HydroVision Preview: Overcoming Operations and Maintenance Challenges

Every aspect of hydro plant operations and maintenance contributes to its success. The Operations and Maintenance track at HydroVision International 2010 will focus on approaches to cutting costs, improving equipment longevity and performance, and increasing worker safety.

Hydropower is the single largest source of clean, renewable energy and is among the most flexible and reliable sources of energy available. This reliability is a testament to both the rugged design of the prime movers and the stewardship of the companies that operate and maintain the equipment and facilities.

The cost to operate and maintain a hydroelectric facility can be significant and is influenced by a variety of factors, including age of the plant, operational practices, the scope of scheduled maintenance outages, repairs needed as a result of forced outages, and the number of personnel required to adequately and safety operate the project. In addition, the level of complexity of the systems and equipment inside a hydroelectric powerhouse can significantly affect operation and maintenance costs.

Finally, market conditions, including the increasing value of ancillary services a hydro plant can provide, are testing the limits of operation for many hydro generating facilities. Generation equipment now is being operated routinely in regimes that traditionally would have been considered outside of design limits and appropriate only for transitional or possibly emergency conditions. These new requirements are increasing the level of operation and maintenance capabilities and costs for many plants.

Operations and maintenance issues surrounding hydroelectric facilities will be just one of the many subjects under discussion at HydroVision International 2010, July 27-30, 2010, in Charlotte, N.C.

Today’s biggest O&M issues

Operations and maintenance personnel at hydroelectric facilities face significant issues. Among these is the fact that these facilities are aging at the same time that technology is changing substantially. In addition, at many older hydro plants, equipment may be upgraded a piece at a time. Over the years, this means a facility can contain a mix of old and new equipment, which may have different operational and/or maintenance requirements.

In addition, the hydroelectric plant workforce is aging, which causes a two-fold problem. First, these older plants need significant upgrade work at the same time as many experienced personnel are planning their retirements. Second, retiring employees are taking with them valuable expertise, with little time available to transfer this experiential learning to the next generation of plant workers.

Even if time and personnel could be made available for this knowledge transfer, in today’s operating environment it is not enough to simply have the old guys teach the young guys how they’ve always done it, says Thomas Brittain, P.E., senior mechanical engineer, hydropower and hydraulic structures, with Black & Veatch Corp. New hydro plant operators are entering a world of much more rigorous regulatory oversight. The challenges of meeting North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), oil spill and monitoring, and other requirements affect plant operating procedures and planning. Proper, thorough training of younger men and women to enter this new operating environment is key to any utility’s success in meeting regulatory requirements.

Challenges for the future

Hydroelectric facility owners and operators face significant challenges for the future with regard to plant operations and maintenance. Some of these challenges, which may be ongoing issues, include:

– Properly maintaining hydro plant equipment, much of which is aging and could even be obsolete;

– Troubleshooting problems with new equipment being installed to overcome problems with age or obsolesence;

– Effectively managing an outage to make the best use of plant personnel and minimize revenue lost;

– Ensuring worker safety, both of experienced plant personnel and new recruits; and

– Dealing with changing operational objectives due to evolving market conditions.

Covering it all at HydroVision

The seven sessions in the Operations and Maintenance track at the HydroVision International event provide a wealth of information to help plant personnel deal with a variety of issues.

The first session is moderated by Dr. Greg C. Stone, vice president of business development with Iris Power LP and covers Generator Life Cycle — Inspection, Monitoring, Repairs, and Replacement. Attendees will hear the latest news from experienced project owners and operators on generator monitoring and inspection, as well as the philosophy on when and what to do to keep generators operating.

Turbine Life Cycle — Inspection, Repair, and Upgrade is the second session. Robert A. Rittase, P.E., senior consultant and manager of the York office for HDR|DTA, leads a team of experienced turbine professionals in a discussion of the pros and cons of various inspection, repair, and upgrade scenarios. The discussion will have a specific focus on issues such as bearings, alignment, and in-place machining.

Conference delegates who attend the third session in this track can stay up to date with an informative primer on governors and excitation systems. Panelists in this interactive session will discuss maintaining older equipment, as well as new equipment troubleshooting, obsolescence, and spare parts management. Alan Fox, regional manager with American Governor Co., is the moderator of this session, titled Best Practices: Black Boxes — Governors and Excitation Systems.

The fourth session in the operations and maintenance track is on Improving Outage Management. Warren Witt, manager of hydro operations with Ameren UE, and a panel of experts provide practical tips for effectively managing an outage. Panelists will discuss developing a mentality of continuous improvement through pre-outage planning, safety, and labor operations. Among other things, attendees of this session will learn how to develop job plans, work packages, and contracting and outsourcing agreements.

During the Balance of Plant — Items That Can Drive You to Drink! session, Brittain and several expert panelists will discuss a wide variety of equipment that is critical to plant operation. Items that create a lot of stress for management personnel, supervisors, and engineers include new requirements for sump operations, more concern with crane operator and inspector training, and proper training of all the new people in the plants.

Hot topics that might arise during this session include better ways to alarm when oil gets in the wrong places, video fish counting systems that allow more accurate counts for less money, better lubricants for gearboxes and compressors, and use of asset management programs to ensure the right work is done on the right equipment at the right time. In addition, attendees can bring their problems or challenges to this session to get ideas and insight.

Personnel safety is an ongoing issue that deserves attention. In Personnel Safety — Raising the Bar, moderator Gregory D. Lewis, P.E., technical manager, hydro generation, Duke Energy Corp., leads a panel of experienced operations and maintenance practitioners in a discussion of a variety of safety topics, including certification programs and diver safety.

The final session in the operations and maintenance track, Changing Expectations for Operations, features a panel of experts discussing changing operational objectives due to market conditions in ancillary services and other requirements, such as environmental compliance. Conference delegates will learn how this trickles down to operations and maintenance requirements and affects operating procedures and planning. Marshall J. Kaiser, principal consultant with Kleinschmidt Associates, moderates this session.

Highlighting Operations and Maintenance at HydroVision International 2010


Gerry Russell, P.E., is manager, marketing and chief hydraulic engineer with American Hydro Corporation. He is the track chair for the Operations & Maintenance track at HydroVision International, to be held July 27-30, 2010, in Charlotte, N.C.


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