In order to stay at the top, Itaipu will undergo a technological updating
Itaipu plant plans to invest about US$500 million in a technological upgrade process that should take about 10 years to complete. The investment is necessary to maintain the reliability of the equipment and ensure the continued high performance of the hydroelectric dam, which set a new world record for power generation in 2016, producing more than 103 million megawatt-hours (MWh).
Team of Brazilian and Paraguayan engineers in charge of the technological update.
“Itaipu has reached its maturity and is at the peak of production," explains the company’s Brazilian general director, Jorge Samek. “However, in order to ensure performance continuity in the coming decades, with high energy availability for Brazil and Paraguay, the plant will need to undergo a process of technological updating, replacing equipment that is nearing the end of its useful life,” he adds.
Elected one of the wonders of modern engineering, Itaipu was built with cutting-edge technology. However, it is electromechanical technology of the 1970s. In the early 2000s, the equipment gained a more modern “layer”, with the Digital Supervision and Control System (SCADA) and the Energy Management System (EMS), starting the process of plant digitalization.
Units U9A and U18A, deployed between 2004 and 2006, also use digital control technology. Partial upgrades of equipment and systems have been carried out over the years, but always in a timely manner. The binational now wants to go a step further by completely replacing electromechanical equipment and analog systems with equivalent, yet digital systems that add new information and functionality.
For this upgrade, a multidisciplinary team composed of Brazilian and Paraguayan engineers of the plant has been coordinating with the other areas of the company several studies over the last years. An initial stage, carried out between the years 2003 and 2008 promoted the evaluation of the assets of the hydroelectric plant, i.e., in what state of life all the equipment is.
“Itaipu was built in order to have a good conservation of its assets. An example of this is that, at the time of the project, a more demanding Canadian standard was adopted for the quality control and acceptance of the equipment delivered. In addition, we have an excellent maintenance program, which also allows the service life to be extended for a longer period than recommended by the standards, 35 years,” explains Eli Marcos Finco, manager of the Department of Electronic and Electromechanical Engineering. “However, many components are no longer manufactured, have become obsolete and are now maintained or recovered by Itaipu’s laboratories.”
It is worth mentioning that the generating units are in excellent condition and are not part of the scope of the update at this time. The focus of the upgrade project is on the control, protection, supervision, regulation, excitation and monitoring of systems of generating units and substations, such as circuit boards, sensors and meters, among others, which are spread over several kilometers along the Powerhouse, Dam, Substations and Spillway. However, rather than simply replacing, the plan is to rethink features and processes, and allow a more detailed reading of the generating units.
“It's more or less like a car,” exemplifies engineer Ângelo Mibielli, who takes part in the project. “In the old days, the dashboard gave you only some information like the amount of fuel, engine temperature and oil. Today, it provides a series of data such as autonomy, average consumption, diagnosis of important engine parts, among others. Simply put, it’s one of the benefits we want with this upgrade project.”
Another comparison used by Mibielli is the cell phone. When people retired their older models, they had to enter their contacts and do other operations manually to customize the device. Today, data stays in the cloud and it’s much easier to switch phones. Similarly, this will be a fairly laborious update, but it should facilitate future updates.
Itaipu’s expectation is to update two generating units per year. Since there are 20 units of 700 MW each, the expectation is to complete the project execution in ten years. Each unit that undergoes the process will need to be stopped while updating. However, with the accumulated experience, it is possible that the progress of the project accelerates as it is executed.
Currently, Itaipu is developing the basic project and executing the elaboration stage of technical specifications of equipment to be acquired. The bidding process for the acquisition of these systems is expected to be launched until early 2018.