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CMMS and maintenance of thermodynamic solar power plants

CMMS and maintenance of thermodynamic solar power plants

Sunday 09 january 2022

In areas with high levels of sunshine, thermodynamic solar power plants are at their best. Thanks to a system of mirrors, these plants capture solar radiation to heat a heat transfer fluid which then activates turbines to produce electricity.

If this principle speaks to you, it is because you are perhaps part of the professionals who exploit this infinite resource that is the sun to provide energy, while preserving our planet. Found in the myth of Archimedes' "burning mirrors", the technique of solar irradiation has been known since antiquity. Used in 1866 by Auguste Mouchout to operate a solar steam engine, thermodynamic solar energy saw its first power plant in Italy in 1968, thanks to Professor Giovanni Francia. To remain competitive with other energy sources, we will discuss the importance of good maintenance of your assets and more specifically the use of a CMMS tool. But what is this tool and how can it be adapted to your market?

The thermodynamic solar power plant sector

A thermodynamic solar power plant is a particular type of solar thermal power plant. It is also known as a concentrated solar power system (CSP). It uses mirrors to concentrate the light reflected by the sun in a single point, in order to generate heat at high temperature and to heat a heat transfer fluid. The heat transfer fluid is converted into steam and drives a steam turbine, which in turn drives an electrical generator.

The high temperature heat can also be stored for use even after sunset. This thermal energy can then contribute to district heating. It can also be used to heat industrial processes, making this technology particularly suitable for balancing loads and allowing the grid to operate around the clock. From 2013 to 2020, concentrated solar power production more than doubled to over 14.5 TWh worldwide. Although it accounts for only 0.05% of the world's electricity production, it has a bright future. This technology is mainly used in China, which represents half of the market. The United States and India are not to be outdone and also promise a growing role for CSP plants. Although similar in its energy source, it should not be confused with the production of electricity from solar panels, which we have recently also studied: CMMS and maintenance of solar panels.

To maximize their potential, these plants use different technologies to capture the sun's heat and transform it into electrical energy. We mainly find on the market the collectors called Solar Tower, Parabolic Troughs, Dish Stirling, as well as Fresnel collectors. This technological variety allows a greater adaptation according to the implantation of your power plant, and thus a maximization of your production rate. Thanks to their thermal buffer storage, these plants have much lower production costs than photovoltaic and its battery system.

Thermodynamic solar power plants, still under-exploited, can provide electricity for thousands of homes every day, all year round, but sometimes require thousands of hectares of land. This solution still has a lot of progress to make to limit its footprint and thus respect the environment and its habitats. A study by the American solar research laboratory, Sandia, has however discovered new innovative processes in the field of thermodynamic solar energy. The main innovation is to store the sun's heat in particles and not in liquids. This new technology marks a third generation of CSPs and opens up many possibilities for professionals in the sector.

Maintenance of solar thermal power plants

In the thermodynamic solar industry, the maintenance of its assets is essential to the good condition of its plant. This system, which operates without interruption, is very solicited, which requires maintenance to be carried out as soon as the temperatures are lower. The parabolic mirrors or heliostats, which are adjusted according to the position of the sun, must be cleaned regularly to eliminate dust and other waste. This will optimize their reflection efficiency and therefore their performance. The application of anti-corrosive products may also be necessary to prevent corrosion.

The high temperatures generated by the concentration of sunlight put a strain on the installations that must be protected from heat. Pipes for water or other heat transfer fluids, as well as electrical equipment, also require regular maintenance. Optimal insulation is especially recommended to protect your steam turbine and generator from overheating.

High temperatures also affect the lubrication of bearings to maintain low friction during operation. Bearings that are exposed to direct sunlight require synthetic or other high-temperature lubricants that have a high degree of thermal stability. In addition, only suitable special coatings can be used on high-temperature rotating parts, such as low-pressure turbine blades, turbines operating on superheated steam.

The solar field must be kept free of vegetation or other objects that could prevent sunlight from reaching the heliostats during operation. Any maintenance work performed in this area must take into account the risk of exposure to high temperatures. Therefore, professionals in the field must work under strict safety standards.

With proper maintenance of your assets, you will see an increase in the production rate of your solar thermodynamic plant. To ensure that your employees and external technicians work in a safe and organized manner, it is worthwhile to use a CMMS system. But what is it? How can this tool help you on a daily basis?

The contribution of the CMMS for solar thermal systems

A CMMS tool, or computer-assisted maintenance management, provides your employees and yourself with all the information concerning your equipment. It allows you to monitor your machines, their work process and their efficiency rate 24 hours a day. The integration of predictive analysis allows this tool to discover, at an early stage, which equipment is likely to fail. Your maintenance technicians can then plan, through CMMS, the corrective actions to be implemented before an asset is shut down.

Correcting potential failures in advance will save you the costly problem of replacing parts or completely shutting down your plant. In addition to scheduling work orders according to planned dates, the CMMS tool allows you to keep track of all activities performed on your assets (materials, execution time). Costs can also be integrated, which allows you to make a balance sheet of maintenance-related expenses at the end of the year.

Reports on your production rate per asset or on how to increase your profitability rate are predicted by the CMMS. This allows your technicians, in all fields, to have a unique information channel, which saves time and facilitates the organization of missions. The reports drawn from this tool can also allow an R&D entity, internal or external, to develop the field of solar thermodynamics.

The CMMS can also represent a real springboard to democratize the use of thermodynamic solar energy with regional authorities and local populations, directly concerned by the installation of this type of plant. The environmental contribution, the production efficiency, coupled with the CMMS should help you in your approach.

Conclusion

To achieve a drastic reduction of CO2 emissions while producing the energy necessary for our society today, the use of renewable energy is essential. You who have a solar thermodynamic plant, you are part of the actors who fight against global warming. With the help of the maintenance of your assets and the use of a CMMS tool, you can make your company evolve, while contributing to the research dedicated to the solar field.

Solar thermodynamic energy is a trend that will continue in the future, and it is through your actions that you can make a difference. Your plant will see its production grow, your investment will be profitable and you will be able to satisfy the consumer as well as the environmental requirements.

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