Introducing check-points at various stages of the project reduces risks at a later stage, but an independent verification and validation is essential to assure quality, say Sandeep Ghosh and Narayan Bhat.The current policy framework allows large participation from private owners and developers for rapid growth of the power sector and planning for quality is the best way forward. The Indian Electricity Act reforms have opened the door for greater private participation in the country's power sector. Indeed it has given a momentum in faster addition of capacity and in addition explored an opportunity to use global resources like manufacturers and fuel linkages from foreign suppliers for the developmental needs of the country. This is a welcome move but one need to be cautious in terms of quality of construction with an efficient process in place to ensure uncompromised quality and safety enhancement of the plant.Looking back at the 1970-1980's, the power business was mostly dominated by two major players' viz., government-owned existing owner-operators and reputed equipment manufacturers building on a build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) principle. Both had a limited in-house resource and vendor base, which limited capacity addition to meet the demand and growth expectations of the country. Reforms have provided an opportunity for participation from new players like investors/developers/private power companies who can install, operate and sell electricity as independent power producers within agreed unit rates. As a likely scenario in such a competitive market one would like to have quick turnaround period and return on investment (ROI). Devoid of technical acumen in the related field, many investors adopted a package concept with multiple engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firms of multi-locales to accomplish large power projects. Quick-fix solutions are obviously favoured as the private share of power is continuously growing from 20 per cent during the 11th Plan and is expected to reach 50 per cent during the 12th Plan. In such situations, one should be more vigilant about quality of safety critical and high cost equipment, safety during the construction and time-bound commissioning to ensure reliable operation of the plant for its life-time.Technology and time driversPower plant critical equipment like turbines, generators with associated reheat or regenerative cycles are always built with proprietary standards where equipment manufacturers dictate the project technicals without any common compliance or regulation in place. Simultaneously one can see a change from standard configuration to scale-up capacity of power by manufacturers with new technologies. It is more like squeezing out more from the same machine configuration. Although manufacturers guarantee efficiencies, they remain assumptions till proven at a later stage. These overall assumptions, in turn, rely on the exacting levels of materials and process that is used in manufacturing, erecting and commissioning of equipment.So there is a certain amount of risk for stake-holders who need to ensure that their investments are secured. Owner-operators can monitor projects based on their past experience but then in most cases these experiences are out-of-date as the technology and practices of the industry have moved on. This creates a technology gap that needs to be addressed.The quick return on investment poses challenging deadlines for project completion which runs the risk of pushing manufacturers to cut corners as well as EPCs to opt for faster site assemblies with minimum curing.The scale of modern power projects makes it impossible to cross-check every milestone by actual performance. All the operations finally lead to one critical light-up followed by synchronisation. So there is only one window of validating all assumptions and design parameters of the plant. Any set-back at this stage puts pressures on the timeline and rework costs are huge for each stakeholder in the project. This creates a time gap that needs to be guarded against.Right choice for qualityWhile it is apparent that introducing check-points at various stages of a project reduces risks at a later stage, an independent verification and validation is essential to assure quality. It is important that the agency entrusted with such services be reputed, truly independent and has the geographical spread so that quality is embedded in the equipment during manufacture, erection and commissioning of the project. They ensure that project specifications are not randomly compromised and influenced.An independent inspection agency operating for several years, which has seen evolutionary changes in power plant technology, can bring in global experience and becomes an optimum choice. Their experience in itself is a value addition since they have a better perspective of the design and manufacturing processes of the equipment involved.At these inspection agencies, the core team of experts in material, welding, rotating equipment, electrical and instrumentation add value by designing quality assurance plans that effectively monitor the various processes, which in turn embeds quality into equipment.OutlookIn this world nothing is perfect and so are the building processes of a project. Similarly the outputs too vary. Involvement of an independent inspection agency at different stages of the project ensures that inevitable deviations and conflict of interest can be logged and disposed off properly so that an unbiased approach can bring in better efficiency in the process. The expertise and knowledge of seasoned engineers can value add in resolving issues, visualise possible checks and detect the causes early in the stages of manufacture including de-rating of equipment with tested resolutions. It is the small but firm steps during project planning which ensure that equipment meets assumptions and at times achieve a high plant load factor, availability and efficiency over an extended period of time.There is an added advantage as well. The capital cost of a power project is spread over time to arrive at the saleable price per unit of power. In the same timescale, if we factor in the higher plant load factor, better availability and improved efficiency, the inspection agency charges occupies a very small space on the P&L sheets.But such services do come at a price - the fee these independent inspection agencies charge. During project start-up the price appears as a cost and is debated but when compared to the project overall cost they are usually minuscule percentages and mostly in single digits. This is a small cost when compared to similar risk protection that kicks-in at the beginning of the project in the form of project insurance. But there is a bonus too. The cost benefits of the 'extra' power translated into 'saleable power' by far offsets the cost of engaging experts. For one, while the cost of engaging the third party inspection agency (TPIA) is only during manufacture and is considered a one-time, the benefit for the owner-operator is recurring. This is a win-win scenario.In the absence of this mechanism the end-product may fall short of expectations. At that stage while the manufacturer can get away with a one-time penalty for not meeting the performance guarantee, the operator is stuck with underperforming equipment for life. In today's world, power is essential to sustain life. So a better quality plant and safe plant operation will not only benefit stake-holders but also ensure power for the consumers at large.The authors are Technical Training & Business Assurance Manager, Energy, and Head - Power Asia, Lloyd's Register. Views are personal.
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