The reasons for undertaking power plant upgrades and improvement projects are plentiful — adopting new technology, efficiency and output enhancements, operational updates, and easier maintenance are just a few. No matter your objective, it can be challenging to accurately map out the considerations that go into successfully upgrading your plant. Even more challenging is accurately estimating budgets, timelines and safety concerns.

Taking a systematic and integrated approach to understanding all the factors and impacts of power plant upgrades is critical to overall project success. Here are a few things to take into account before embarking on upgrades to your power plant.

From Concept to Completion: Project Success Starts Early

Successful power plant upgrade programs start at the concept stage. To most accurately estimate the cost and schedule for an improvement, it’s important to understand the scope and evaluate all ramifications. A few key aspects:

  • Define the expected outcome. Are you making updates to meet regulatory compliance? To improve operational efficiency? To increase generating capacity?
  • Specify the proposed upgrade or modification and define the precise location in the plant.
  • Identify supporting components — piping, valves, electrical, controls, etc. —affected by the project, and outline any necessary changes.
  • Determine commissioning strategy, installation requirements and safety implications; define a disposal approach for any obsolete assets.
  • Define the systems, procedures, plans, drawings and documentation that will be affected.
  • Evaluate ongoing calibration and maintenance needs, including expected lifecycle services.
  • Verify permitting and inspection requirements.
  • Assess post-project impacts on personnel, including new technology training, changed operating procedures and modified processes.

A thorough analysis at the planning stage allows you to avoid unanticipated expenditures and delays. By starting this evaluation early, managers can more accurately determine project costs and timelines. Through this approach, early engagement and open communication with other plant areas also helps support project success.

How Will It Affect Existing Operations?

In many plant upgrade projects, it’s not always clear how the modifications will affect existing operations and infrastructure, which can greatly affect timing and budget. Estimating only the cost of the new unit or component, and not accounting for the actual scope of plant improvements can have a big impact on cash flow. The knock-on effect can impact other planned facility improvement efforts and even force update projects to be cancelled.

What’s the Total Project Investment?

Power plant operators are under increasing pressure to meet aggressive schedules with tight budgets. In addition to thoroughly understanding a project’s impact, many projects are required to reduce costs and offer an improved rate of return just to enable them to proceed.  A thorough and systematic evaluation of the total project investment, coupled with expected longer-term operating costs, provides a more accurate view of the needed budget and timeframe.

If you’re considering plant improvements and looking for ways to significantly improve efficiency and project predictability, let’s connect. Our approach can help improve project productivity, optimize cash flow and manage profitability for small or plant-wide projects.

Bryan Durant is a mechanical engineer at Burns & McDonnell with more than 17 years of experience designing power plants. As the plant improvements mechanical business unit manager, he’s responsible for the identification, development and execution of small operations and maintenance and capital projects.