Chemical metering and water quality control management are key.
by Mike Radel
November 13, 2019

For gas and electric utilities, efficiency is the name of the game. Efficiency comes in multiple forms—from consumers being more energy efficient to plants running at optimum efficiency. Today, utilities work closely with customers to design and implement energy efficient programs.

When considering the significant capital expenditures involved in the generation, transmission and distribution of energy to broad customer networks, it is essential that utilities keep operating expenses in check and within approved budgets. Three top ways for utilities to boost productivity and optimize efficiency are: enhancing system reliability via asset management strategies; minimizing operating costs via monitoring solutions and preventative maintenance; and managing chemical treatment costs.

All three of these initiatives are often accomplished with the help of a Tier 1 business partner that manages every aspect of the supply chain for the customer.

A large utility in the Midwest has optimized its operations through such a partnership. This utility services more than 800,000 natural gas customers and almost 500,000 electric customers from a portfolio of hydroelectric, natural gas-powered and some remaining coal plants, which are scheduled to be retrofitted and/or taken out of service in the near future. Each type of plant in this utility’s arsenal relies heavily on water to generate electricity.

optimize efficiencyImage 1. Utilities can optimize efficiency with monitoring and preventative maintenance. (Image courtesy of EquipSolutions, LLC)

Why Water Is Critical to Power Generation

There is a direct correlation between the quality of water used to generate steam and a power plant’s efficiency. Power plants consume tremendous volumes of water, which is why most plants are located near surface water. The quality of a plant’s incoming water can vary based on seasonality and weather conditions. Plants treat water to ensure that it is suitable for operations. To do this, plants rely on chemical feed systems for applications such as disinfection and pH control. Chemical feed systems also dose scale inhibitors and anticorrosion chemicals to protect piping and process equipment.

These applications are critical for optimizing plant efficiency, and also to prevent fouling and condenser performance issues that could hinder plant uptime.

The tighter the water quality control, the more efficient the plant, and chemical feed systems are critical to this efficiency.

How Power Plants Treat Water

Power plants, like most industrial plants, treat water via chemical injection skids with highly accurate metering pumps. These pumps inject expensive—and hazardous—chemicals for scale inhibition, corrosion protection and microbiological fouling. The chemical skids contain multiple technologies—including metering pumps, monitoring devices, chemical storage tanks, instrumentation, controllers and programmable logic controllers (PLCs), and feed verification systems—plus all of the piping required to deliver chemicals to where they are needed.

Asset Management, Safety & Reliability

How do plants keep all of this equipment running safely and at peak efficiency? It starts with asset management.

Asset management is primarily comprised of inventory, assessment, refurbishment and deployment. Assets in a plant are expensive, and they frequently fall into disrepair, often becoming cannibalized for spare parts. To prevent this, a Tier 1 business partner should conduct plant-wide chemical feed system audits that document and photograph each system. It should remove or refurbish equipment as appropriate and should actively manage these systems, maintaining operating equipment and redeploying new equipment from a ready inventory when needed.

The safety of employees is something that should never be overlooked. Having several sets of trained and experienced eyes constantly looking for safety hazards or potential issues with rotating equipment, pressurized lines or hazardous chemicals is imperative. If and when new equipment is needed, computer aided design (CAD) services, such as 3D parametric modeling, AutoCAD conversion, and detailed process and instrumentation diagrams allow the user to see what they are getting before they buy it.

Today’s virtual reality design software enables plant management to walk virtually through facilities and see how equipment skids will function. The ability to incorporate spacing data into designs minimizes unseen problems that could occur later. Then, maintenance personnel will know they will have the necessary tool clearances to reach pipes and valves once the skid is installed.

A Tier 1 partner should also be a systems integrator that can stock and supply all the critical items needed, including pumps, valves, fittings, gauges, sensors, controllers, tanks and electrical components. They should have immediate access to all pumps and equipment in order to streamline the build and minimize delivery time. When carried out correctly, the partnership includes a needs assessment, innovative design, storage, deployment and refurbishment of the chemical feed assets.

Monitoring & Maintenance

For plants that run operations on a 24/7/365 basis, maintaining chemical feed systems is a priority. Monitoring solutions are not only used to adjust chemical injection rates, but also to validate the health of equipment. For utilities that run multiple plants across a wide geographical area, remote monitoring systems are essential.