Power plant training simulators are an extremely valuable tool in the power generation industry. They are by far the best way to train and qualify incumbent field operators and new trainees seeking to become control room operators. Existing control room operators also benefit from simulator use by minimizing the loss of skills over time due to lack of practice with certain unit operating conditions. These types of conditions include unusual operating conditions and upset operating conditions. Further, power plant simulators are a great tool for training I&C personnel and can be used to conduct engineering evaluations of the plant to improve efficiency of plant controls.
A high fidelity simulator that accurately represents the plant will provide operations staff with a realistic experience and allow them to practice operating complex plant process systems without the consequence of damaging equipment. Operators can practice startups and shutdowns of the plant, normal load maneuvering of plant systems, and recovery from various malfunctions and upsets. Through this practice, a significant reduction of lost generation from human error is typically seen at power plants with these simulations.
There are clear benefits a simulator can provide toward new and existing control room operators; however, there are also several less obvious benefits that a simulator can provide. When a problem is occurring at the power plant, simulators may be used to assist in the discovering the root cause and finding ways to remedy the issue. New or revised operating procedures can be tested on the simulator before their use in the plant. New control loops and strategies can also be built and tested on the simulator before being deployed in the DCS.
It is important to remember that workers tend to learn the best through hands-on power plant training and through trial and error. Incumbent control room operators making mistakes on a simulator during their qualification and training is free, while the training value is very high. Without a simulator, those valuable lessons learned from mistakes are often made during operation of the plant or they may never be trained as a result of operating conditions that happen infrequently. The costs can be high due to equipment damage, injury to personnel, or inefficient operation of the plant. Power plant managers without simulators on their sites should consider acquiring one because of these seen and unseen benefits. Managers should also consider a pairing a simulator with a power plant training and qualification program, because this will maximize the use of the simulator in qualifying their people.