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Cycling of Combined-Cycle Plants

By Ram Madugula
Combined-cycle plants are an advanced new technology with the ability to generate megawatts using clean fuel natural gas. Combined-cycle power plants normal design used to be typically base load operations. Often very little attention was paid to having the flexibility to vary power output based on changing electric power demands. It was not a common event to run frequently at partial load and/or perform frequent startups and shutdowns; therefore giving little need to place demands on the OEM to supply equipment with a higher turndown capability to allow operations at lower partial loads. The only focus was on feed the grid at all times. The economics of the plants were such that only base loaded operation could ensure good returns on investment and profit. Unfortunately, electric energy cannot be easily stored to accommodate the daily hourly and weekends ups and downs in demand for electricity. Generated electricity must be consumed as it is made. To date, technology has not advanced where we can economically store large amounts of electric energy for later use. When excess electric power capacity is made available on the grid and demand is low, return on investments and profits falter. Today, the design philosophy of combined-cycle plants is evolving just as the electric power industry is evolving due to deregulation attempts. Many owners and investors of combined-cycle plants are now rethinking the concept of base load operation to cycling operation. Since current combustion turbines do not have low turndown while maintaining emissions, the ability to cycle a unit is the alternate solution. Cycling plants are units that are designed to optimize plant operations by providing rapid startups, partial loading, and short shutdowns. These frequent changes in plant operation cannot be done in a controlled and safe manner within current OEM limits and operating design limits. To achieve cycling operation, both equipment and system design have to be considered. For this reason, cycling design should accommodate several new design features that are not considered for base load units. Cycling operation should ensure satisfactory operation throughout the full operating range of the unit. Facility or plant design should also consider conditions when the unit is not operating. A combined-cycle plant having operating flexibility can definitely provide start, stop, and partial load operation to match changing demand for power. However, these benefits can bring on added costs due to wear and tear on equipment through thermal cycle fatigue; these added costs associated with plant cycling cannot be totally eliminated, but can be minimized. Adequate return on investments and revenue can still be achieved. To achieve cycling plant operations, the owner and the engineer must address cycling flexibility, availability, and reliability. This is a very subjective and non-quantifiable application that gives a plant varying degrees of cycling design abilities. As the level of cycling flexibility, availability, and reliability increases, the greater the cycling capabilities the plant will possess. All plants start and stop as a result of planned outages or unexpected trips. For cycling, the plant superintendent and load dispatcher have the daily latitude to call for daily on/off and partial load operation within any given 24-hour period. There are no longer limitations with eight hours, 12 hours, and longer restarts that used to justify or force a unit to stay on line. Whether designing a new combinedcycle plant or retrofitting an operating combined-cycle plant, the degree of cycling flexibility, availability, and reliability has a high influence on design and capital costs. Whether dealing with an already operating unit or a newly proposed one, the owner and engineer must consider and properly address the severe wear and tear that the unit will be subjected to as a result of frequent starts and stops. Running a unit base-load is easier on equipment and is comparable to running an automobile on a highway at constant speed. However, cycling is more demanding with persistent stopping, starting, and load changing that could drastically reduce service life expectancy. An automobile used by a salesperson making several sales stops everyday, and operating the automobile in both highway and stop-and-go city traffic is an analogy of a combined-cycle plant. Designing a combined-cycle plant for cycling does not prevent that plant from running base load; however, it is much more difficult for a base load plant to run as a true cycling plant. The good

news is that a plant designed for base load operation can be relatively suitable for cycling operation.

Plant Design
Before considering a new or modifying an existing unit for cycling operation, it is wise to establish the design criteria of cycling that the unit will be designed to accomplish. Table 1 provides a short list of possible Cycling modes of operation; other modes are also possible based on special circumstances. Daily Cycling Two Shift Cycling Step Cycling Where the unit is at full load during the daytime, and at partial minimum load at nights and shutdown on weekends. Where the unit is at full load during the daytime and shutdown at nights and weekends. Where multi-train configured stations can operate by a combination of reduced load operation and/or train shutdowns to meet the changing load demands. Where the unit is operated at full load, partial load and shutdown regardless of the time of day in following the changing load demands.
Table 1 - Cycling Modes

Load Following Cycling

In addition, the time taken to accomplish startups must be considered. HRSGs and steam turbines, also have specific start and restart requirements, which vary among OEMs and must be considered in cycling design. Starts and restarts are categorized as a hot startup, warm startup, and cold startup conditions that have certain operating permissives. For example, an OEM can define hot startups as less than eight hours, warm startups as eight to 48 hours, and cold startups as greater than 48 hours, since the unit was last shutdown. Each one of these would have specific restart requirements for lubricating, heating and/or cooling prior to attempting a restart. As a point of reference, the following threshold values can be used to classify a plant as being cycling: Number of CT starts < 300/year Number of HRSG starts = 300/year Number of ST starts > 300/year

The most direct response to supporting constantly changing electric power demands is to have equipment designed with better turndown. Many times this can be directed towards the combustion turbine OEM due to their current turndown limitations. In todays environment, the combustion turbine is limited to approximately 50 percent of full capacity. When operated at 50 percent load, the plant suffers in performance resulting in poor efficiency, higher fuel consumption, higher pollutant discharge, and unstable operation. Because of the combustion turbine limitations, its generated electricity and rejected heat does not provide the flexibility to generate minimal electricity output. To meet todays needs, the combustion turbine OEMs have an opportunity to offer plant owners a design that can provide lower-load operating capacity. Turndown is the ultimate solution; however, with that ability, the engineer must turn to some form of plant cycling. The level of cycling flexibility, availability, and reliability determines the level of cycling capability of a cycling combined-cycle plant. By selecting combinations of features, equipment, designs, and compatibility, a given degree of flexibility, availability, and

reliability is provided to accommodate cycling. The applications of some features may be more difficult to implement for a plant undergoing a retrofit; however, there are some features that can be obtained through design modification process to move towards more cycling ability. The configuration of a plant can contribute significantly towards the plants ability to be a cycling unit. Larger equipment such as HRSGs, combustion turbines, and steam turbines can be arranged in 2x2, 3x3, multi-train configurations, where a 2x2 configuration, for example, would represent two CTs, two HRSGs, and two STs. The multi-trains provide flexibility of operation by allowing each train to operate independently or in unison at reduced load and/or completely shutdown. This type of cycling is usually referred to as Step-Cycling. Instead of having a total plant output range from ~ 50 percent to 100 percent for a 1x1, the output can be stepped to less than 50 percent through both partial load operating and complete train shutdowns. Similar to multi-train designs, balance of plant equipment, such as pumps, heat exchanger, piping systems, etc., are smaller and for the most part are not directly impacted with operating flexibility limitations. However, smaller sized BOP equipment in a multiple quantity configuration allows flexibility and ease of operation. For example, three feedwater pumps will have more operating versatility by providing faster starting, stopping, as well as better operating stability at reduced loads. In addition to multi-train units, multi-system, and multi-equipment configurations, plant design can be taken to the level of individual equipment to create cycling capabilities. The following equipment and systems listing are some of those design features that can increase cycling flexibility, availability, and reliability. Combustion Turbine Combustion turbines have limiting turndown capability. Their inability to operate at lesser loads can result in excess power to the grid from the generator and excess heat rejected to the HRSG. The HRSG still must accept the rejected heat by passing sufficient condensate and steam through its drums, headers, and tube sections. Depending on metal temperature of the steam turbine, the steam produced by the HRSG is either delivered to the steam turbine or dumped as wasted energy. For this reason, much thought goes into plant design for inclusion of a bypass stack. In the majority of the cases, this design feature is almost always omitted in the final design for one reason or another, including emissions limitations. The HRSG Consideration must be given as to whether the HRSG is designed for base load or cycling operation. With cycling, the HRSG will be subjected daily to thermal heating and cooling. For this reason, the HRSG manufacturer should employ materials and design that can withstand these daily thermal stresses. Consideration should be given in the design phase to address: Thermal Shock Metal Fatigue Heat Decay Support of Headers & Tube Sections Stress Concentration Factors Corrosion & Erosion Pressure Retaining Parts Flexibility Cold Starts Warm Starts Hot Starts Ramp Times Limitation

In general, these items can be controlled through proper material selection and design. The HRSG superheater/reheater section headers and tube bundles should consider materials such as T91 that allows thinner headers and thinner tubes for more flexibility. Welding procedures must address preheating and post heat treatment of P91/T91 welds. A better understanding of the thermal expansion and contraction relationships between the superheater/reheater sections header and tubes is needed. Drum materials to reduce drum thickness can be used to help reduce startup ramp rate limitations. Formal stress analysis with analyzed support designs to address the relationship of the interconnecting header piping and drums under thermal expansion and contraction is needed. These are just a few of the design consideration that should be addressed by the HRSG manufacturer. When a HRSG is shut down, the heat and pressure can decay at a rate that could delay restarting of the unit when the steam turbine is hot. Steam turbine manufacturers set an allowable temperature permissive between the incoming steam from the HRSG and the metal temperatures of the steam turbine. Primarily due to stack draft effects, the HRSG tends to cool faster than the steam turbine. A cold HRSG is subjected to higher thermal stresses. Also, a HRSG is subject to cold-end corrosion when non-alloy materials are used, such as carbon steel. To counter this inherent natural draft cooling, an automatic stack damper can be used. The stack damper helps to keep the HRSG under pressure longer by reducing heat decay. After an overnight shutdown with a stack damper closed, the unit typically can be restarted the next morning with a hot restart rather than a warm restart. A hot start will achieve a faster start by producing steam temperatures that can quickly match turbine metal temperatures. Again, the faster your plant can restart based on grid demands, the faster you can make revenue. The use of a stack damper greatly helps the HRSG stay warm, but if the outlet gas metal duct surfaces are allowed to freely lose heat, heat and pressure will continue to decay at a high rate. In many instances the exhaust gas ductwork of a base-loaded HRSG have scant insulation to control heat loss, for economic solutions. Therefore, the HRSG exhaust gas ductwork from the breaching to the stack damper should be insulated for heat retention purposes. Although HRSG basic technology is quite mature and has been for several decades now, more emphasis is currently being placed on the design of the internals because of the HRSG exposure to daily thermal cycling. For instance, flexible heat exchanger construction and the ability to avoid water quenching in the superheater are essential for cycling. In North America, the horizontal HRSG is predominant, whereas in Europe the vertical HRSG is more common. The vertical HRSG manufacturers take credit for applying the German TRD 301 code and the European code EN 12952 for lifetime expectancy in cycling fatigue assessment. Instrumentation and control of the HRSG are also key aspects of cycling design. Basically, all the design efforts and features implemented to make a plant capable of cycling can go to waste if the I&C design does not address how to make starting, stopping, and reduced load operation easy on the operator. Difficult controls, multi-level steps, and passing through difficult operating transitions increase the chance the operator make errors. Critical Piping Systems Critical steam piping systems such as the High Pressure (HP), Cold Reheat (CR), Hot Reheat (HR), and Low Pressure (LP) steam piping systems and steam bypass piping should be designed for optimum flexibility. Support design and overall dynamics of the piping system should be considered. As a minimum, a formal piping stress analysis must be performed. One of the solutions to increase piping flexibility is to use thinner wall thickness. Many combined-cycle plants now use ASTM A335, Gr. P91 pipe materials for piping systems. The piping systems should also address ASME TDP-1 recommendations on prevention of turbine water damage by providing proper steam line condensate evacuation from the steam lines going to the steam turbine.

By modulating and attemperating the high pressure, hot reheat, and low pressure steam sources using a steam bypass system, the HRSG's are capable of generating steam faster at temperatures that match the steam turbine metal temperature requirements. There are several approaches to steam bypass system design. There are systems designed for a percentage of the entire steam flow up to full steam flow bypass. For a single train, i.e., CT, HRSG and steam turbine (a.k.a. 1x1) configuration, a single HP, HR, and LP steam bypass system can be provided. For multiple train configurations, such as 2x2, 3x3, etc., a common or individual train steam bypass system can be designed. For example with a 1x1 configuration, a single 1-HP, 1-IP, and 1-LP steam bypass system will exist. Whereas for a 2x1 configuration, there could be 2-HP, 2-IP, and 2-LP steam bypass systems where bypass will work independent of the other trains. The receiver of the bypassed steam is normally the steam condenser. Steam Turbine Steam turbine use profiles are a valuable input to the steam turbine manufacturer. The quantity of cold, warm, and hot starts over the life of the equipment should be established. It is desired that the guaranteed cycles match that of the HRSG in establishing a guaranteed plant life expectancy. In addition, considerations should be given to other measures such as turbine blanketing and good warm-up capabilities. Other traditional design features such as steam sealing, turning gear, and sliding pressure operation should be there without question. For a cycling combined-cycle plant design, it is very important that the turbine manufacturer address both online and offline requirements. Such issues as overnight lube-oil cooling requirements, as well as, turbine trips scenarios should be identified; otherwise they could result in excess heat build-up that could prevent an immediate hot restart. Supplemental Steam Source Auxiliary steam is used to assist in shortening daily and weekend restart durations. Auxiliary steam can provide equipment sealing and heat blanketing. Steam is used to minimize thermal stresses resulting from heating and temperature decay in both pressure retaining components and metal surfaces. Preventing failure of pressure retaining components is essential due to their high initial and high replacement costs. For that reason, the temperature differentials that occur from startup to 100 percent load must be minimized. Heat or the reduction of heat is a factor regarding minimizing thermal stresses or fatigue. Also, pressurized and hot wet surfaces exposed to liquids or vapors are subjected to metallurgical attack from dissolved oxygen. If dissolved oxygen levels above 7 ppb (0.005 cc/l) are permitted to persist, these pressurized components are subject to higher corrosion, erosion, and metal fatigue, all potential causes of premature failures. To counter air infiltration, some equipment may require auxiliary steam to provide air infiltration sealing for minimization of dissolved oxygen. For example, steam turbine manufacturers use steam when necessary to seal the turbine. It is desirable to steam-peg HRSG LP drum integral deaerators. The steam eliminates air infiltration, oxygen absorption by the condensate, and aids in heat retention. In most cases, both saturated and superheated auxiliary steam source will be required. Table 2 is a summary of typical equipment that could use auxiliary steam to aid in rapid unit startup for cycling duty. 1. 2. 3. Steam Turbine Warm-Up to enable reclassifying the restart from a cold to warm or a warm to hot; thereby reduce the startup duration. HRSG Pegging Steam - to control air infiltration and control heat retention for deaeration of the condensate HRSG Warm Up and Blanket to control heat retention to shorten startup when steam turbine is warmer than ambient conditions.
Table 2 - Typical Equipment using Auxiliary Steam for Cycling Duty Units

Auxiliary steam can come from a wide range of sources. An auxiliary boiler can make steam more readily available in a shorter period of time, and may provide better turndown capabilities. An auxiliary boiler can create steam by burning fuels, such as oil or gas or by using high voltage electricity. The application of an electric auxiliary boiler is practical for retrofitting an existing facility or for new installations when emission permitting could be an issue. Steam can be obtained from other units operating on site or from an off site location. Regardless of the source, consideration should be given to availability of auxiliary steam under all circumstances to support unit startup or off line conditions. Feedwater Pump Partial load operation should be considered in the design and selection of the feedwater pumps. The use of several smaller feedwater pumps rather than a single large pump can provide cycling flexibility through better turndown versatility. In addition to a high number of starts and stops, the feedwater pump selection should be able to support varying partial load operations. The use of variable speed fluid drive coupling and variable frequency drives can contribute towards stable operations at reduced loads as well as decrease auxiliary power costs. Steam Condenser The steam condenser design should take into consideration frequent unit startups, shutdowns, and 100 percent steam load rejection from a steam turbine trip and the steam bypass system. The condenser design should also consider more frequent draining and increased low point drain flowrates. The internals of the condenser should be designed to accept these more frequent and large quantities of steam sources without causing internal damage or degrading the condenser and steam turbine performance. Condensate Deaerating All condensate in a power plant requires deaeration; however, cycling makes it more likely that deaeration capacity will have increased. Since units operate more frequently at partial load and off line, air infiltration and condensate makeup could increase the deaeration rate. For example, when turbine seals are not maintained during overnight and weekend shutdowns, and the condenser not held at vacuum, the dissolved oxygen level could exceed 7 ppb (0.005cc/liter). When noncondensible gases are present with condensate at elevated temperatures, the corrosion rate is accelerated on metal surfaces of the HRSG, in steam piping systems, and in the steam turbine. The need to deaerate can be reduced by maintaining seals and by bottling-up of the unit against noncondensible gas infiltration. Condenser Venting The air removal equipment associated with the condenser will be used more frequently due to overnight and weekend shutdowns. Therefore, more robust equipment is needed. Circulating Water System The circulating water system should be sized to provide the right amount of cooling in the condenser during normal plant operation as well as during full load rejection to the condenser. A design with 100 percent steam bypass should be considered when sizing the circulating water pump(s). In this situation, specifying more, smaller pumps could be a better approach than fewer, larger pumps, because smaller CW pumps can meet startup and partial load operation more easily than larger pumps. Both for retrofits and for new units, effluent temperature limits maybe be imposed and additional features or design additions maybe required. An additional benefit of having several circulating water pumps is that they should provide more efficient water flow to the unit when operating at reduced loads. Condensate sub-cooling could be avoided by being able to more closely match cooling water flow with steam rejection to the condenser.

Air removal from the circulating water piping may be required. Air evacuation is required to avoid premature failure and destruction of the piping and condenser due to water hammer. Existing plants should make sure that air does not enter the circulating water pipe when the unit is shutdown because air pockets could form in the high points due to change in pipe routing elevations. New plants should be designed to minimize these changes in elevation that could trap air. Auxiliary Cooling Water System The closed cooling water system should continue to provide cooling water to equipment after unit shutdown. This system is found at all combined-cycle plants. While bottled up, heat is a good thing for restarts, but it can also be a plants worst enemy during shutdown. After a unit goes off line some equipment still requires cooling water. Many base loaded plants take a portion of the circulating water and divert it to cool the closed cooling water heat exchanger. For cycling operation, shutdowns could also entail turning off the circulating water pumps, thereby losing your equipment cooling water supply. Several equipment suppliers have temperature limits and permissives that must be satisfied before equipment can be restarted. This is particularly important for the steam turbine lube oil system. All the design to facilitate cycling operation can be quickly negated by a single high temperature alarm that precludes, restart. The drawback is that running these large motors on the circulating water pumps when the unit is shutdown increases auxiliary power cost. The need to run a circulating water pump can be eliminated by employing a separate cooling water pump and piping system that is independent of the circulating water system. This auxiliary cooling water system would only supply cooling to the closed cooling water heat exchanger. There will still be a cost associated with running the smaller pump but it will be considerably less. An isolated crossover from the CW can provide a backup during maintenance on the auxiliary cooling water system. Controls, Instrumentation, Monitoring & Automation Controls and logics should be designed to make operations during startup, shutdown, and partial load operation very user friendly. Placing an excessive burden on the plant operator during starting, stopping, and part load operating modes will discourage him from taking full advantage of the flexibility that has been built in. Directly related to this is automation of equipment and components operation. For example, it should be possible to operate the pumps remotely from the main control room rather than locally. Another example is automatic rather than manual control, and monitoring of low point drains and the steam bypass system operation.

Additional Cycling Design Considerations

Specifying the ability to cycle a combined-cycle plant introduces additional considerations that may not be given the necessary level of attention in design. This can be said about miscellaneous equipment and systems throughout the plant. Of particular concern are the areas of condensate control and proper removal of any accumulation because condensate could accumulate and cause damage. Base loaded plants do not experience this daily need to control and/or remove excess condensate, because so much attention is paid ensuring condensate evacuation by the critical piping system for the prevention of turbine water induction. Other areas of the plant may suffer from involuntary neglect. In addition to the vents and drains, there is a need to also re-look at the design of the main systems, and BOP equipment must also be looked over with respect to how they function during startup, shutdown, trips, and offline situations. Cycling design should address the configuration, sizing, and control philosophy for all equipment and systems that cycle during cycling operation. The following items should be addressed when considering the design of a cycling combined-cycle plant: Water Steam/Hammer

Sudden Valve Operation Pump Startup or Trip Control Valve Instability Filling and Emptying Collapse of Steam or Vapor Pockets Safety Relief Valve Inadvertent Actuation

Not paying adequate attention to the above could results in equipment and system degradation and unit instability, conditions that could potentially delay a startup, lengthen a shutdown and/or make the unit unavailable. Additionally, adequate condensate makeup or condensate conservation and recovery programs should be implemented. Condensate makeup requirements may increase with cycling if a good water conservation control is not applied. There are many points in a cycling unit that could dump excessive amounts of good quality condensate via various venting and draining configurations. Unlike a base load unit, steam condensation and steam rejection from the system is more prevalent. Water and steam purity chemistry should be continuously monitored since these could vary greatly and quickly as the plant goes through various modes of operation and cycles disturbing and disseminating contaminant throughout the steam-condensate cycle. Increased frequency of shutdowns can contribute to infiltration of noncondensible gases into the system, which is another aspect, requiring continuous water chemistry monitoring.

As can be expected, it is much easier to plan for a new cycling plant than it is to modify an existing plant. The engineering, design, and equipment capital costs have to be considered when planning a new unit. For an operating plant, it is sometimes difficult to decide whether it is worth spending more money to retrofit a plant that is already running without problems - let sleeping dogs lie, as they say. There will likely be equipment and systems that are prohibitively expensive to replace just to achieve full cycling plant capabilities. On the other hand, there may still be costeffective modifications that can be implemented at an existing combined-cycle plant that can advantageously move it in the direction of higher cycling flexibility, availability, and reliability. A few of these would involve working with OEMs and engineers to determine what level of cycling is reasonably achievable for your plant. Having a study done to identify needs, durations, etc. along with an economic evaluation could be the first step in this process. The study should clearly and unequivocally demonstrate that some degree of cycling capability is more economic than continuing to operate as a base loaded plant. The net result of a good cycling design is the ability to shorten the startups and shutdown duration of a combined-cycle plant, and to minimize fatigue damage to components. To support cycling operation, cycling flexibility, availability, and reliability, the owner, engineer, and the OEMs should take into consideration the following: Equipment designed by the major OEMs specifically for todays demand for reduced load operation Guaranteed life cycles with defined ramp times for cold, warm, and hot restarts Controlling heat and pressure decay Maintenance and/or restoration of equipment integrity

Provision of supplemental auxiliary steam Inclusion of a steam bypass system Proper design of a condenser & circulating water system Systems/Equipment Control Logics, instrument monitoring, and automation Site attributes & infrastructure Clear definition of the requirements for flexibility, availability, and reliability

Ram Madugula is the current Vice-Chair of the Combined-Cycle Committee for ASME. He is a Senior Manager at Sargent & Lundy, LLC with over 22 years of experience in the power industry. He holds a Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from University of Illinois and a Master's degree from Illinois Institute of Technology. He is a registered P.E. in four states.