Keeping an eye open to developments in uprating and refurbishment can benefit new facilities as much as old ones. Janet Wood reports
What is the reason that uprating and refurbishment is such a fast-growing part of the water power and dam industries? The easy answer is the thousands of facilities that are not fulfilling the function for which they were designed. There are hydro power plants that produce a fraction of the power offered on their name plant — whether because they have been poorly maintained, because they are in a punishing environment, or simply because their components are at the end of their design life. Similarly, there are dams impounding reservoirs that are half full; for example, because recent hydrology data requires them to be strengthened.
The more difficult answer is that uprating and refurbishment does not only concern facilities that are old or that suffer unusual conditions. It is a constant concern of all water power and dam operators whose aim is to ensure their plant is operated in the most efficient and cost-effective way. Perhaps in the past, once facilities were built and commissioned, the question of ensuring that technology remained up to date could be left for five years, ten years, or even twenty years. The attitude of ‘start it up, and let it run’ is evident in the large number of plants where routine documentation such as as-built specifications is incomplete, inaccurate, or simply no longer in existence. Now, however, wise operators keep a weather eye out for new developments that have something to offer them.
Partly this awareness is because of new developments in technology. Com-puterised control systems are a good example. Software systems can help the user operate in a very cost effective manner, but development in this area is very rapid, and users can typically find it worthwhile to replace their control system after around 15 years of use. Partly this search for new developments is due to the number of new operators entering the hydro industry. Operating hydroelectric plants as private generating capacity, or dams as private sector suppliers of water, the concern of such users is to produce the maximum return from their investment, and to continue producing that return for as long as possible.
The underlying issue for all users is one of resources. Finding and developing new dam and hydro sites is a time consuming and expensive process. It is cheaper by far to uprate an existing plant; to gain a few kW extra by improving water use; to manage maintenance better and so reduce downtime; to use new materials that age more slowly and are replaced at longer intervals; or to refurbish and revive an existing plant.
This view must ultimately extend through all the phases of the life of a hydropower plant or dam — the long design lives of our facilities notwithstanding. From the very start of the design and construction phases an eye to the immediate and far future will consider whether the facility is designed for ease of maintenance and upgrading. From the start of commissioning, the maintenance and operating regimes will be designed with the long term in view.
Learning about URHP
The enormous and varied volume of work under way in uprating and refurbishment is reflected on the following pages and in the issues discussed in detail at IWP&DC’s Uprating and Refurbishment 99 meeting to be held on 16-19 May. The meeting’s Berlin venue provides an ideal focal point where representatives from industries from west and east Europe can meet, and illustrates the different conditions that are driving this vibrant market sector.
Delegates from eastern Europe will bring to the meeting experience of, and plans for, work on plants that have been neglected, in some cases for many years. There is a spirit of growth in the air in the water power industries of the east: as plant owners in the region enter the private sector they are examining their assets and are making a heartening investment in hydro generation. Refurb-ishing plants that are not operating to their full potential, and reviving plants that have been neglected or damaged offers a route to provide much needed electricity quickly, without incurring the uncertain future cost and environmental burden of thermal fuels. This hidden capacity is not only of interest in eastern Europe.
Delegates from western Europe may wish they were operating in the expanding market that is a likely future for their eastern neighbours. Western Europe’s hydro owners are facing a future in which they must compete directly, in an open market, with other electricity suppliers. But it is in this market that uprating and refurbishment comes into its own: hydro’s fuel comes free of charge, so increased capacity and increased efficiency can translate directly to offering more economic electricity and retaining hydro’s market share.
The lessons and histories of these two regions bear directly upon each other, and as always at URHP the opportunity to share this experience directly will send delegates home enriched. They will also be able to draw on the experiences of the rest of the world, as this meeting’s truly global reach, amply demonstrated in previous years, is once more in evidence. As the brief examples on these pages show, uprating and refurbishment is a worldwide concern.
The small exhibition associated with the meeting will allow delegates to gain immediate information from companies working in the field. Among the exhibitors:
•Lokomo Steels will provide information on its continuing work on specialist concrete, and will have experience to offer from the many projects it has completed.
•Heitmann will show how improved documentation provides a basis for continuing maintenance and upgrading work, drawing on experience working with Alstom hydro and Stone & Webster, among others.
•Kvaerner’s exhibition will include its latest work on structural integrity assessment, and its work with the Dinorwig pumped storage plant.
•Kunz will focus on upgrading of hydraulic steel structures, explaining how this equipment can be upgrade, and will offer experience from recent projects.
•Sumitomo and Obermeyer’s experience with rubber dams and spillway gates, will be presented by agents MBP.
•Sulzer Hydro will highlight its recent refurbishment projects.
•Lafarge Aluminates will show how its anti-abrasion concrete provides protection from cavitation, with recent examples.
•Michell Bearings will show its state of the art bearings.
•carpi and Vriens will show experiences in installing geomembranes, including the Lost Creek project (see panel).