The consequences of climate change on our daily lives are massive, not only directly, by means of rising temperatures and extreme weather, but also indirectly, since we will for example have to change the ways in which we produce energy. Although new oil and gas wells are still found, the drilling in order to retrieve these resources becomes more complex and if we continue to mainly follow this path, one day we will definitely run out of natural resources. In addition we are faced with plants that were built several decades ago and that are aging fast. Many of these plants are still operational and economically important, however, they are also about to reach, or have even already surpassed their life expectancy. Professionals are faced with the question: how to secure a safe and reliable operation of these aging plants in the (near) future?
Managing aging plants
The topic of managing aging plants is a very crucial one at this moment in time, this became very clear during the Managing Aging Plants Conference & Expo that took place on 3-4 March in Düsseldorf, Germany. For this event, professionals from all over the world flew in to attend paper sessions, workshops and plenary sessions, and discuss matters like risk-based inspection, materials selection, and the role of safety culture. What became obvious during this event is that the matter needs to be addressed urgently and that there are multiple factors involved. What needs to be done in order to secure a safe and reliable operation of an aging plant differs per situation and additionally depends on sometimes very specific factors.
Apart from safety and reliability of the materials and equipment used, changing demands from an environmental point of view also request an ‘upgrade’ of aging plants. One way to for example reduce CO2 is by upgrading coal plants. Since coal will probably remain an important source for power generation in the next couple of decades and coal generators are a major source of CO2 emissions, it is vital to make these plants more efficient. With respect to this, in 2014 the United States Environmental Protection Agency announced the “Clean Power Plan”, that entails a strategy to improve energy-efficiency in old coal-fired power plants.
Another way to approach the environmental challenges that we face is by means of increasing the amount of energy that is produced by using renewable energy sources. Renewable energy can be generated in several ways. One way to do so recently gained renewed interest, this is blue energy, that can be generated at a site where fresh water and salt water meet.
Other ways to generate power from renewable energy sources are solar energy, biomass energy, (offshore) wind energy, and (geo)thermal energy. There are lots of developments going on in this field, but we still have a long way to go.