Is it Time to Upgrade Your Power Plant Operator Training?

While the theoretical aspects can be taught effectively in a classroom, an alternative approach is necessary for practical power plant operator training. Until comparatively recently, the only available means to familiarise trainees with handling the physical controls of a generating plant was to watch how an experienced operator performs a given task, mimic the instructor’s actions and hope to remember them.

Fortunately, technological advances have since led to a more effective approach to assist learners in developing practical skills. The airlines were among the first to adopt this new methodology, creating detailed replicas of aircraft flight decks with physical controls to adjust the plane’s performance and a video display enabling trainee pilots to observe the results. That same technology is now widely used to train conventional and nuclear power plant operators and has proved highly successful.

The secret behind simulated power plant operator training

Apart from the obvious potential dangers of allowing inexperienced personnel to control a power station, even the best instructors often battle to attract and hold a learner’s attention, especially when the latter may be nervous. Nevertheless, experience has shown that attempting to distract someone engaged in a simulated scenario can be highly challenging.

In practice, training simulations are also based on gaming technology. The latter has the power to transform a 3D image of a plant’s control room into an immersive and interactive experience that is guaranteed to capture the user’s attention far more effectively than most live tutors. Trainees can perform a given action and learn immediately whether or not its consequences were appropriate.

Mistakes will occur, but they cannot endanger lives or equipment in the real world. Instead, a simulator provides an opportunity to try again and keep doing so until performing the correct actions becomes a conditioned reflex. Unfortunately, there is rarely time to learn from one’s mistakes at the coal-face.

Why all power plant operator training should employ simulations

There are some compelling reasons to embrace this advanced learning technology.

  • A sustainable future:

Cleaner and more sustainable energy sources have become vital weapons in the war on climate change and the threat of mass extinctions. However, wind, solar and hydroelectric power only met around 16% of the nation’s 2020 needs. Plans to build more nuclear reactors are a long-term solution due to their high cost and lengthy build times.

In the interim, South Africa’s most viable options are to upgrade Eskom’s existing infrastructure and encourage private investment in alternative service providers. Either way, these plans and the steady loss of experienced personnel on retirement create an urgent need to recruit and train more operators. The quickest, safest and most cost-effective way to succeed is to adopt simulators to conduct the practical aspects of power plant operator training programmes.

  • Plant and personnel safety:

Unfortunately, when rapid results are needed, safety is frequently overlooked. A power station is full of potential dangers for the unwary, especially coal and oil-fired plants where annual fatalities worldwide are consistently over two and three thousand, respectively. Thorough training is the best way to minimise accidents, and simulated scenarios are the most effective means to ensure it is effective.

  • Time and Cost savings:

A relatively minor investment in a bespoke partial or full-scope simulation or the software to create one could cut a plant’s training costs. One-on-one sessions often lead to reduced production by occupying staff who could be more useful in other roles. Also, allowing an untrained recruit to perform tasks in the control room can lead to added wear and tear on equipment or even damage and hefty repair or replacement bills.

Simulations eliminate such risks and allow learners to practice independently and at convenient times. Alternatively, a single instructor can oversee multiple learners by deploying the simulation via a LAN.

Upgrading your power plant operator training

SimGenics can create all the simulated training scenarios you need or supply user-friendly software requiring no coding knowledge to develop them yourself. We have developed over 75 full and partial scope simulators, so you can rest assured that your operator training is in expert hands. Let us know your needs, and we’ll make a plan to update your operator training programme to the next level.

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