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Blog: Rapidly Changing Role of Combined Cycle Power Plants

External photo of a Combined Cycle Power Plant

The electric utility industry is changing rapidly. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said its most recent data shows about 17,000 MW of coal generation capacity was retired between January 2017 and June 2018-about 6,300 MW in 2017, and about 10,650 MW in the first six months of 2018.

While there is increased conservation throughout most sectors, the use of electricity in the United States is at an all-time high. The loss of the coal fired generating stations and the retirement of some of our nuclear plants is putting the burden of electrical production on the rapidly expanding renewable markets (primarily wind and solar), and gas fired simple and combined cycle plants. This is not surprising.

Modern combined cycle plants are hovering around 60% efficiency as opposed to 35% average efficiency for coal plants. Combined cycle plants requires 80% fewer workers per MW to sustain their operation, substantially reducing their operating cost. Gas prices are very low, and using natural gas for electrical generation produces approximately 65% to 85% less carbon dioxide per MW of generation than coal. It is easy to see why coal fired plants are being rapidly replaced by other, cheaper, cleaner sources in the United States.

The increased dependency on gas fired combined cycle plants is rapidly changing how they are operated. Ten years ago the average combined cycle plant was started and stopped several times a week to cover peak generation periods. The baseload generation was relegated to the coal and nuclear plants. As the coal and nuclear plants are being phased-out, combined cycle plants are increasingly being put into baseload operation.

Operators that once routinely started and shutdown their plants are now sitting on continuously running (baseload) units. I was recently in a combined cycle plant that had operators, due to shift schedules, holidays, etc. that had not seen or experienced a start-up or shutdown in over 5 years. How does an operator maintain proficiency of plant operation under these conditions?

The only answer to this is simulation. The combined cycle industry has been slow to adopt simulation for their training needs because of minimal manpower and the relatively high cost of a simulator making it cost prohibitive to them. However, as the industry moves to more baseload combined cycle plants, simulation becomes cost effective.

SimGenics has cost effective solutions that include high fidelity, real-time simulators that identically match the plant and we also have a number of generic, non plant-specific simulators that can be effectively used to teach cause and effect and fundamentals.

We have substantially reduced the cost of high fidelity simulators with our SimuPact simulation development tools. SimuPact is the latest, arguably the best simulation development tool on the market today. If there is interest in finding out more about SimuPact, or any of our product lines please contact us.

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