Measurement Solutions Blog

Coal-fired power plants need to maintain strict oversight of processes.

The power market is growing more competitive, especially as consumer sentiment continues to favour green technologies over coal, natural gas and oil. Coal-fired power plants can maintain the upper hand if they implement processes that decrease input without compromising production rates.

Simply selecting the appropriate coal weigh feeder can have a monumental impact on a facility's operations. For managers, the choice often comes down to gravimetric and volumetric feeders, but which instrument is best for coal-fired power plants?

Why gravimetric is optimal

Volumetric weigh feeders depend on a material's consistency in order to perform effectively. As the name implies, these instruments calculate the amount of space a particular substance occupies, and use this estimate to gauge how much product should be fed to conveyor belts.

With coal, this approach is problematic. According to Schenck, coal density changes with size, moisture and a variety of other factors. Therefore, even if an operation were processing coal of equal dimensions, each piece may have a different density.

In light of this reality, gravimetric weigh feeders are the better option. These instruments calculate a substance's total weight, using that value to determine how much coal to feed.

Substituting a gravimetric feeder with a volumetric equivalent isn't feasible for power plants. Machinery that burns coal to produce a specific amount of energy must not receive an excess or paucity of material. If a pulveriser, for example, receives more coal than it is equipped to handle, the mechanism may break, resulting in downtime and lost productivity.

Downtime is a word often heard but rarely listened to. Unscheduled disruptions can have a huge impact on an industrial business's competitiveness.

Stress on equipment

Research from APTECH Engineering Services – now a subsidiary of industrial services company Intertek – analysed the impact cycling had on coal-fired, gas and oil power plants. Cycling refers to starting up, shutting down and adjusting equipment.

For example, cycling could also refer to a facility administrator increasing the rate at which a pulverizer processes coal. APTECH Engineering Services' analysis recorded the following expenses associated with cycling:

  • Maintenance and overhaul capital costs
  • Forced outages and the effects of those instances
  • Initiation fuels and auxiliary power
  • Shorter equipment lifecycles 

The report also concluded that, when power plants cycle frequently, a machine's ability to handle heat tarnishes significantly. If there's a lesson to be learned, it's that reducing the amount of startups and shutdowns a facility has to initiate will decrease industrial equipment maintenance costs. Such measures may make facilities, and the coal-fired industry as a whole, more competitive. 

The Australian energy economy

Solar power generation is rising across Australia, but fossil fuels still have a crucial role in the nation's energy economy.

According to the Department of Industry's Australian Energy Update 2015, coal-fired production decreased 5 per cent in 2013-14 from the previous financial year. However, this type of generation accounted for 61 per cent of Australia's total electricity output.

Australian energy production companies may have to reduce costs further. For instance, the Department of Industry's report noted that energy consumption growth has remained lower than economic expansion over the past 30 years. 

When consumers or businesses demand less of a particular product or service, enterprises delivering that product or service must figure out a way to do so more efficiently. By doing so, they can lower prices, thus making the product or service in question more appealing. 

Coal-fired power plants and other facilities participating in the energy sector can take the same approach. Introducing incremental improvements is the first step to delivering more affordable electricity to end-users. 

If you want to know how industrial measurement solutions can enhance operational efficiency, reach out to SRO Technology today