How Can Plant Maintenance Improve Heat Rate and Thermal Efficiency?

plant maintenance

Heat rate improvement and thermal efficiency enhancement is the name of the game for power plants today. With each percentage point of improvement, a plant gains bottom-line benefits that justify the investment of the improvements.

But big capital projects aren’t the only initiatives that can improve heat rate and thermal efficiency in power plants. A robust, regular maintenance program can provide an extra benefit, not just in thermal efficiency but in overall performance and plant productivity.

Here, we’ll discuss some of the efficiency gains to be had by ongoing plant maintenance in crucial areas and the payback periods for these initiatives.

Improving Heat Rate through Plant Maintenance

Heat rate is a metric that measures how much heat energy is required to produce a unit of work, frequently 1 kW. It is expressed in Btu/kWh. You can take heat rate and find thermal efficiency by dividing 3,412 by the heat rate and multiplying by 100 to get a percentage.

Maintenance can affect heat rate because much of the heat energy – and other forms of energy in the complete production process – comes through inefficient, damaged, eroded, or dirty equipment.

By focusing on keeping everything clean and in good repair, a plant can improve heat rate and gain a few critical points of efficiency.

For example, cleaning and repairing condensers and getting rid of air leaks can provide a heat rate benefit of anywhere from 0.3% to 2%, with payback period of less than a year. A regular condenser maintenance program, then, has enormous potential for improvement.

Monitoring and maintaining the feedwater heater – and making repairs and upgrades proactively and aggressively – can further boost efficiency by anywhere from 0.2% to 1%, with payback in 1-3 years.

Cleaning turbine deposits on an ongoing basis and keeping turbine parts clean and free of debris and buildup can provide as much as a 3.5% increase in benefits, with payback from 2-4 years.

Building a Better Maintenance Program

The benefits of a strong maintenance program should be apparent. Efficiency is the holy grail of power plant production. While much of the gains that can be made can be realized through major capital projects, such as boiler upgrades and replacements, a significant amount of improvement can be realized through simply keeping everything in working order.

A better maintenance program is regularly-scheduled, timely, and comprehensive. Every major process area and component should be checked on an ongoing basis. Far too often, plant managers call maintenance specialists only when they need emergency repairs. Proactive maintenance can save money by eliminating the need for most emergency repairs, in addition to the bottom-line gains achieved by higher efficiency rates.

Consider beefing up your plant’s maintenance program to capture those elusive extra points of thermal efficiency, and improve the bottom line of your plant’s operations.

For more information, read our blog post: 4 Hidden Industrial Plant Problems That Cost Big Money.