Monday, April 17, 2023

How Plant Assessments Improve Performance

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EPRI and Korea South-East Power Corporation (KOEN) partner to reduce power plant outages, save money and develop a tool to improve plant performance across the industry

Like any power plant operator, the utility Korea South-East Power Corporation (KOEN) is always looking to optimize the operations of its 10,000-plus-megawatt fleet to ensure safety, efficiency, and as few unplanned outages as possible. According to Soomin Kim, senior manager of KOEN’s research and technology team, the utility has traditionally done a good job ensuring its five power plants integrated the best operations and maintenance (O&M) technology.

But Kim has long seen opportunities to improve how KOEN conducts plant assessments. These assessments are a key step in improving O&M because they provide an objective appraisal of how a power plant is operated and maintained in comparison to industry best practices. “In Korea, there was no objective and credible evaluation guideline to evaluate and grasp the current [best practices],” Kim said. “While searching for various methodologies, I came across EPRI’s O&M Assessment Guideline.”

Kim’s initial discovery of the guideline in 2015 spawned an eight-year collaboration between KOEN and EPRI aimed at developing and instituting a formalized approach to assess the utility’s O&M performance and continuously improve it. The results underscore the value of the partnership. For example, in 2015, KOEN’s forced outage time per unit across its fleet was 13.6 hours. By 2020, forced outage time had plummeted to 3.2 hours per unit. This O&M improvement also has quantifiable financial benefits: Avoiding the loss of revenue and restart costs associated with outages has saved KOEN an estimated $2.7 million.

A Tool to Improve Plant Assessments

The collaboration with KOEN also prompted EPRI to develop a web tool that can be used to perform O&M assessments – a product that has benefitted other EPRI members. “When this first got started, EPRI would go do a plant assessment and, based off their best practice knowledge, they would give a report to the utility about what we thought they could do better,” said Dwayne Coffey, program manager of Plant Management Essentials at EPRI, who has worked directly with KOEN. “For this, KOEN wanted scoring for the assessment criteria, so we had to develop a tool that had formalized scoring for industry best practices to do an assessment.”

The development process involved leveraging existing EPRI O&M research and staff expertise to create an electronic tool to guide a thorough, step-by-step plant evaluation. “I sat down and talked to the EPRI subject matter experts who had been doing these individual assessments. We needed to document what they were looking at,” Coffey said. “Then we developed formal assessment criteria for power plant operations, maintenance, and the overall plant.”

For example, the assessment examines a plant’s procedures for lockout and tagout to ensure that it consistently and adequately protects workers performing plant maintenance from dangers such as high temperatures, pressures, or exposure to electricity. The assessment tool also looks at whether there is a standard procedure for shift turnovers, including whether they include meetings to make incoming workers aware of any potential problems to monitor. The range of assessment topics is wide and includes whether staff are using personal protective equipment (PPE) or if the plant has emergency action plans in place.

For each of the areas being assessed, the tool prompts the assessor to deliver one of four ratings:

  • Inadequate, meaning the plant does not meet the industry’s best practice
  • A marginal rating is given when the plant meets only some of the industry’s best practices but could still improve
  • A successful rating indicates the plant meets the industry’s best practice
  • And an exceptional rating is awarded when the plant exceeds the industry’s best practice

The O&M tool allows those who are conducting an assessment—it could be EPRI staff, utility personnel, or both—a simple and consistent way to record their observations about how a plant is performing. “You have all these power plant industry best practice criteria. So as an assessor, you click on the criteria and add an observation you have made in the power plant,” Coffey said. “The person doing the assessment would then enter one of the ratings for each of the criteria: inadequate, marginal, successful, or exceptional.”

All the observations and ratings are then collected to produce an overall assessment of the plant’s O&M operations. The assessment results can then be used to generate reports and charts that make it simple to communicate which areas in a plant are performing well and which need improvement. When EPRI engages with individual utilities to perform assessments, another deliverable is a final written report that includes strengths, areas for improvement (ranked by importance) with recommended corrective actions, and all observation entries and pictures.

YEONG HEUNG power plant, Units 5-6
Photo courtesy: Korea South-East Power
Steady Improvement at KOEN

EPRI developed its O&M assessment tool as it collaborated with KOEN and continues adding new features to the tool. For instance, the tool now has a feature that allows uploading photographs that reinforce observations made in an assessment. Ongoing upgrades include using the tool on a smartphone and recording voice observations that are saved as transcriptions.

The partnership with KOEN goes much deeper than developing and using the assessment tool. In 2016 KOEN selected personnel to visit EPRI’s Charlotte, North Carolina facility for training in O&M best practices. This was an important step in building a sustainable culture of O&M excellence at KOEN. “The people who came here for training would become our assessment team so that when we went to do the first assessment in Korea, there would be a minimal EPRI presence, and it would mostly be their own people,” Coffey said. “It was important to teach their staff because we can’t be there all the time.”

The training in the U.S. also included a tour of a U.S. power plant, where KOEN staff had the opportunity to observe how the plant approached O&M and ask questions. With that initial training complete, Coffey and two other EPRI technical staff traveled to KOEN’s Yeongheung power plant in 2016 to work with the utility’s staff on an assessment. The plant today includes two 800-megawatt coal units, four 870-megawatt coal units, an eight-megawatt solar plant, a 12.6-megawatt hydro plant, a 46-megawatt wind farm, and an energy storage system.

EPRI worked with KOEN staff for a week to assess O&M performance and teach utility employees what constitutes an effective and instructive assessment. For example, it was important to reinforce that a valid observation is not an opinion. “You should only document what you see. People want to tell you good things about their plant or company, but our assessments are built on what we see,” Coffey said. “We set it up so that anybody can make an entry but only team leads can approve observations. We’d also review the report each day and edit the observations to ensure they were valid and provided coaching and mentoring so they could improve.”

Each day the assessment team would shadow the O&M staff and conclude the day by recording their observations into the tool. At the end of the week, EPRI provided an oral debrief to plant managers, including three areas where the plant performance was strong and three areas that could improve. Later, EPRI produced a formal assessment report for KOEN. “Part of the report is all of the observations we made, along with pictures to support the observations,” Coffey said. “There’s also a section of recommendations where we identify areas of improvement and provide recommendations about how to improve that tie back to EPRI research.”

Since that first assessment, EPRI has worked with KOEN on assessments at other plants in 2017, 2019, and 2022. KOEN also assessed the Bundang power plant near Seoul, and the report was sent to EPRI for review and comments. The collaborative approach to assessments has delivered significant value to KOEN. “It is a good opportunity to learn evaluation techniques by directly participating in the on-site evaluation with EPRI as a mentor and KOEN directly participating in the evaluation,” Kim said.

Since 2016 KOEN has made several specific changes as a result of the assessments. For example, Kim says power generation companies in Korea, including KOEN, have traditionally lacked clear standards for lockout and tagout. “Through collaboration with EPRI, a clear concept was learned, internal procedures were created, and site improvement is continuously promoted.” In addition, KOEN has improved its arc flash protection guidelines. And after the 2017 assessment, the utility configured EPRI’s assessment tool so that it could be used on KOEN’s internal technology system.

“Each time an update is made on any items in the O&M assessment tool, we are making updates on our own tool to be on the same page as far as evolving the tool,” Kim said.

EPRI Technical Expert:

Dwayne Coffey
For more information, contact