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Over the Decades, Power Industry Manages Constant Change 
Author:  2016-4-21 15:44:13 
Source:Mike Pemberton 

    The electric utility industry has experienced constant change over the past four decades, even on a scale greater than most other process industries. Throughout my career, I have witnessed these changes.

    In 1974, I began my career working as a chemist in the environmental department of Alabama Power Company. The Clean Water Act had passed Congress in 1972 and the Clean Air Act in 1963, both amendments to existing environmental legislation.

    In response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new regulations, Alabama Power built a modern laboratory complex equipped with the latest analytical instruments and staffed mostly by young science graduates. From a focus on the basics of sample collection and water, air, coal and biological analysis, the utility's environmental services department has grown into one of the largest and most influential departments inside and outside the company.

    My next experience with major change in the power industry was as a direct salesman for a distributed control systems (DCS) supplier to industry. In 1975, the first DCS was developed by my employer, and by 1980 these microprocessor-based systems were replacing pneumatic and analog controls across all process industries. The electric utility industry was the exception. As a regulated monopoly, power companies were not subject to the same level of competitive pressure as other free-enterprise-managed firms. As such, electric utilities were somewhat resistant to changing from the established boiler control technologies to what one industry leader called "this Buck Rogers stuff" at the end of one of my presentations.

    Nevertheless, in 1981, I received the first-ever order for a DCS on a U.S. electric utility boiler. Today, practically every electric utility plant around the globe is controlled by a DCS that has the inherent ability to adapt easily to boiler load change.

    As technology and automation relentlessly march forward with regulatory and fuel-mix changes that continue to impact the power industry's day-to-day operation, a new and vital frontier for the industry is coming into focus.

    The Hydraulic Institute's (HI) Power Plant Pumps Committee empaneled a team of industry experts to share their knowledge on the design, selection and optimization of pump systems for mission-critical applications. The organization recently published Power Plant Pumps: Guidelines for Application and Operation, which outlines applications and facility operations with a focus on maximizing efficiency and achieving dramatic improvements in reliability and control.

    Optimization will dramatically reduce motor, pump seal and bearing failures. It also means plant availability will increase toward theoretical maximum. Also, when optimum boiler feed water control is combined with tighter combustion control, plant heat rates can be optimized.

    To address change and facilitate adaptation within the power industry, the HI guidebook is timely as it addresses each specific process, including startup and shutdown procedures. The book addresses a range of operating parameters, including information related to pumping equipment, fluid characteristics, standards and best practices.

    While change is inevitable, the stakeholders in power generation are important partners that bring innovation and new approaches to support the health and vitality of the industry. This guidebook will play an important role in answering essential questions that will help the industry meet the need for an always reliable and affordable source of electricity.

    About the Author
    Mike Pemberton is the senior technical editor for Pumps & Systems. He may be reached at mpemberton@cahabamedia.com.