Covid-19 has resulted in less funding for the power generation sector, owing to lower revenue from electricity sales amid business restrictions.
At the same time, the sector still has to invest in the necessary equipment maintenance to ensure reliable power supply.
The issue of maintenance in light of current challenges globally was discussed during a May 12 PowerGen Africa-hosted webinar, of which a few will be hosted in coming months, leading up to the Africa Utility Week event later this year once Covid-19 lockdown-type measures are eased.
“The important factors around energy remain availability and reliability. However, we now face reductions of personnel, financial restrictions and challenges around supply chains for components.
“It is therefore important to have a solid maintenance strategy that involves an 80:20 ratio between proactive and reactive maintenance and ideally with 40% of maintenance done on a predictive basis. Without proactive maintenance, you will always be fire-fighting in your operation,” said Switzerland-based technology company Distran sales director Walter Umbricht.
For him, keeping tabs on what spare components are necessary is vital, as is building relationships with the right suppliers and contractors.
Umbricht highlighted the need for power generators to have data at their fingertips to give the company a competitive advantage.
“Do plants know what is critical? Often power stations do not undertake criticality assessments; they are unsure of the extent of the impact of an equipment failure and how much it will cost to repair,” he added.
Umbricht noted that his company had done work in South Africa, in using its ultrasonic device to detect leaks from 10 m away.
The aim globally is to use more modern tools to better calibrate equipment and gather information about components or plants as a whole, to enable the ultimate goal of doing predictive maintenance.
State-owned power utility Eskom reliability and asset integrity engineer Obiri-Agyei Boakye echoed this sentiment, stating that digital tools could help to lower the cost of maintenance, which was often a consideration in developing markets.
He mentioned that the issues that most developing countries’ utilities were struggling with were financial constraints and aging assets. This while there was a continuous rise in demand for power, on the back of a growing population.
At the same time, skills shortages were hampering maintenance activities.
“Comparing cost of maintenance to cost of failure is often a consideration in cost-effective maintenance, as well as whether the maintenance is applicable.
“Cost-effective maintenance involves a combination of predictive, preventive and reactive maintenance. It is of utmost importance to organise activities to make the best use of limited resources,” he added.
Energy company GE steam power for sub-Saharan Africa regional executive Nthabiseng Kubheka spoke about current trends in the power generation industry globally.
She said GE often saw arrangements where clients formed partnerships with service providers to do analysis on what a plant needed to run optimally or at least healthily.
“It helps to understand the historical performance characteristics of certain types of generation units. Our clients increasingly work with suppliers on maintenance plans, based on the performance of assets that they evaluate using digital tools.”
Kubheka stated that there was an increased drive for localisation, considering the challenges that Covid-19 posed to maintenance operations.
However, localisation involved more than just bringing in foreign experts to train local people, it encompassed the entire value chain, where local suppliers were also developed.
She also agreed with the argument that digital tools had become increasingly necessary to do maintenance, owing to the cost savings that it offered, the accumulation of data that was available in one place and the option of online monitoring to detect leakages or issues in real-time.