Using  a Power Station Simulator to Identify Problems and Test Solutions

Generating electricity is a hazardous activity in which issues can arise without warning. Developing solutions is safest with a power station simulator. A quotation by the Irish playwright and poet Oscar Wilde declares that “To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.” In the power industry, adopting this philosophy and preparing oneself in advance to handle the unexpected can save lives.

At first glance, producing electricity appears pretty straightforward. The task begins by employing a source of heat, which can be coal, oil, gas or nuclear fusion, to boil water and produce steam which is then used to drive turbines connected to a generator. However, each step in this process must be precisely regulated. The correct pressures, temperatures, flow rates and voltages must be monitored and maintained within safe limits while adjusting the plant’s power output to meet the constantly changing demands of consumers. 

The task of plant operators and engineers is to oversee these activities and manage them via the various control systems provided. However, no system is without its potential flaws. Any of the mechanisms involved in controlling a generating plant can fail. Operators must be familiar with a suitable remedy and implement it promptly to avoid incidents like Three Mile Island or Chornobyl. However, testing possible workarounds on a live system could compound the problem rather than solve it.

The role of the power station simulator as a test bed

Simulations have applications in numerous fields. Aircraft and automobile designers and engineers use them to predict the behaviour of their products, eliminating the need to resort to destructive testing. However, the most common application of this technology is as a training tool. It is probably best known for its role in training airline pilots. Inevitably, power stations have also adopted this option, which has proved to be more cost-effective, faster, and more efficient than conventional on-the-job practical instruction.

However, the most significant advantage of a power station simulator is safety. Learners can participate unsupervised from anywhere using a PC and at times that best suit them, working their way through prepared scenarios in which their actions produce audible and visual feedback. When training with a simulator, a learner’s errors will no longer pose a risk to personnel and equipment. Instead, they will become powerful learning experiences with no consequences in the real world.

Typically, however, simulated exercises are designed to deal with expected scenarios. But what about the unexpected? A trainer can use the software to emulate typical power station emergencies but invariably programmes them to accept only one solution. Might there be others? Could some be safer, easier or more effective?

Though most users are probably unaware, a simulation can also be used as a test bed. They can provide a means for experienced operators to identify potential problems not previously evident and experiment with different solutions to determine which works best. In practice, a power station simulator is more than just an effective training option. With a bit of creative thinking, it can also be used as a research tool.

Power station simulator: The options

There are three main options for a power plant planning to introduce simulations as part of its operator training programme. Two are available in various forms from specialist suppliers as ready-made solutions. The third option requires trainers to compile their own. Let’s examine these in more detail.

  • Off-the-shelf solutions:

Some of the more basic simulations, such as startup and shutdown procedures, can be supplied by equipment manufacturers. These deal specifically with the relevant operations for a given model. Alternatively, one can opt for a generic simulator that can be applied across various brands and models.

  • Bespoke solutions:

A specialised developer can create a life-like three-dimensional simulation that recreates a power plant’s layout to the last detail. The service provider will either perform a 3D scan of the plant or work from one made by the client to produce a photorealistic power station simulator and add the functionality to produce a partial or full-scope simulation.

  • DIY Software:

Simulation software offers the most flexible option, allowing trainers to create any scenario they wish, including the option to experiment with multiple solutions to a given problem.

SimGenics solutions

As a long-term industry leader, we offer our clients each of the above options, backed by expert advice and support. Please follow this link to learn more about our world-class full-scope simulators. Alternatively, contact us to discuss your training needs.

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