Summertime is a particularly challenging time for utilities in the United States
When temperatures reach over 90° Fahrenheit (30° Celsius) and 95 percent humidity isn’t just hot; it’s miserably hot. When the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage power plant lost one of its four main generator circuit breakers (GCBs) in September 2018, the summer peak season was many months away. However, the Operations team at the New York Power Authority (NYPA), the nation’s largest public utility, knew that with a repair of this magnitude, time was of the essence. NYPA needed a trusted partner that they could depend upon.
“The Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage power plant plays a key role in the New York power grid, especially during the hottest days of the summer,” said Gil C. Quiniones, President and CEO of the New York Power Authority. “It was important for us to resolve this challenge in a timely manner and ABB helped us do that. Having a digital solution that allows us to continually assess operations of the power plant is also very important to us.”
Why are GCBs crucial in meeting peak electricity needs?
As a pumped storage hydropower plant, Blenheim-Gilboa uses two huge reservoirs for generating up to 1,160,000 kilowatts of electricity. During low demand, water is pumped from the lower to the upper reservoir and stored, ready to be released during peak demand period, in order to generate electricity quickly.
The GCB protects key equipment such as generators and transformers by clearing potential harmful short-circuit faults. The GCB failure and damage to other adjacent equipment meant that the unit could be out of service for an extended period, and the plant would be operating at reduced capacity until the GCB could be replaced. The NYPA Operations teams went into action to assess the options to get the plant up and running at full capacity before the 2019 summer peak season began.
NYPA and ABB – a strong partnership built on digital innovation
In January 2019, NYPA reached out to ABB to see what could be done and how quickly. ABB, a technology leader with a 130-year history of innovation, had supported NYPA on several other large projects, including the recent upgrades at its St. Lawrence-FDR Power Plant in Massena, N.Y. and the Niagara Power Project in Lewiston, N.Y., and the Marcy South Series Compensation Project affiliated with NYPA’s Clark Energy Center in Utica, N.Y. ABB was a good candidate for several reasons: They manufacture equipment for power plants and utilities, could service and maintain the equipment, and could provide the digital technology needed to help modernize plant and grid operations, which is important to NYPA. The organization is striving to be the nation’s first all-digital utility.
Making a difference through smart solutions
ABB proposed replacing the broken unit, as well as repairing the associated isolated-phase bus (IPB), a system used for carrying very high currents between the generator and the transformer in large power plants. Their proposal included expedited manufacturing of the GCB, testing to ensure it conformed to NYPA’s high standards, then air freighting the unit to New York. The new ABB Ability™ GCB would be equipped with ABB’s smart monitoring technology, which is digitally enabled to assess and manage the equipment and provide crucial information about real-time conditions that need to be addressed or maintenance that should be performed to optimize power plant availability.
Beating the clock to deliver customer success
Normally, a project of this scope takes about a year from order to operational. Due to the urgency of the situation – the possibility of an unplanned outage at the absolute worst time of year – ABB committed to a three-month timeframe, with all work to be completed by May 31, as the Summer peak begins on June 1. The timeline was a crucial factor, as pumped storage hydropower plants like Blenheim-Gilboa are especially needed when demand is highest.
Due to the extremely tight deadline and tremendous scope of the project, the initial installation phase saw some challenges. For example, one of the bus sections needed to be realigned. ABB was able to work through each challenge to ensure the installation and testing on the GCB and associated work were completed in accordance with NYPA’s high standards. The completion date of the installation work was May 28: giving the plant time to perform detailed testing prior to the May 31 deadline.
ABB: contributing to a greener grid for the benefit of New Yorkers
The project underscores NYPA’s focus on responsible asset management while leading the digitization of the New York power grid, as well as its commitment to sustainability and renewable energy. Restoring – in record time – a plant that harnesses water and gravity to generate green electricity for customers was a tremendous achievement for all involved. Protecting against a potential Summer meltdown while doing so made the success even sweeter.