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Performance impacts on steam cycle, unit heat rate

and output of a Thermal Generating Unit


The heat exchangers, particularly in the regenerative cycle of a coal based

unit are of utmost importance for an optimally economized operation of the power
plants. Thus, these heat exchangers like, LP/HP heater, deaerator, Re-heater,
superheaters, and condenser etc. are warranted to be operated at designed
parameters to achieve optimal performance not of their own only, but also for the
entire integrated system of the cycle of power plant unit. Thus, potential of heat
exchanger networking need to be realized to its maximum capacity.

The two vital parameters for performance and selection of a heat

exchangers are TTD* & DCA.* The lower the TTD & DCA, the more efficient is
the cycle and the larger is the surface area, which ultimately results in more
efficient cycle having lower heater rate. But there is a limit to increase the
surface area and then a detailed engineering study is required using applicable
economics in enlarging the surface areas to achieve an optimum feed water
parameters. There are other operational factors also which affect the optimal
performance of cycle.

*Drain Cooler Approach (DCA) is defined as temperature difference

between the drains leaving the heater and feed water entering the heater. If
we decrease the DCA of a heater, cycle efficiency is improved while surface
area is increased.

*TTD is the difference between the saturation temperature at the operating

pressure of the condensing zone and temperature of feed water leaving the

The design and operating parameters have a number of impacts on the
performance of regenerative cycle system. These are as follows:-

1. Re-heater (R/H) & its system pressure drop

2. Extraction line pressure drop
3. Make up
4. Turbine exhaust pressure
5. Air preheat [Note: it is Air pre-heat not the Air heat]
6. Condensate sub-cooling
7. S/H & R/H spray flows
8. Wet Bulb Temperature
9. Top Heaters out of service
10. H.P. Heater drain pump.
11. Type of BFP drives & method of flow control

These factors influence the steam cycle's mass and energy balance,
thereby causing performance impacts. Though these need to be maintained
carefully and are hard in optimizing the cycle performance, yet can be achieved
for bringing in improvement in cycle efficiency through adoption of best practices
in operation & maintenance. If the changes in these parameters are observed,
the relevant poorly performing component/equipment must be corrected on
priority as these have cascading effect on each other’s performance, as well as
cycle performance besides the economics of its operation & cost of power thus

1. Impact on account of R/H & its system pressure drop: - The

pressure drop across R/H, Cold Reheat (CRH) & Hot Reheat (HRH)
piping is designed for 10% of HP turbine exhaust pressure. For a 1%
decrease in this system pressure drop, improvement in the Turbine Heat
Rate (THR) & output, approximately 0.1% & 0.3% is observed

2. Impact of Extraction line pressure drop: – For extractions which are

drawn from locations other than HP & IP exhaust of turbine, a pressure
drop of 6% drop across the extraction nozzle and 3% drop for piping &
valves is permitted between stage pressure and heater shell pressure.
For extractions at turbine-exhaust section, total drop is 3%. For every
2% increase in extraction line pressure drop, output & THR would be
poorer by 0.09% approximately.

3. Impact of cycle make up: – A typical value between 0% & 3% are
normally acceptable for a cycle make up to offset cycle water losses
which may be on account of various retrievable leakages, boiler blow
down, soot blowing and passing of valves & leakages. The additional
make up flow result in higher feed water thermal duties which causes
additional extraction flows and higher pump duty requirement. For 1%
make up, approx 0.4% increase in THR and reduction of 0.2% on output
can be observed for boiler blow down for saturated conditions at boiler
drum pressure.

4. Impact of Exhaust Pressure: – Though increase or decrease in

exhaust pressure affect the performance of turbine, by increasing or
decreasing the heat rate, but no accurate thumb rule has been
developed which would be valid for all cycles & turbines. However,
actual turbine characteristics i.e. last stage blade design and exhaust
area and unit size both do affect the impact of changing exhaust
pressure on performance.

5. Impact of Air Preheat: – Preheating of combustion air by flue gas

through regenerating air heaters improves boiler efficiency thereby
lowering flue gas exit temp, but not below the acid dew point temp, to
avoid formation of harmful sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid. To
achieve this, an average cold end temp (ACET) in the regenerative air
heater is maintained by preheating the air by passing it either through
steam air preheating coil or hot water preheating coils drawn from LP
extraction steam or turbine cycle as the case may be. The condensate
thus collected after preheating is either pumped back to
deaerator/condenser or to an intermediate LP feed water heater point
through flash tank. Depending up on the unit load, a correction in THR
is done for the specified percentage of combustion air preheating duty of
cycle heat impact.

6. Impact of condensate sub-cooling:- When condensate in hot well is

cooled well below the saturation temp corresponding to turbine exhaust
pressure, the duty of first feed water heater increases thereby causing
enhanced extraction steam flow. For an approx 2.50 C sub cooling,
when throttle flow beginning with 30%, is plotted against the % increase
in THR, there is 0.001% increase in THR for every subsequent 10%
increase in flow.

7. Impact of RH & Superheater Spray flow: - To control the MS temp &
RH temp, desuperheaters are provided which draw spray water either
from discharge & inter stage or BFP respectively or from after the final
feed water heater. These spray water adversely affect the THR when
drawn from the BFP discharge. M S Spray evaporates in the boiler &
becomes the part of the MS flow. Since this additional flow was less
regenerative the THR is affected. Likewise R/H spray is also not only
less regenerative but this additional flow by passes the HPT also. For
every 1% of each de-superheating flow the correction for THR & load for
varying % of VWO flow, has to be carried out as per curves supplied in
the thermal kit by the turbine manufacturer.

8. Impact of Wet-Bulb Temperature:- This has indirect effect on turbine

cycle output as well as turbine heat rate. It is very difficult to
accurately quantify the performance impact relationships to cover all
possible cases, as it involves performance of evaporative cooling tower
and turbine design performance features. For a typical 500 MW Reheat
power plant, impacts up to 1.5% to 2% can occur on turbine heat rate
and output due to change in wet bulb temperature.

9. Impact of top heater out of service:- In the event of top heaters being
taken out of service due to leakages or otherwise, the extraction steam
flow meant for these heaters passes through turbine thereby increasing
the output of turbine. At the same time the heat input to turbine is
increased and final feed water temperature is lowered and THR
becomes poor for the given throttle flow. This also causes larger steam
flow in the last stage of LP turbine as well as through IPT. Thus, the
turbine also needed to be checked up with manufacture to know it’s
compatibility to cope up with this condition before permitting to take out
top heaters from service in the regenerative heat cycle.

10. Impact of HPH drain pump:- Normally at full /more than 50% load, the
difference of pressure between HPH- 6&7 is sufficient enough to push
the condensate to deaerator. Typically at around 50% load, pressure is
not enough to drive this condensate (drip) to deaerator. Thus either HP
heater drain pump is deployed for the purpose, or it is dumped in
condensate hot well/ flashes it to next lower pressure heater. This way
THR can be improved by 2.52 kCal/kWh for 50% load condition.

11. Impact of type of BFP drive & flow controls :- Normally, any of the
following four alternate BFP drive & control concepts are installed for the
boiler feed water pumping to boiler drum.
(a)Constant speed, motor driven BFP with throttle valve control;
(b)Motor driven BFP with variable speed coupling control
(c) Variable speed motor driven BFP
(d)Turbine driven BFP

Both the bhp (Brake Horse Power) & net electric power consumption for the
pump at ‘a’ above is highest & lowest for the pump at ‘d’ for 100% to 50%
throttle flow. Likewise the net THR & net turbine output too reduces for the pump
configuration ‘a’ to ‘d’. Thus for the best turbine cycle heat rate and turbine
output, the turbine drive BFP arrangement is the best as it improves the net THR
& net turbine output by about 0.56% & 0.58% respectively for 100% throttle flow.

Conclusion:- Various design and operating parameters of a Thermal Power

Plant are responsible for its cycle performance, heat rate and the output as well.
Changes in these parameters are reflected by changes in steam cycle mass and
energy balances. Therefore, these operating parameters need to monitored
closely and kept as near as possible to the design parameters for optimized
performance of various equipment and consequential economics in power
generation. As such every accountable power plant engineer managing the
operation of the unit is required to know these impacts, caused on account of off
design operation of the plant, simply for the reason that “the more efficient a plant
works the more economically it is”.

Note:- The values stated herein are indicative only.
Ref.: 1. "Power Plant engineering" by Black & Veatch
2. " Power Plant Performance" by AB Gill