Nuclear wireless advances seen as a 'game changer' for analytics

New wireless systems are set to boost the performance of plant monitoring, enabling operators to integrate advancing sensor technology into centralized analytics platforms, Joe Donahue, Vice President of Nuclear Engineering at Duke Energy, said.

Nuclear plant digitization and data analytics projects are seen as key ways to increase competitiveness amid sustained pressure on wholesale power prices.

A key priority for nuclear plant operators is to shift from time-based preventative maintenance towards a more condition-based approach and this will require higher levels of plant connectivity, Donahue told the Nuclear Plant Digitalization Conference on November 13.

In this context, advances in wireless technology represent a "game changer" for operators, he said.

Technology suppliers are offering an increasing range of wireless technologies and frequency specifications, enabling operators to benefit from improving monitoring technologies, such as advanced vibration sensors, Donahue said.

"We are looking at fully capable vibration probes with orbitals, in many different frequencies," he said. "The costs of those probes are really coming down."

Wi-Fi breakthroughs

U.S. researchers are supporting the deployment of Wi-Fi technologies and analytics through a number of nuclear-specific projects.

Research by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has found that the use of distributed antenna systems in nuclear plants can help boost the efficiency of monitoring operations, offering wider coverage and greater penetration than conventional Wi-Fi.

“Distributed antenna technology brings a flexible wireless platform to support voice communications, equipment monitoring, and other new technologies that the industry is adopting,” Nick Camilli, EPRI Senior Technical Leader, said in a statement.

Going forward, nuclear plants will "likely use a combination of point-source antennas and radiating cables, depending on the coverage requirements and building structures,” Camilli said.

  Gains from distributed antenna systems

                            (Click image to enlarge)

Source: Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) Journal.

Duke Energy has pioneered installation of wireless technology at its 2.3 GW Catawba Nuclear Station and plans to apply lessons learned across its 11 U.S. nuclear power reactors, situated at six sites.

Constructive dialogue between engineers and IT experts at an early stage allows operators to overcome the technical and security challenges of introducing wireless technology into large nuclear complexes, Donahue said.

"Bring your [IT and cyber security experts] in on your thoughts early, let them vent what they need and you will actually find that there are solutions you can put into your digital backbone, for your wireless backbone, for those type elements, as you step forward," he said.

Holistic system

Gaps in data and sensor availability have limited operators’ failure detection capabilities and curbed the potential gains from predictive technology, Donahue told the conference.

To date, Duke Nuclear has installed approximately 1,200 advanced pattern recognition (APR) models across its 11 reactors, on various levels of instrumentation, he said.

The nuclear plant of the future will use many different wired and wireless technologies, depending on data validity, data flow speed, bandwidth and cloud computing requirements, Donahue said.

Duke Nuclear is working towards a centralized monitoring structure which allows it to "plug and play" many different types of technologies and concepts and bring the information back to a central point, he said.

The operator is currently developing analytics algorithms that link together various applications, including its corrective action program, work management system, work control applications and site-specific performance data, Donahue said.

The company is also integrating work management system financial data, including cost of maintenance tasks, and the operator aims to integrate all the analytics under one holistic platform, he said.

Duke’s nuclear digitization project benefits from learnings from the company’s fossil fuel-fired generation business, which currently uses monitoring technology across around 90 plants.

"Our fossil fuel organisation has been doing this for about five years...The nuclear organisation is building on top of that and using a lot of the same systems and learnings as we go forward," Donahue said.

One key project which provided learnings was Duke Energy’s 618 MW Edwardsport integrated coal gasification (IGCC) plant, which came online in 2013. Donahue described the plant’s systems as "100% digital."

Technology review

Large-scale digitization projects can require significant spending and projects can be implemented in a modular approach, to avoid large upfront costs and ensure returns are seen soon after implementation, Donahue said.

Duke nuclear is looking at installing a range of different wired and wireless vibration sensor technology in its nuclear plants while also focusing on the digitization of plant process data, he said.

The operator is also looking at pattern recognition-based IR camera technology, and experimenting with motor current signature analysis (MCSA) and electromagnetic signature analysis (EMSA) fault detection systems.

Duke nuclear is also considering online lubrication oil analysis and connected dissolved gas analysis, by "building on the technology that sits on transformers today," Donahue said.

The company is also developing a standard digital technology package which can be efficiently applied during maintenance procedures.

"When we go in to do a major overhaul on a component, that's the time to add additional electronics and make it wireless to bring the information back," he said.

Industry initiatives

Cross-industry collaborations are helping to advance nuclear plant analytics and expand the pool of information available to operators.

Duke Energy is one of a number of operators working with the EPRI on the sharing of real-time data to support the development of analytics algorithms.

EPRI's current research includes case studies across multiple plant technologies which aim to improve APR and other analytics software.

Going forward, nuclear operators will gain from an increasing choice of input data. For example, EPRI is currently leveraging cross-industry databases to pioneer smart chemistry management concepts.

Combined with improved equipment data and APR models, advanced corrosion monitoring sensors should widen the scope for digital optimization, Donahue said.

"If you bring all that together with the chemistry data, you can adjust chemicals and those types of things," he said.

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