Automation fitness through horizontal migration

Optimizing power plant operations

Near the city of Cottbus in southeast Brandenburg not far from the German-Polish border, Swedish energy supplier Vattenfall operates the 3,000 megawatt (MW) lignite-fired power station, Jänschwalde. To secure a steady supply of spare parts and ensure extensibility for future capacity expansion and organization, ABB undertook a fast, cost-effective and problem-free migration of the plant’s existing automation system.

With three main sites in Hamburg, Berlin and Cottbus, Vattenfall GmbH is one of Germany’s leading heat and electricity suppliers, in addition to operating one of the country’s largest lignite-fired power stations. The company is strategically focused on strengthening flexibility in the business processes of its operations, with a primary focus on sustainable energy.

“We recently completed a very large project involving the horizontal migration of automation for all six 500 MW units in the Jänschwalde power station,” said Gerald Weiss, head of maintenance management at Vattenfall Europe Generation AG. “This migration was necessary, as spare parts from the 1990s were no longer available. We considered both horizontal migration (all similar process units are upgraded simultaneously, usually across multiple process areas) and vertical migration (one particular process area is upgraded at a time), and in the end chose horizontal migration. The reason is firstly, we have spare parts for years of operation ahead, and we were also able to increase plant flexibility, while retaining a uniform operating concept for operators who control the plants.” 

The advantages of horizontal migration as part of a robust, economically efficient medium-term maintenance approach for the lignite power generation blocks lies in the amount of time required to do the work, the cost efficiencies gained and the capacity to meet all quality assurance criteria. 

Uwe Scheffer, ABB’s project manager from Minden, agrees with the choice. “Horizontal migration is the most sensible upgrade measure for base-load power plants. In this area, ABB can provide extensive experience and top references to protect investments already made with a future-proof and up-to-date system platform.” ABB’s service-oriented structural and process organization meant that Vattenfall’s personnel and organizational expectations were also a good foundation for collaboration. 

Tough goals and precise requirements

Efficiency, flexibility, sustainability and Vattenfall’s high quality standards were the primary focus of the migration, in order to help the company reach its goals of solving spare part availability, and future-proofing the plant’s extensibility.

“Another important aspect in favor of horizontal migration was the retrofit could be done during routine downtime,” said Weiss. “This allowed us to fully implement the project from 2011 to 2015, with no additional unit downtime.”

The comprehensive occupational health and safety measures of both Vattenfall and ABB were key to a smooth and accident-free process, he added. Using proven, updated engineering and documentation systems as well as the continuation of operation and monitoring levels also met the high quality requirements of operators, in which the automatic coupling of the two automation systems via a new interface remains consistent, to keep training costs down. 

“On-time and on-budget implementation was delivered in full,” said Scheffer. “All those involved pulled together and made success possible.” Structured and purposeful project management solved challenges quickly and with foresight, while ABB also adhered to the framework for production guidelines and budgeting.

Standard hazard analyses documented in a health and safety plan as well as regular site assessments ensured the process ran efficiently.

Towards successful project processing

Many power plants use the methodology of horizontal migration, because partial replacement of the control system enables them to arrange for sufficient spare parts, and the resulting up-to-date system platform can cope with future requirements. By keeping costs low and arranging the work during scheduled downtime, this upgrade model can be applied to all generation types and systems. According to Weiss in addition to high levels of expertise, reliability and speed are also important factors in a major ongoing project. 

“Fast response is a key aspect that is very important to us,” he said. “ABB meets our requirements, because it has a regional presence staffed with generation plant specialists who are ready to assist us with their expertise.”

The challenge for control migrations is to provide a system that will have secure access to spare parts and capacity to optimize and develop processes at a later date without completely replacing the plant’s control technology. Complete renewal of 500 automation cabinets is no longer possible today, either in terms of the time needed to do the work or the cost.

Jänschwalde power plant has now migrated all six of its 500 MW lignite units after a three-year retrofit, and is ideally positioned to cope with its future automation needs. Evolution strategy through horizontal migration as developed by ABB enables customers to renew their control systems efficiently, and prepare their existing generating assets to support many more years of reliable operation.

Main data

Application: Lignite fired power plant
Capacity: 3.000 MW
Geographical location: Germany
Year of commissioning: 1988

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