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Fossil power plant residual life optimization in the USA

In the late 1970s and early 1980s US electric utilities were faced
escalating costs and slowdowns in adding new capacity of all types.
Nuclear programmes were scaled bac in the face of safety
concerns and increased regulations! while fossil plant construction
lagged due to higher interest rates and en"ironmental pressures.
#his created strong pressure to continue the operation to older
units. Now! howe"er! this emphasis is on unit economic optimi$ation
and plant profitability. #his theme was de"eloped in a greater detail
by #ony %rmor in his eynote address to the Ibeldrola &ife '(tension
Seminar in )ilbao! Spain on 1* +ebruary 199,.
)ased on current of e-uipment aging phenomena cannot operate
safely for ,0 to *0 years longer e"en though nearly half of all plants
ha"e traditionally been retired before before their fourtieth year of
ser"ice. .owe"er! preparing units for ser"ice beyond historic
retirement dates re-uires careful system planning to select the
appropriate units for continued and the de"elopment of the new
engineering methods for estimating the remaining useful life of
ser"ice/e(posed components.
#he term 0life optimi$ation1 is a more accurate description of
the present utility approach to what was pre"iously termed 0life
e(tension1. It recogni$es the economic realities of the steps needed
to eep an old fossil plant in ser"ice. In effect! the term underlines
the 0"alue/added1 for each in"ested dollar. %nd in an increasingly
competiti"e world! all operating units will by 2ustified on the basis of
generating a 3h as well as on the need capacity.
%t the same time! the utilities are conscious of shrining
reser"e margins and are aware that if older plants can4t supply the
power! it has to be found elsewhere. #his paper sees to put the
utility dilemma in perspecti"e. It re"iews ten years of 0life e(tension0
acti"ity in the Us in a climate dominated by en"ironmental legislation
and competiti"e forces! and reassesses the best approach for
handling and aging fleet of fossil plants.
Utility industry changes
5eregulation and compettion are causing a fundamental
reassessment of utility generation. #he process of buying fuel!
con"erting it to electricity! and selling it to customers in a specific
ser"ice area is a well defined process that utilities ha"e done well
for nearly 100 years. Now othersare mo"ing into each of these three
acti"ities with their own assets 6mainly new power plants7! causing
utilities to re/e"aluate the comparati"e worth of generating units that
may be 80 years older.
Utilities often see better opportunities noe in wheeling power
through the system to other utilities! or in ma(imi$ing profits from
fuel procurement acti"ities! or in building small plants in ser"ice
territories belonging to others! or e"en in di"ersification "entures
unrelated to electricity production. In such situation it becomes e"en
more important to mae o"erall assessments of e(isting power plant
worth and liely future operation.
In the early 19804s many utilities were considering life
e(tension costs of around 9:00 ; 800<3h to eep the older plants
operating reliabely. #hese estimetes were based on the possible
replacement of many ma2or components within the power plant.
.owe"er! bwcause of the adoption of sensible residuallife
assessment approaches and integrated corporate planning
acti"ities! most of these replacements and the associated costs
ha"e not occurred.
#he assesment of component condition for fossil/power plant
continues to be of ma2or importanceto utilities worldwide and is
clearely the prime focus of utility life optimi$ation programmes.
+igure = shows clearely that the reliability of power plant e-uipment
significantly decreases after =0 ; :0 years of ser"ice! so autility
programme of planned maintenance is critical to economic
operation of the plant.
Utility strategies
#he reality of the 0old plant1 dilemma in the United States is
that the following issues e(ist at the same time and! from an
economic "iewpoint! re-uire an optimi$ed approach>
1. Not enough new plants are planned in the ne(t 10 years to
reser"e margins! e"en if no fossil plant capacity is retired. #his
is liely to lead more short/cycles options! such as orders for
gas turbine based plants.
=. ?ld plants! greater than :0 years in age! can be operated
indefinitely! but at progresi"ely lower a"ailability as
maintenance demands increase.
:. ?ld plants are at ris when pitted against new constructions
since a"ailability and efficiency are liely to be lower. #hey will
also be called for more cycling duty! further eroding these
performance parameters. #herefore! utilities will be "ulnerable
to competition by aggressi"e I@@ 4s and co/generators for
prime industrial loads in the new competiti"e US en"ironment.
8. #he utility! in planning a life optimi$ation strategy! must wal
the fine line drawn by en"ironmental legislation. In particular! a
maintenance plan which calls for en"ironmental clean/up
e-uipment! such as scrubbers! can more than double the
capital in"estment re-uired for continued operation.
,. %ll up/grade decisions must be made in an en"ironment of
technical uncertainty. 5ecisions to replace! or not replace! ey
pieces of e-uipment can ha"e far/reaching conse-uences in
terms of future reliability. #his implies greater dependency on
state/of/the/art li"e estimation methods and modern decision
maing theory.
#o achie"e economically "iable a"ailability le"els in older fossil
fuel units! traditional maintenance practices are changing. % new set
of maintenance practices! based on on/line monitoring techni-ues!
as well as ad"anced off/line inspection and life assessment! can
help utilities determine the precise condition of ey components and
Aounting e"idence from the first wa"e of monitoring systems
in the US 6figure :7 supports the contention that by detecting and
diagnosing abnormal mechanical beha"ior at an early stage! utilities
can reduce plant downtime. @lant engineers and operators can use
information pro"ided by on/line monitors to a"oid a forced outage
and instead schedule the repairs.
Aaintenance personnel can use this information to determine
what maintenance to perform! and to ensure that spare parts! tools
and manpower are a"ailable when the e-uipment is taen out of
ser"ice. In addition! on/line monitoring reduces plant downtime and
labour costs during a scheduled outage because plant personnel
can tell when components are not in need of maintenance.
Aodern diagnostic systems for fossil and nuclear power plants
are generally based on microprocessor systems! which
automatically trac parameters of interest and flag abnormal
situations. ?ften! the in"estment in a specific diagnostic monitoring
system is easily offset by the a"oided costs of one unanticipated
#o demonstrate the full potential of the a"ailable and emerging
monitoring and diagnostic technologies! '@BI and @'C? 'nergy
6@hiladelphia7 ha"e integrated diagnostic/monitoring system into a
predicti"e maintenance programme for boilers! turbine generators!
en"ironmental controls! and balance/of/plant e-uipment at @'C?4s
'ddistone station 6figure 87 as described in A@S! Aay 1991.
3ith "irtually e"ery ma2or plant component permanently wired
with sensors and feeding continuous data through a fibre/optic
highway! operators and maintenance engineers at 'ddistone are
able! in real time! to obser"e the actual effects of operation on the
performance and wear of critical parts and subsystems.
#he signals from se"eral computer/monitoring systems are
integrated for display and analysis in a predicti"e maintenance
diagnostic center that addresses operator needs. Special hardware
and software interfaces ha"e been designed to bring the data from
incompatible computer operating systems under a common set of
diagnostic display terminals.
Utilities in the US ha"e embraced diagnostic monitoring
technology and '@BI gas documented utility benefits e(ceeding 119
million<year for member utilities.
Ad&ances in life assessment
&ife estimation is the cru( of the whole plant e"aluation
e(ercise. It must pro"ide estimates of creep life and cyclic life used
to dateD residual useful life remainingD operating parameters! which
can lengthen remaining useful life to delay ma2or replacements! and
finally a replacement schedule which can be integrated within future
operation and maintenance policy.
#his acti"ity suggest when ma2or e(penses in replacements
are re-uired! leading to a phase approach to life e(tension. #ypical
damage mechanisms are shown in #able 1.
"he role of NE in life e'tension
% through inspection of the high a"ailability/impact! long/end
time components forms the basis for assessing the current condition
and rate of degradation of the plant. '"aluating remaining life
depends critically on the ability to non/destructi"ely measure failure
related properties such as si$e of flaws! e(tent of microscopic
damage! and stress le"els.
Inspection findings and a"ailable operation history are used to
estimate remaining life! for an assumed future mode of operation
using correlations from accelerated creep stress/rupture and fatigue
data! along with fracture mechanics approaches for crac
propagation. 3hen actual material samples can be taen! such as
from boiler tubes and headers! test data can be more reliable.
.owe"er! significant uncertainties are associated long/range
estimations! particularly when the manufacturer4s design life has
been e(ceeded and the components are re-uired to operate outside
original safety margins.
#he scatter of material stress rupture data alone can cost the
actual component life to "ary by one to two orders of magnitude. %
reinspection inter"als must therefore be set and when warranted!
temperature! stress! and "ibration monitored! to increase confidence
in the estimated damage rates.
Superheater and reheater tubes : #he predominant long term
failure mechanism in high/temperature superheater and reheater
tubes is creep. Se"eral damage accumulation algorithms are
a"ailable for estimating the remaining life of ferritic and austenitic
steels under creep conditions. #o apply these algorithms!
information on the temperature and stress history of the tubes is
Stress history is readily a"ailable from the internal pressure
loading and the wall thicness of the tubes! which decreases o"er8
time due to the effects of solid particle erosion! fireside corrosion!
and steam o(idation. Aetal temperature is more difficult to estimate!
because of the "ariable insulating effects of slag and fly ash! and
the thermal barrier of the steamside o(id scale. Some plants ha"e
instrumented superheater sections with thermocouples to obtain
direct temperature measurements.
Steam pipes: In the wae of in/ser"ice failures of se"eral
longitudinal seam/welded hot reheat pipes! '@BI de"eloped a guide
line describing procedures for screening! inspecting and e"aluating
seam/welded pipes in a phased manner. % computer code for
performing crac growth fracture mechanics analysis 6S&IC7 was
also de"eloped as part of this effort.
% sur"ey of industry e(perience on seam/weld cracing
re"ealed that e"idence of damage is not always obser"able by
surface replication. #herefore! a prudent approach to pipe
e"aluations should include crac growth an analysis of actual or
assumed buried cracs.
Headers: #he principal damage mechanism in superheater
and reheater outlet headers are creep and thermal fatigue. Stub
tube to header welds! butt welds! and longitudinal seam welds are
susceptible to creep damage on the ?5! while tube/to/tube
ligaments are susceptible to thermal fatigue damage on the I5!
particularly in superheater outlet headers.
Aicrostructural damage in welds consists primarily of
ca"itation at grain boundaries and thermal softening within the
grains due to microstructural degradation and precipitate
coarsening. #hus! life assessments of headers re-uire e"aluation of
creep ca"itation and thermal softening! as well as accurate
detection and si$ing of cracs.
Steam turbine rotors and disks: In contrast to the difficulty in
determining stresses and temperatures of headers and piping! the
boundary conditions and geometries of turbine rotors are well
enough defined to allow accurate finite element calculations of
temperature and stress histories. #he ey issues in rotor remaining
life estimates are flaw distribution and ser"ice/induced changes in
materials properties such as fatigue damage and temper
'@BI has de"eloped the S%+'B code for fracture mechanics
analysis of rotors. S%+'B input consists of information on rotor
geometry! flaw distribution obtained from ultrasonic inspections!
history of past transients! and assumptions concerning future
transients. S%+'B performs lining calculations to determine
whether clusters of small ultrasonic indication should be treated as a
single! larger flaws in the fracture mechanics analysis. :9 utilities
ha"e aggregated 91*8 million in ?EA sa"ings using S%+'B.
Uncontrolled and unnown shaft cracing can lead to
catastrophic failures of the turbine. So serious is this concern that
life e(penditure cur"es 6figure ,7 ha"e been deduced based on the
rate of increase of temperature in the rotor forging during start/stop.
?n/line stress analy$ers trac this temperature increase during each
transient! accumulating damage and warning of any significant loss
of life of the rotor forging.
Impro&ed materials
New materials can be used to significantly impro"e the
a"ailability and e(tend the life of boilers and turbines. In spite of the
generally higher costs of these more creep and corrosion resistant
materials! a"ailability sa"ings easily pay bac the initial in"estment.
#hese enhancements include>
Superheater<reheater tubing with high chromium cladding
to pre"ent corrosion by coal ash
.igh strength #91 water wall tubing particularly for
supercritical units
Cast "al"e bodies and wrought piping of @91 steel for
impro"ed creep life under cycling duty
.igh pressure and intermediate pressure rotors of
impro"ed 1=/Cr steel for impro"ed creep life under
cycling duty
&ow pressure rotors of super/clean :.,NiCrAoF steel
which a"oid temper embrittlement.
Modified 9Cr-1Mo> ?f particular interest to utilities is the
de"elopment of a superior ferritic steel with much impro"ed creep
strength. ?a Bidge National &aboratory and Combustion
'ngineering! ha"e produced a wrought 9Cr/1Ao steel 6nown as
super 9 Chrome7 originally for the piping of the li-uid metalD fast
breeder reactor.
#his fully martensitic steel! @91! has about the same ,:9
+7 creep strength as :08 stainless! but greatly superior
thermal properties. It has application for "al"e bodies! inner casings!
steam chests and other hea"y cast components. #he composition of
the wrought @91 alloy is suitable for casting as well as for piping.
#he @91 alloy is easier to weld and re-uires less preheat than the
well;nown G=0CrAoF casting steel used e(tensi"ely for high
temperature ser"ice in 'urope. Het @91 has e-ui"alent creep
strength to G=0 and much superior creep strength to 1CrAoF 6figure
Super 9 chrome has been widely used in the US for boiler
tubing! as well as for steam lines. In a recent application at San
5iego Ias and 'lectric4s 'ncina station cracing was eliminated in
two main steam lines! and also at &ower Colorado Bi"er %uthority
for replacement steam headers.