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Winterizing and protecting turbomachinery can mitigate the impact of extreme weather events on the industry’s ability to meet power demands.
Power generation plants form the cornerstone of one of the most important components of society’s critical infrastructure. The economy relies on the smooth and uninterrupted delivery of power. However, the impact of extreme weather events threatens the industry’s ability to meet the nation’s power demands. The aftermath of powerful storms can affect large areas for days, weeks, or months. Therefore, the subject of winterizing and protecting turbomachinery has grown in importance.
The number of extreme weather events experienced worldwide appears to have risen during the 21st Century. A study by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction found that there were over 7,000 natural disasters in the world between 2000 and 2019. There had only been slightly over 4,000 such events in the previous 20 years. The United States is second after China with a total of 467 extreme weather events during the last two decades. Power generating facilities must become better prepared to address the challenges of operating in such conditions.
That was made very clear by the events of February 2021 in Texas. An unexpected arctic blast froze about 40% of the power generating capacity in the state. It took over a week to restore power to all affected customers. But this wasn’t a freak occurrence as some suggest. Many of the facilities that had problems in 2021 also failed during a cold weather spell in 2011.
Texas was not the only state impacted by extreme winter weather. In late October 2020, an ice storm in Oklahoma resulted in the loss of power to over 300,000 customers. Hurricanes, floods, and extreme heat waves wreak havoc with power generation and distribution infrastructure throughout the world each year.
Critical components in generating plants need shielded from extreme weather and frost. There are various techniques that can be employed to provide the necessary protection from extremely cold temperatures. They include:
Installation of thermal insulation on exposed equipment and pipes
Customized instrument enclosures to protect a device or part from freezing
Electrical or steam heat tracing systems to ensure that fluids traveling in pipes do not freeze
Freeze protection valves to drain or bleed water as temperatures drop
Continuous flow systems to prevent fluids from freezing.
Some of these solutions are expensive. In some cases, it may involve the redesign of part of the facility.
Thorough planning and preparedness are required to better cope with extreme weather events. An obvious starting point is to investigate recent weather-related outages to uncover specific steps that would have prevented downtime. In addition, it is a good idea to consider worst-case scenarios such as extreme heat, cold, or natural disasters to better understand the measures that should be adopted to be ready for future events and anomalies. Winterization requirements must be developed and enforced throughout the industry. ■
Dean Motl, Vice President of Business Development at IHI Power Services, provides operations, maintenance, management, and power plant support services to the U.S. power generation industry. For more information, visit IHIpower.com