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CMMS and hydroelectric dams maintenance

CMMS and hydroelectric dams maintenance

Saturday 01 january 2022

If you are a player in the hydropower market, through the installation of hydroelectric dams or the operation and maintenance of such structures, you are participating in the environmental struggle and the well-being of society.

If, at the end of the 19th century, the first dams were used to store water for the population, today their main function is the production of electricity. The operating principle of hydroelectric dams is reminiscent of water mills, which were created in Europe before the Christian era. Since their appearance, these infrastructures have not ceased to evolve and play an essential role in the depollution of the planet. In order to make the most of the very heavy investments they require during the construction phases, it is essential to excel in the maintenance of their structure and the technical installations and equipment they house. The role of CMMS will prove to be essential. How does maintenance management software fit into the hydroelectric field? What are the benefits it brings? After a quick presentation of this essential sector for the production of decarbonated energy, we will report a first answer to these questions.

The hydroelectric dams sector

Hydraulic energy is one of the renewable energy solutions that do not emit greenhouse gases. The important river network makes it an energy with a high potential of implementation and exploitation. Whether gravity dams, arch dams or buttress dams, their reservoirs allow for the storage of large quantities of water. The force generated by the fall of the water will drive the rotation of turbines and operate electric alternators. Thus, the kinetic energy of the water will be converted into electrical energy to participate in the supply of the world electrical network.

According to the International Hydropower Association (IHA), the size of the global hydropower industry has more than doubled since 1995. It has grown from 625 GW to more than 1,300 GW in 2021, including 25.5 GW in France. A May 2021 study by the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests that the world will need 2,600 GW of hydropower capacity by mid-century. Doubling the number of plants would keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

While providing clean, affordable, and reliable electricity, hydropower helps meet our needs for water, irrigation, and flood and drought control. Despite the great potential, it is important to keep in mind certain environmental impacts. These vary depending on the size of the dams, which are often very large, and their location. Hydroelectric dams installed on a natural waterfall will have much less impact on their environment than dams with an artificial water reservoir. This can lead to population migration, under-oxygenation and then over-oxygenation of the water upon release, and an imbalance in ecosystem life. 

Currently, many solutions that are implemented during construction or that can be added after the construction phase are proving effective in avoiding this environmental impact. In particular, sluice gates and outlet passages are created to allow the migration of certain species of fish or sediments, and even the passage of canoes. It should be noted that the environmental standards to be respected are much stricter nowadays. In spite of these needs of adaptation creating new challenges, the world future of hydroelectric energy is very promising, by its capacity to deliver enormous quantities of energy and to answer the environmental fight in which the whole society is engaged for the good of the planet.

The exploitation of water currents is a safe and sustainable value. In order to optimize the production of a hydroelectric plant, we will now see the importance of the maintenance of your equipment. 

Maintenance of hydroelectric dams

The construction of such a hydroelectric production center can take up to 10 years. Its operation must be able to last several centuries. A very impressive duration of activity, and it is thus useless to insist on the importance of the quality of the construction of the dam and its hydroelectric power plant during the project and work phases and on the quality of the maintenance during the exploitation phase. Thus, you will make your installations last, while increasing your production. You will take advantage of this to bring your safety system and your environmental impact up to standard.

Although your building may last at least 100 years, the electrical components may only last 10 to 25 years. It will be important to remove any impediments to the efficiency of your facility before more significant problems arise. We will see that there is a trade-off between your initial expenses, operating costs and maintenance costs. A well thought-out installation will facilitate your repairs: sufficient space for the assembly and disassembly of parts in the loading bay and in the turbine hall. 

Maintenance will focus on the watertightness of the dam and its water pipes, potential erosion of the turbines and securing the electrical system (alternator, transformer and transmission lines). These interventions may require acrobatic work to carry out concrete or resin injections. Reinforcement of the dam structure with carbon strips or installation of concrete structures, adapted to the particular constraints of civil engineering, can also be carried out.

This maintenance work, although it can be costly, is essential to avoid stopping your production, or even in the worst case scenario avoiding an accident. It should be noted that these power plants operate with water under high pressure. This water will weaken your structure in the long term, which is why it is important to carry out proper maintenance. It is indeed useless to remind that the safety of a hydroelectric plant must be a permanent priority. 

Considering the huge masses of water retained in the created reservoirs, there is always a risk of disaster if a structural problem is not identified and anticipated. Thus, if the failure of the Malpasset dam in 1959 in France, which caused 423 victims, or, earlier, that of Bouzey in 1895, which caused 87 deaths, are to be attributed to construction defects linked to poor anchorage in the terrain, the failure of the Taumsauk dam in the United States in 2005 was directly attributed to operational problems, i.e., poor reliability and functioning of sensors, without any external natural cause. In the latter case, there were no casualties. Thus, continuity of production and safety are the 2 concerns of the dam maintenance department, whatever the cost.

In order to take full advantage of the technological advances in O&M (Operations and Maintenance), we will see the interest of an efficient CMMS software, adapted to the constraints of the hydroelectric sector.

The contribution of CMMS for hydroelectricity

First of all, and even if we are convinced that this acronym has no more secret for you, it is important to remember that CMMS is a Computerized Maintenance Management System. The main functionalities of a CMMS are: management of sites and assets, management of repair interventions (reactive maintenance), scheduling of planned maintenance (preventive maintenance), compliance management, spare parts management, management of regulations and electronic forms such as inspections and risk assessments, management of subcontractors, monitoring of operational costs.

The software allows the integration and exploitation of historical data. The performance of your equipment is evaluated, as well as the prediction of possible failures. The goal is always to avoid breakdowns that could lead to production downtime and considerable financial losses. 

The data is collected, shared, historized, and visible to your technical teams and external stakeholders. Automatically transformed into information that can be analyzed, facilitating decision making in line with the targeted issues. You will be able to see an improvement in your overall performance and optimize the efficiency of your assets: the time between failures or MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) is lengthened, the time to repair or MTTR (Mean Time To Recovery) is reduced. The efficiency of the maintenance team increases. You save time that you can devote to the application of the environmental standards induced in your implementation. 

In particular, thanks to CMMS tools, many authorities collect information to improve the operation of hydroelectric plants. They study their management efficiency within their environment and their sustainability with respect to the species stored in the reservoirs (fish and sediments). The study of hydraulic, geotechnical and seismic risks, as well as the analysis of safety, failure modes and efficiency of storage facilities, make the environment of hydroelectric dams, very evolutive. 

Conclusion

As we have seen, preventive, predictive and scalable maintenance is a major asset in the hydropower industry. Although your assets are well manufactured, dam design is still evolving today. Your foresight in construction and operation, and regular maintenance of your equipment will quickly increase your return on investment. Your dam and your staff will be used to their fullest potential to achieve an optimized production. 

Thus, you optimize your potential, already very important, to increase your output and lower your costs. It is important to know that in most situations, unplanned expenses are the most expensive. Good maintenance support and regular training will allow you to go further and develop your business as an electricity supplier. This way, you will be able to satisfy the government, the customers, the society as a whole, but also... the planet.

The stakes of the continuity of operation of a hydroelectric installation are so high that it is obvious that their permanent maintenance in operational conditions must be the object of the greatest attention. To optimize this maintenance, the sector cannot escape the implementation of a latest generation CMMS solution, meeting all the needs of the maintenance department and allowing a quick appropriation by all the actors: technicians, external subcontractors, management, engineers, etc.

 

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