In today’s rapidly transforming environment, the energy industry is facing newer and different challenges than what they’ve faced before.
Experts believe that utilities will face more change over the next decade than they have over the past century. Power plant managers probably aren’t surprised to know this; they’ve been there on the front lines, adapting their facilities to a world simultaneously defined by new federal regulations and a more deregulated environment.
Amidst this change, it can be easy for some to overlook the importance of maintenance. But, proper power plant maintenance can actually serve as a way to continue productivity and efficiency in the face of a shifting environment.
Three Ongoing Trends
There are three ongoing trends that are impacting power plant maintenance, and forcing utilities and their maintenance providers to adapt.
Deregulation began in the 1970s, but it didn’t really take off until 1992, with the passage of the Energy Policy Act. Since then, 17 states have deregulated electricity markets, and 19 have deregulated gas markets. An additional seven states have suspended deregulated markets.
Utilities in deregulated states have to face competitive pricing and costly consequences of asset failure. If production drops due to equipment failure, utilities in these markets are faced with the unpleasant prospect of purchasing additional power from competitors in order to fulfill contractual obligations.
Power plant maintenance is arguably more important in deregulated environments for these reasons.
Environmental regulations have increased over the past two decades, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike. Legislation and regulations have also been put into place at the federal and state levels to encourage more renewable energy use.
As a result, power plants across the nation have adapted through upgrades and retrofits to both limit emissions and incorporate renewable energy into their production mix. These additions will require additional maintenance and servicing on an ongoing basis to make sure they are not only functioning appropriately, but also in full compliance with regulations as they change over the years.
Extending Operational Life Versus Building New Capacity
Thanks to the large capital outlays involved in building new facilities, utilities would rather prolong the lifespan of their current power plants through ongoing upgrades and power plant maintenance. The longer a power plant can function effectively in its current configuration, the more cost-effective a plant can be. And the costs of maintenance are dwarfed by the considerable expenses that come with new construction.
How Power Plant Maintenance Is Changing to Adapt
Plant maintainers are changing their approach to handle these and other trends in the industry.
For starters, plants are moving away from reactive maintenance to proactive maintenance. They’re also trying to predict failures instead of merely reacting to them or even trying to prevent them through general preventative maintenance.
Maintainers are also moving toward using data analytics to assess equipment in real time and monitor the health of assets. Analysis can help providers analyze systems to identify weaknesses that can then be fixed or upgraded – sometimes in advance of a problem occurring.
The biggest paradigm shift involves condition-based maintenance (CBM), which seeks to track the condition of an asset and perform maintenance on the asset only if the condition’s health reaches a certain level. This is backed up by data capture and analytical platforms. In other words, real-time data allows for maintenance only when it’s needed.
New practices and technology have several benefits, including:
- Higher availability for your essential equipment
- Reduced capital costs
- Longer asset lifecycles
- Less lost production time
- Predictable maintenance
Southern Field specializes in power plant maintenance that keeps equipment running on schedule, with a minimum of downtime. Contact us if you want more information about adapting to new trends in the industry and staying ahead of the curve.