Control Room Operator Training

A control room operator, with a tuned control system, can have a major impact on maintaining and improving power plant performance and reliability. Today’s advanced DCS controls are installed in most power plants and the importance of having a competent control room operator is essential to reliable and profitable operations. The control room operator can maximize the performance of the power plant by effectively operating the generating units, interpreting indications to diagnose and predict problems, and operate the units to resolve complex problems in a manner that minimizes load curtailments and outages while maximizing safety, reliability and performance and environmental compliance. The control room operators must also manage the field operators who work locally at the equipment and effectively communicate with the maintenance people, dispatcher and supervisory personnel.

In many power plants a need exists to train auxiliary operators with only a few years of experience to operate from the control room. The experience level in the critical control room operator job, at many power plants, has decreased making the need for training that can get fast and effective results more important.

The three methods producing the fastest and most effective results in training new control room operators include:

  • Plant Specific Training Programs using Quality-Engineered Simulators
    • Over the past few decades, power plant specific training programs that use quality-engineered simulators have proved to be the most effective way to train power plant control room operators.
  • Training Programs using Generic Simulators
    • Another approach that has proved effective for power plants that did not purchase power plant-specific simulation was the use of generic simulators that have the realism of a typical power plant. These generic simulators have allowed control room operator trainees to learn critical skills such as integrated operations, dynamic balancing, setting priorities, communications, etc. to a high level and at a reduced cost.
  • Formal Training Programs
    • A third approach that is also more beneficial than the on-the-job “buddy” approach to training is to have a formal training program consisting of classroom training followed by “round table” simulations (group discussions) of routine and abnormal operational scenarios.

Although well-engineered simulators can provide great benefits, it’s the training program, supported by the simulator, that actually provide the maximum benefit and results in the operators gaining the needed confidence, expertise and motivation to operate the power plant effective and efficiently. Simulators without structured training or those that rely on limited scenario-based exercises have limited benefits and usually are underutilized. An effective control room operator training program using a simulator, or not, requires an analysis of a power plant’s control operator specific needs, followed by a plan to address those needs, materials that can be used to implement and evaluate the training, and competent instructors who can implement the training in the most effective manner.

Although this training can be done in-house, it requires dedicated resources as well as technical expertise in understanding the details of the controls as well as an understanding of the reasoning behind the control design. A well designed and structured control room operator training program can be most effective with the simulator, but if the simulator is not available, an operator-centric training program focused on control room operator critical knowledge and skills can be made effective, especially if introduced to the control room candidates prior to their getting the job.