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Helping thermal power plants operate ‘closer to the edge’ — How traditional power can be profitable in the age of renewables

by | Jul 26, 2018 | Simulation & Training

They say that trends blow from the West to the East. That blowing trend is wind (and solar) power.

While each region’s energy mix is different, traditional power plants burning coal and natural gas are greatly affected by the movement toward renewable energy generation. As a result of the inherent intermittence of renewable energy, these thermal power generation plants are having a major about-face in terms of their operations strategy.

Plants that were often rewarded for operating above full load are now tasked with adjusting their megawatt outputs every 15 minutes or less. A plant may need to adjust output as low as possible to avoid selling MW at a loss when renewables generation is high, while just as quickly increasing output to meet demand when the wind stops blowing. These plants are probably, insufficiently compensated for their contribution to grid stability.

Regardless, coal and natural gas power plants are testing the lower limits of their output. Operating ‘closer to the edge’ increases the risk of damaging equipment or tripping offline. Plants that can prove their ability to do so, in a safe and stable manner, have a better chance of profitability in this new era of energy generation.

A focus on improved operations training and enhanced engineering evaluations, coupled with a true high-fidelity simulator, helps ensure that your plant and your operators are up to the task.

Operations Training

Coal and natural gas plant operators have been trained their whole careers to start up their plant and run it at full capacity until there is a maintenance or forced outage. Cycling the megawatt output multiple times per day is often not what the plant was designed for and increases the risk of damaging plant equipment or tripping offline.

The prevalence of risk is compounded by the fact that so many experienced operators have recently retired. Now these plants have less experienced operators doing more ‘closer to the edge’ operations, more frequently.

Use a true, high-fidelity simulator to train and let your plant staff practice ‘closer to the edge’ operations.  Without high-fidelity, there is no real way to determine if you are getting accurate enough results to implement plant-side.  It’s a numbers game, and not having true high-fidelity just doesn’t add up.

  • Develop new or fine tune your operating procedures
  • Give operators confidence in fast start, fast ramp, and low load operations
  • Prepare operators to recognize and react correctly to alarms and equipment issues

Engineering Evaluations

Conventional power plants were often built to run full bore. The upgraded control systems that will allow these plants to complete load changes and operate at a lower generating capacity are expensive investments. The cold hard truth is that utilities aren’t likely to invest in fixing major issues at traditional power plants.

Give your plant the chance it needs to operate efficiently and to succeed with a true high-fidelity simulator:

  • Test process control strategies to make sure that your new control system is using automation as best as it can
  • Test new operating procedures for dynamic operations
  • Validate new controls logics in a Virtual DCS to replicate on the plant DCS
  • Virtually commission a new process loop or unit operation being added to the plant


Renewable energy is an increasingly larger part of the energy mix. Conventional power plants burning coal and natural gas need to seize every opportunity to be profitable in this new energy era.

A true, high-fidelity simulator can give these thermal plants a leg up on the competition, enabling them to operate ‘closer to the edge’ safely.

Contact us to learn more about how GSE’s true, high-fidelity simulators have helped traditional power plants with operations training and engineering evaluations for their ‘closer to the edge’ operations.

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