Issues with Training and Qualification Jobs for Combined Cycle Plants

Cost Justification

Justifying training and qualification programs for operators in combined cycle power plants is difficult in comparison to older coal-fired Rankine cycle power plants.  One big reason for this difficulty is the fact that, in the past, the cost per trainee was a prime element in the decision making.  There are generally more people in the operations plant of a coal-fired Rankine cycle plant than in a combined cycle plant of the same MW rating.  The reality is, the cost of an effective training and qualification program depends on the complexity of the plant and its equipment, not the number of people to be trained.

Another problem with training a small plant staff is the fact that it makes it difficult to have classroom training since it is hard to schedule a class of more than a few people.

Multi-Disciplinary Jobs

An issue with training and qualification programs for operators in combined cycle plants is the fact that, in most plants, they are expected to do maintenance as well as operations tasks.  This is in contrast to the organization of older Rankine cycle plants where there is commonly a “wall” between operations and maintenance staff.  This means that a training and qualification program for combined cycle plants needs to cover maintenance as well as operations.

Deterioration of Knowledge and Skills

Another reason for management not having training and qualification programs in combined cycle plants is the fact that most combined cycle plants are much newer than the coal fired plants.  This means that much of the plant staff received training from equipment vendors before the plant started up.  Also, many of the operators were involved in the commissioning of the plant, which gave them good hands-on training under the direction of equipment vendors.  Consequently, in the short term, there was no need for a training and qualification program.

As time goes on, however, turnover of staff and changes in the plant result in deterioration of knowledge and skills when the only means of training is to put the new guy with an experienced guy for informal on-the-job training (OJT).  This informal OJT inevitably results in a loss of knowledge and skills because the knowledgeable operators are not trainers, and so even if well intentioned, they are not professional trainers.  For that reason the new guy doesn’t learn all that he/she should.

As time goes on, the first generation of new operators become the “experienced guys” that train the second generation of new guys.  The quality of informal OJT for second generation of new guy is less than that of the first generation; knowledge and skills deteriorate with each new generation of the plant staff.  The result is deterioration of the knowledge and skills of plant staff responsible for the operation of plants that represent hundreds of millions of dollars in investment.

Yet another issue that affects the knowledge and skills of plant staff is the fact that, as the plant ages, changes are made.  New equipment replaces aging equipment, but there may not be good training and documentation with these changes.  Additionally, the mode of operation for the plant may change because of competition from wind turbines and other renewables.  This competition reduces combined cycle capacity factors and makes it necessary to start and shut down plants on irregular schedules on short notice in order to capture peak electric energy prices.  These changes in equipment and operations can require new operating procedures.

Generic CBT Training as a Solution

Faced with these challenges, management for many combined cycle plants turn to computer-based training (CBT) that can be done on an individual basis with a flexible schedule.  Available CBT is nearly always generic rather than plant-specific, however.  Generic CBT can be useful for what are commonly called plant sciences, which include topics such as electrical theory and combustion theory, which is the same regardless of the plant.

The problem is that generic training does not address the specifics of a power plant.  In plant operations, an operator needs to know what DCS screens to display to perform various operations tasks.  The same operator needs to know the locations of valves and MCC circuit breakers in their plant.  Generic CBT does not address this need.

Some CBT vendors develop variations on their training that focus on equipment from different vendors.  Even though plants with major equipment (the gas and steam turbines, and the heat recovery steam generators) may come from the same vendors for many combined cycle plants, the other equipment (cooling towers, water treatment systems, distributed controls systems (DCS) and electrical distribution systems) are commonly different.  Additionally, even if one could confine the training to major equipment from the same vendors (such as gas turbines from GE or Siemens/Westinghouse), the vendors are constantly improving their equipment, and so the specifics of gas turbines built 10-15 years ago are different from those built most recently.

Another limitation of CBT relates to the difference between knowledge and skills.  CBT can be used effectively in conveying knowledge (i.e., “book knowledge”).  Generic CBT cannot be used to apply that knowledge as skills; in this case, skills are performing the operations and maintenance tasks that make up the jobs in a combined cycle plant.

The FCS Solution

FCS is familiar with the issues of working with management to ensure that plant staff has the knowledge and skills needed to safeguard hundreds of millions of dollars of investment and operate the equipment to maximize return on that investment.  We have seen the problems in plant staff training and qualification programs in scores of combined cycle plants in our history, which spans over 20 years.  That experience gives us familiarity with equipment from different vendors and different vintages.  We have helped plants to develop cost-effective training and qualification programs.  We can develop a structured OJT training and qualification program that makes use of generic CBT to cover “generic plant sciences” that is complemented by plant-specific training.

A key element of an FCS structured OJT training and qualification program is comprehensive evaluation of trainees is both written tests of knowledge and practical tests of skills.  These evaluations must meet legal requirements that demonstrate that they are not discriminatory.  FCS knows how to ensure that the training and qualification program that produces a plant staff who can operate their plant safely and efficiently.