Power Plant Technology: The Keys to a Successful Upgrade

David Flin

Here's a look at the problems involved in a power plant technology retrofit, along with solutions.

It is crucial to keep up to date with the latest power plant technology in order to retain a competitive edge as technology advances. However, operators must balance out the benefits and the costs of installing new technology.

There are many competing factors to weigh during power plant technology upgrades. For example, increasing efficiency in a gas turbine can involve increasing firing temperature, which can result in increased NOx emissions. Linking improvements across the whole plant enables you to improve performance and reduce emissions. Managing the performance of your assets is a vital and complex task.

New and more stringent regulations have required upgrades in two areas in particular. They are:

Environmental Performance

Utilities and power generating companies have to comply with new environmental regulations and improve the performance of their plants. However, upgrading has to be carried out in a way that limits the impact it has on operations and revenue. Some considerations that need to be taken into account include:

  • Technology solutions that enable compliance with environmental regulations
  • Local supply
  • Shorter lead times
  • Limiting outage schedules
  • Limiting the impact on tariffs
  • Improving plant performance and reliability
  • Flexible operations with fast ramping and lower load operation

A complicating factor that can arise during the upgrade of old units is that sometimes the data and plans for the original equipment may not be available. OEMs can go out of business, and original drawings can get mislaid.

Emission control equipment may use catalysts or reagents, and these can have an impact on the environment. It is essential to use and dispose of by-products in an environmentally friendly manner.

Emissions Reductions

There are several different types of emission affected by tighter regulations, including particulate matter, SOx, NOx, and CO2. The most effective way of reducing such emissions is by increasing plant efficiency. Technology options for directly reducing emissions include fabric filters and electrostatic precipitators to control PM levels and wet and dry flue gas desulfurization to control SOx levels. There are two different technologies available for dry flue gas desulfurization: sprayer dryer absorber and novel integrated desulfurization (NID).

The choice of a particular technology is dependent on several factors. These factors include:

  • Space availability in the plant
  • Availability of water
  • Availability of reagent
  • Disposal of end use of by-product
  • Execution time and shutdown time required

When a plant carries out upgrades, there are factors beyond the cost of the technology that asset managers have to take into account, along with the costs of installation. These factors can be divided into three categories: time, space, and money.


The time cost includes the lost returns for the period when the plant is offline during the upgrade installation. A typical upgrade will involve an outage of one to two months. Self-evidently, the best time to install upgrades is during periods when the plant is offline for maintenance.

To reduce lost time and prevent lost time during installation, it is valuable to schedule, plan, and, where possible, practice the upgrade operations before they are carried out. Some firms have taken to using virtual reality to prepare operators for the upgrade work. This approach offers the additional benefit of determining where potential equipment clashes might arise.


Space can be a problem in many facilities, especially those with capacity below 500 MW. These can have a lack of space to install new equipment, and access can sometimes be particularly challenging. It can also be challenging to install new emission control equipment.

The solution to this is careful planning. Make sure that access is possible and that the working areas are clear. These are obvious steps, but they can be neglected, particularly when it comes to planning routes to move large equipment through the facility.


The cost of the equipment, the cost of installation, and the loss of revenue while the plant is offline are also major constraints on upgrades. There can even be additional costs for the safe disposal of by-products of systems designed to reduce emission levels.

The most cost-effective way to reduce emission levels is generally to increase efficiency levels. In addition to avoiding the need to dispose of catalyst waste, plants that increase efficiency can reduce fuel costs. Upgrading can bring about significant benefits. If all existing power plants were upgraded to their full potential, total efficiency could be increased by around 10 percent.

Industrial Internet

The Industrial Internet is revolutionizing the management of industrial assets and will be a key component of all power plants. The assets, which are typically directly responsible for production at the plants, can be managed efficiently through sensors, data analytics, and the Industrial Internet. Data analytics can achieve cost-effective improvements. By combining digitally enabled solutions like condition-based maintenance and operation improvement, fuel efficiency and maintenance intervals can be enhanced.

As an example of what is possible, a software upgrade of a CCGT was carried out on the Enfield and Grain plants in the UK. This increased capacity by 4 percent, extended plant maintenance intervals by 33 percent, increased overall plant efficiency by 0.4 percent, reduced fuel consumption, and increased plant flexibility.

The units are being upgraded when they are taken out of service for scheduled maintenance outages. This is fairly typical for the installation of data analytics systems. They can be installed quickly and easily and produce significant improvements with relatively little disruption.

The key to a successful upgrade is preparation. Preparation of the site is important to ensure that everything is ready for a smooth transition, along with preparation of the personnel installing the new equipment and preparation of the operators for when the equipment is installed.


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