Know Your Water Chemistry Controls

At the heart of nearly ever power plant are a boiler, a turbine, and associated condensate and feedwater systems. The water and steam coursing through them is the lifeblood of the electrical generating process. As such, it is of the utmost importance that the water/steam is properly monitored and treated. Poor water chemistry control can lead to deleterious effects on equipment uptime, plant budgets, and most importantly, personnel safety.

To better prevent these negative effects, water chemistry control has undergone substantial changes over the past 30 years. These changes have been the result of a commitment to research and technological development by the chemistry community. However, it is the power plant operator who is responsible for ensuring that these changes are implemented at their plant. And with an aging workforce in the industry, it is now more important than ever that the next generation of operators understand proper water chemistry control.

To the extent possible, power plants should be providing their operators with the knowledge and skills to be able to properly control their plants’ water chemistry. This can include a number of different methods. Perhaps the most influential source of information on the topic is the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). EPRI has been at the forefront of the power plant water chemistry research movement, and discovered Flow Accelerated Corrosion (FAC), a phenomenon that has revolutionized boiler feedwater treatment. By following what EPRI and other research organizations publish, plants and operators can ensure that they’re aware of the latest information on water chemistry control.

Another source of guidance is water chemistry technology vendors and trade publications. Companies like GE (recently rebranded as Suez) and Nalco are continuously developing new treatments and equipment to improve how water chemistry is monitored and controlled. Trade publications – like Power Engineering and WaterWorld – follow these developments, and provide their audiences within the industry with updates on the research and development front.

A third resource is water chemistry training courses. These courses are designed to educate operators on the fundamentals of water chemistry control, explain how to identify trends and anomalies in chemistry data, and provide hands-on operational opportunities. These courses will be very important to ensure that the transition to the next generation of operators is smooth, economic, and safe. Vendors, such as GE and Siemens, are able to provide specialized training on their proprietary treatments and equipment. Consulting organizations, such as Fossil Consulting Services, are able to provide training on industry-wide best practices, as well as the hands-on practical training that is so important to ensuring adequate knowledge and skills transfer.

Just as a person needs their cardiologist to be knowledgeable of and properly trained in heart operations, power plants need their operators to be so prepared to operate on the heart of their plants: That’s what proper water chemistry controls training does.