the support to be available across the site. The on-site operators need to be able to access the information and support in a hands-free environment. The equipment needs to be rugged in order to cope with conditions on-site, and it needs to be simple to install, set-up, and use.
The first major service outage executed remotely was successfully completed in June 2016.
Thomas Rothämel, Siemens Project Manager of the development project of ROS, for the first-time application as well as for the commercialization project of this specific team-to-team collaboration solution, said that site connectivity was a key issue. Connectivity to the whole site is necessary, allowing multiple working areas. Remote experts based in different locations, such as Orlando or Berlin, use Cloud services to monitor and control the local on-site devices.
In addition to ensuring good and unimpaired work in the field, operators on site need equipment that is appropriate. It needs to be compatible, ergonomically and future-proofed, so that system upgrades do not negatively impact operations. Operators need their hands free, so body cameras and headsets are used, along with robust tablets.
The operators on the site use the cameras to give clear pictures of the condition of equipment, so that the experts can see exactly what condition different parts are in. The experts can request different views, and can make a judgement about what action, if any, needs to be taken. It also enables the experts to provide instructions and real-time announcements based on what they can see. One example is that through the use of multiple views, the expert can provide warning about an unsafe situation. They can also determine the severity of a crack, and view items in the context of the surroundings.
It also enables multiple experts, specialists in each area, wherever they might be located.
A reverse use of the system enables remote viewing of factory acceptance tests.
Each site situation is unique, and as a consequence, unique solutions have to be found. Nevertheless each unique solution will be built up of standardised Remote Outage Services modules:
Personal Mobile Gear: Each set of Personal Mobile Gear (PMG) consists of a fully ruggedised tablet computer, an action body-cam, and an industrial grade Bluetooth headset.
Security: Security of the system is crucial. The Siemens system uses encrypted light to maintain a high level of security and reliability.
Ease of installation: Colour coding and plug-and-play ensure that the system is easy to install and use. The time needed to set up is dependent on the situation, but a Remote Outage Services solution including full site connectivity is typically about a half-day.
Since the Libya project, Siemens has been working on turning the innovations into consistent and commercially viable options.
The Libya project involved a number of challenges that needed to be overcome. These included:
- The local wide area network (WAN) had limited bandwidth
- Changing working areas. Operators need to move around the site, and the connections have to be good across the whole site
- A lack of IT expertise at the customer side
- An operation time of greater than 8 hours. Shifts typically last for 8 hours, and the system needs to be able to cope with this
- Environmental conditions, including dust, temperature, and noise
- The need to connect different measuring instruments
Fully wireless coverage with multilink gateway and mesh network is required, along with a simple plug and play system to ease installation. The use of widely available hardware that is generally interchangeable with other hardware of its type provides solutions to several of these issues.
The key is to focus on the essentials. A real-time announcement service enables the experts to provide instant support. such a systm can enable the expert to ask for specific views, in order to advise of different procedures to follow, and to address any issues that need correcting.
GE restores power in Mosul
Restoring power plants damaged during conflict can be challenging, especially if the conflict is ongoing at some level. As an example of one such project, GE has been restoring the 750 MW Al Qayara power plant in Mosul, Iraq, damaged during the conflict.
The 750 MW Al-Qayara power plant, in Mosul, was first set up in 2013, and served as a key hub for power production in Mosul. It was damaged by militants during the recent battle with ISIS, and had been out of operation since then.
GE Power is helping to restore the plant to operation to strengthen the Iraqi power infrastructure. Mussab Almudaris, official spokesperson of the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity, said: “There was extensive damage to Mosul’s power plants during the conflict, which severely curtailed the city’s electricity generation capacity. One of our top priorities for Mosul is to rebuild the city’s infrastructure and strengthen power production to meet the everyday needs of our citizens. We value the support extended by GE Power, which was one of the first companies to join our reconstruction efforts.”
Though the ISIS fighters had fled the area, and would soon depart Mosul, the situation was not an easy one. The plant was in ruins. Oil fields set on fire by ISIS burned in the distance, and the six turbines needed a lot of work to make them operational.
The GE team worked with the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity to repair the six GE 9E gas turbines, replace a damaged oil treatment system and fuel tanks, and carry out other restoration work on the balance of plant equipment. The project was in an extreme risk area for terrorist activities, because Daesh sleeper cells were still present in the area, and numerous residents of those areas were Daesh sympathisers.
Getting sufficient numbers of qualified personnel willing to go to such locations can be a challenge. Having a good safety record, and demonstrating good safety protocols assists in reassuring people. GE ensures that everyone going to the site is taken through an extensive walkthrough of the procedures, measures, and controls taken to ensure safety.
GE is bringing energy, healthcare, and transportation technologies to the country. These infrastructures interact with each other, each dependent upon the others. GE is also helping to unlock financing to support the execution of critical projects, and employ up to 300 people in Iraq, more than 95 per cent of whom are Iraqi nationals.
With the destruction of two main power lines connecting Mosul to Iraq’s national power grid, electricity supply to the city was minimal. The province thus spent much of the three years in darkness.
One of the major issues involving work on the site is logistics. Transportation couriers have to use high-risk roads to get to the site, involving passing through several checkpoints from Baghdad to the site.
In addition, interrupted communications can be an issue. The lack of proper GSM coverage is always a challenge, and as a result, GE uses satellite phones on the project, in addition to VHF and UHF radio stations.
In order to evaluate on-site systems while the site could not be accessed because of security issues, GE used high-resolution satellite photographs, and these proved to be 100 per cent correct in their evaluation of GE’s scope of work.
The Iraqi Government was keen for the units to be available in as short a time as possible. Joseph Anis, President and CEO of GE’s Power Services business in Africa, India, and the Middle East, said: “Basic infrastructure services such as the reliable supply of power are essential to stabilise the region, facilitate the return of displaced populations, and stimulate the local economy. The Al Qayara power plant is an essential part of Mosul’s power infrastructure, and we are committed to working with the Ministry of Electricity to accelerate repair and restoration works so that the site can start to generate power again within the year.”
Security was the most pressing concern, with the safety of everyone on the site being given top priority. With Mosul still riddled with ISIS sleeper cells, GE’s security team carried out a comprehensive security risk assessment.
As of December 2018, the Qayara plant had been 90 per cent restored, and is able to generate 500 MW. The site was scheduled to reach full capacity by December 2018, which would contribute roughly 10 hours of daily power to the region. This is crucial, as Qayara is one of the few power sources supplying Mosul and nearby Salahadin province, playing a key role in helping to rebuild the local economy.
The hardest O&M situation
The problems facing O&M operations in such situations are immense. A successful project requires getting the right people into the right place at the right time with the right equipment and material.
Unfortunately, it is quite often the case that movement of people and material to the site can be troublesome. The logistics of supporting such a project are immense. Maintaining security, maintaining a reliable flow of material, and maintaining communications with the project directors at the company’s hub are key.