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Running Plants with Skeleton Staffing

Posted August 23, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Decades ago, most coal-fired power plants had high numbers of staff with diverse training. Plenty has changed since then, thanks to coal being largely replaced by gas-fired combined-cycle power generation and also co-generation. These newer facilities feature lower operating costs and minimal staffing, but that means that a small number of technical personnel are now expected to handle numerous tasks, including makeup water system operation and steam generator chemistry monitoring. Do technicians have all the training they need to handle this increased workload? Engineering360 examines steam generator control and monitoring in the age of minimal staffing.

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Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 102
Good Answers: 1

Re: Running Plants with Skeleton Staffing

08/23/2016 12:56 PM

Sounds like every other business around today, the owners expect you to do more with less.


Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: South of Minot North Dakota
Posts: 8399
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In reply to #1

Re: Running Plants with Skeleton Staffing

08/24/2016 6:53 PM

And yet they continually show that they can do less with their more money.


Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Tucson, AZ
Posts: 895
Good Answers: 23

Re: Running Plants with Skeleton Staffing

08/23/2016 2:22 PM

"One man" operation...until they leave for the bathroom.

...and the Devil said: "...yes, but it's a DRY heat..!"

Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: Seoul, Republic of Korea
Posts: 289
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Re: Running Plants with Skeleton Staffing

08/24/2016 12:35 AM

This article does seem to miss a rather large elephant on the key difference between coal and gas fired power stations ie fuel handling.

At coal fired PS railheads are needed; mechanical handling to unload reload coal; mechanical crushers; soot blowers in the furnace ash removal and disposal. Some of this kit is vast; expensive and uses huge amounts of energy. Oh and needs a large maintenance team.

With a Gas combined cycle one pipe (OK its bigger than the one into my house and higher pressure but the principle is the same) that can be added to the areas covered by your piping and instrument teams and more or less that's it.

Modern instrumentation does reduce man power needs as well but I can NOT (actually scrub that its a stupid idea that saves money so of course they are going to do it) believe that PSs would cut back on manpower in the steam circuit - this is more complex in a combined cycle with HRSG so I'd want more analysis from more places.

The UK will soon close its last coal station (currently 4% of load is coal) with Gas (in 2015 the US still used 33% from coal which is a shed load of power) but India / China are the big users as are my hosts in Korea. SO the idea that they are a thing of the past seems to miss the mark

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Join Date: Apr 2016
Posts: 34
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In reply to #3

Re: Running Plants with Skeleton Staffing

08/24/2016 6:02 PM

Don't forget the problems of ash collection and handling, more complex pollution control equipment, and monitoring and reporting the effectiveness of such.

And when I started in coal fired plant work, the differential between coal and gas cost per MMBtu usually was about 3 or 4 to 1 in favor of coal. Now, gas cost has dropped dramatically. Additionally, the increased thermal efficiency of combined cycles leaves the old coal fired systems at a Btu per MW disadvantage, so yes, companies are very reluctant to spend the costs to keep them up properly.

Add to that it seems to me that as corporations have grown through mergers and increasing bureaucracy, less is spent on maintaining and more is wasted in corporate upper and middle management. Lawyers have replaced engineers in the decision process!

"Deregulation" of the utility companies which developed through the 90's, allowed companies to de-couple their generating, transmission, and generating capacities. In almost all of the US, power is purchased from a company different than the entity that generates it. This creates a further "dis-incentive" for generation companies to spend money for preventive maintenance over cost cutting for the bottom line.

Additionally, I see a large trend in larger utility companies "farming out" their capacity to third party contract generation companies (Independent Power Producers, or IPP's), who have little obligation to the individual utility customer base and free the larger corporation from direct Utility and Environmental Regulatory pressures. These are not likely to be coal fired facilities, since the front costs of constructing and starting the large fuel and environmental facilities drive them out of the market. My work with these contract generators has shown me that they are not into preventive maintenance, but run till it stops type of maintenance.

I guess us old coal fans need to pray for higher gas prices. Just three years ago, I found out my sister and I were the beneficiaries of an old farm estate in central Texas that was going to have a gas well drilled. Our income from our 3/164th's jumped from 37 cents in 2014 to 67 cents in 2015. If it keeps doubling every year, we'll be millionaires by 2045. Or maybe our kids....

OK, I'm putting my soap box away. There are a number of factors that drive this, and IMHO, have left the productive arm of utilities in and exposed and unsustainable position, in the long term.

Real men don't set for stun!
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