Available Options for Power Plant Operator Training Courses

Second, only to the more recent Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences, the nation’s ailing electricity supply, rolling blackouts, and the organisation responsible for fixing the problem have long been hot topics in South Africa. While getting things back on track will require Eskom to make a substantial investment in infrastructure, this is not the only problem. Trained personnel with experience in the electricity generating industry are few and far between. Consequently, a concurrent investment in power plant operator training courses will be equally crucial.

Give the existing difficulties in maintaining a continuous, stable electricity supply, it would not be a great idea to pass the controls to a team of trainees even under the closest supervision. To ensure that a trainee can become sufficiently familiar with the process control systems and their human-machine interface requires a safe but efficient alternative to the somewhat risky hands-on approach. That said, a plant operator’s role is a predominately practical one. Therefore, chalk and talk is not the recommended approach when conducting a power plant operator training course. So what is the answer?

The Simulated Training Environment

Anyone who has played a video game will be familiar with simulations. Innovative young developers write computer code to create realistic and compelling scenarios in which a gamer can experience the sensation of life in a fantasy world. Typically, the goal of these games might be to overcome various hazards while in search of treasure, to drive an F1 car to victory in one of the world’s Grand Prix venues, or to defeat invading aliens and save the planet. 

When applied to power plant operator training courses, the same technology can create a duplicate workplace. During a session, trainees are free to practice critical operations within a simulated workspace where there will be no real-life consequences in the event of an error. If they should happen to make a mistake, there will be no unplanned outage affecting half of some metropolitan area. Instead, the system is designed to provide trainees with the chance to continue repeating a given process until they are proficient and confident. 

Are simulated activities genuinely an effective means to conduct power plant operator training courses? It is a common enough question and, to answer it, it is only necessary to look at how the world’s major airlines school their trainee pilots. They certainly would not consider placing them in the left-hand seat of an Airbus A380 while an experienced captain delivers instructions from the right-hand position. Even a pilot who has clocked up hundreds of flying hours must spend time on a simulator before being allowed to take the controls of a new and unfamiliar aircraft. 

A mistake made by a trainee during an on-the-job power plant operator training course could have consequences that, in the live environment, might be considered just as serious as a badly-executed landing by a rookie pilot. By contrast, the use of simulators for training purposes has shown repeatedly that it has the potential to achieve as much in a few hours as several weeks of on-the-job instruction.

Generating plants often undergo upgrades that can involve installing new systems. Like the seasoned flyer tasked with piloting an unfamiliar jetliner, even the most experienced plant operators will need some practice on the new installation to get them up to speed. For them, simulated power plant operator training courses are also the way to go. The simulated environment can partially mimic the live workplace or reproduce it in every last detail.

Likewise, the training content covered can be as limited or comprehensive as required. For example, a given simulation could cover specific processes only, such as steady-state operation and handling startups and shutdowns. A more comprehensive programme might also include adjustment to variations in demand, runbacks, and turndowns.

Undoubtedly, the greatest strength of using a software programme to simulate the power plant environment when conducting operator training courses is its ability to provide a safe and effective way for experienced and new personnel to practice dealing with every possible emergency. With enough simulated practice, an operator will be able to respond to a real emergency almost without thinking. 

For generic or bespoke simulations covering coal, oil-fired and hybrid operations, and nuclear plants, SimGenics is a world leader in developing advanced simulations for power plant operator training courses.

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