Electricity is a fundamental part of all modern societies, and its role is growing. In America, for example, electricity consumption was 3.8 trillion kWh in 2020, 13 times more than it was in 1950.
To meet demand, both governments and private organizations have developed a variety of systems for generating power, based on the availability of resources such as primary fuel or energy flow, technological advancements, and tolerance for different types of risk.
But with all the progress, there remains one constant: the need for power plant asset management.
Before looking at their asset management, it's important to first define what they are.
What is a power plant?
A power plant is an industrial facility that converts primary energy into electricity. In some ways, it's similar to a manufacturing plant: the feed stock is some form of primary energy while the finished product is electricity.
What are the common types of power plants?
Although they share the same output, people tend to categorize power plants according to their different feeder fuels. So, for example, a coal plant is different than a nuclear power plant.
But there are two broader categories, thermal and flow, related to how the plant generates the movement that is then converted to electricity.
Here, water is heated to create steam that then passes through pipes to rotate the blades of a turbine. There are many ways you could heat the water, with coal and nuclear power being two of the most common. In some plants, solar energy is directed at water to convert it to steam.
There is still a spinning turbine in these systems, but the input energy is coming from a different source than steam. In a hydroelectric power plant, it's the energy from falling water. With wind turbines, it's the wind, while the movement of photons from the sun are what give solar energy plants their power.
What is power plant asset management?
It's how you keep the lights on.
Power plant asset management is the system of policies and procedure you use to ensure assets and equipment at the power plant are up and running. Through a comprehensive combination of different asset strategies, including preventive and condition-based maintenance, you find and fix small issues before they have a chance to grow into giant problems.
What are the challenges of power plant asset management?
There are many. First, energy production tends to involve large, complex assets and equipment. For example, according to the Department of Energy, the average hub height and blade size for wind turbines have been steadily increasing since the late nineties. In 2020, the average hub height was a full 295 feet, with predictions for 495 feet by 2035.
Another problem is that assets and equipment are spread out across large geographical areas. Even when everything is inside one site, the distances between assets are vast. So, one of the advantages of a nuclear power plant is that it takes up much less room than other types of plants. One reactor is 360 times smaller than a wind farm that produces the same amount of electricity. That said, nuclear power plants still require just over one square mile of space.
Additionally, energy is a highly regulated industry, with extensive safety requirements. There's a lot of mandated work, including both inspections and maintenance, that you have to not only complete on schedule but also accurately document. As with regulatory compliance across industries, doing the work is only half the battle. You need to be able to prove you did it, too.
What are the benefits of asset management?
There are many, spread out across many categories of consumers and stakeholders.
More reliable assets translate directly into fewer disruptions, and that means everyone saves money. The American Department of Energy estimates that outages cost the nation $150 billion every year. It's a big number until you start to consider how many people are affected. The manufacturing industry loses hours of production time while individual homeowners see the food in their fridges spoil. Gas stations cannot pump gas, while retail locations cannot ring up sales.
There are also more specific, direct benefits for the facility and maintenance managers responsible for keeping power plants online. With carefully managed assets, there are fewer surprises, big and small. Everything runs more smoothly when you're able to plan it out in advance. When you can make small ongoing fixes instead of massive repairs and replacements, the maintenance team can work more carefully, ensuring they do everything properly, following industry regulations and current best practices.
And properly maintained assets last longer, delivering a longer, stronger return on the initial investment.
How does an EAM solution support efficient power plant management?
You can't keep up the maintenance on power plant assets and equipment using out-of-date technology. With paper or spreadsheets, you're always a step behind, playing catch-up, and never getting out ahead of problems.
Modern enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions deliver the combination of features facility and maintenance managers need to keep things flowing. At the core of the system is a central database accessible from anywhere, ensuring the whole department is looking at and working with the same up-to-date data sets.
Remember, two of the main challenges with power plants are that the assets are complex and that they are spread out. EAM has dependable answers for both.
First, because all the work orders are digital, you never have to worry about finding room to pack in all the information techs need to work smart. You can build templates full of instructions, safety precautions, associated parts and materials, and even images and schematics, which you can add to new work orders with just a few clicks. Second, because everything is done online, you can reach out to techs in real time no matter where they are onsite. If you need a tech on the other side of the building to quickly address a failure, you can send an instant notification through the software. If you need a tech on top of a wind turbine to update you on their progress, again, you can reach them right through the software.
Power plants produce the electricity that moves modern society. There are many ways to divide them into types, but two of the larger categories are thermal, where water is turned to steam to spin turbines, and flow, where, for example, falling water is used to spin turbines. Power plant asset management is the collection of procedures, policies, and maintenance strategies facility and maintenance managers use to keep the lights on. Many of the challenges come from the complexity of the assets and equipment, and the fact they are spread out over large areas. But when done correctly, asset management helps save time, effort, and money for many different types of consumers and stakeholders. Modern EAM software with a focus on energy asset management makes the entire process easier by helping you keep your data both centralized and accessible. You can ensure techs have the information they need to work efficiently and that they are reachable regardless of how close or far away they might be.
About the author
Jonathan has been covering asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions since joining Hippo CMMS. Prior to that, he wrote for textbooks and video games.