Ask The TTS Expert: Q & A With Pat Begley

As the VP of TTS Power, Pat Begley knows energy. He started as a mechanical engineer working in the gas turbine industry in 1982 at GE. Over the course of his career, he held several roles starting in engineering and working his way up to management and business administration. In 1997, he started working with TTS taking his experience as a mechanical engineer to a position of business development in the energy industry.

In this “Ask the Expert” Q & A, Pat discusses the Fast Start Market and how the growth of renewables has created a lucrative niche for vintage unit operators to not only provide grid stability but make their units reliable and relevant in today’s evolving energy market.

Why are some generators required to be on the grid quickly?

The requirement for generators to get on the grid quickly has been driven by the advent of renewables. Primarily, the reason is to have backup power available for quick dispatch to support grids that already have a number of renewables operating. In particular, renewables like solar and wind have a tendency to drop off quickly. Due to that, it’s important to have a fast-acting backup energy supply available. Gas turbines are the primary means of doing that.

The increase in renewable energy over the last 20 years has increased the need for this type of support. In the 1990s, renewables represented only about 3.5 gigawatts (GW) on the grid. In 2020 it went to 120 GW of renewables. With the increase in renewable energy comes greater opportunities for instability on the grid. We need more units to pick up the lost load when the sun sets or the wind stops blowing. That’s the opportunity for owners of gas turbines to offer this type of support to the grid.

What are the basic requirements for a gas generator to be considered “Fast Start”?

Generators have to come on within a certain period of time to provide capacity. The requirement to be considered “fast start” varies by market. Regulatory bodies establish standards for all entities within each market.

Is there a set of criteria or a regulating document that sets these standards?

It varies by the market and regulatory body. As a practical matter, that means you have to meet criteria to get your unit synced or fully loaded within a certain amount of time. ERCOT and a number of other regulatory bodies require providers to be on full load within ten minutes. On the other hand, PGM requires that units be online within 15 minutes. Yet, as more renewables join the grid and as technology improves, the criteria for “fast start” and what you can get paid for will change.

What markets in the US are considered “Fast Start”?

Fast Start markets have the greatest amount of renewables and greatest exposure to fluctuation in energy generation. Leading markets right now are ERCOT (Texas), PGM, and Western regions such as CALISO. All of these markets are making efforts to provide opportunities for operators to make their units Fast Start.

Why are some markets in need of Fast Start generation over others?

Markets with a greater percent of renewables, particularly wind, are in need of Fast Start generation. Iowa is the state with the greatest percentage of renewables with about 50% of its energy generated by wind. ERCOT in Texas has the highest amount of total wind generating capacity (20 GW), which is 20% of its total generation capacity. Those markets are considered for Fast Start for these reasons. Additionally, as steam plants and coal plants are phased off the grid, markets that traditionally relied on them will also seek fast start capabilities.

What type of generators are best suited for “Fast Start” duty?

The simple answer is the generators that get loaded and synced the fastest. Traditionally, that is aero engines because they are lighter and start-up faster. Beyond that, simple cycle units lend themselves better to Fast Start duty because unlike combined cycle, they don’t have a heat cycle requirement. Older, simpler units are also viable candidates because they have simple combustion systems and start-up cycles. A lot can be done to make these units Fast Start ready without affecting the maintenance factors on the unit. Next would be DLN machines with simple systems. Combined cycle and complex DLN units are the final options for Fast Start as they don’t offer as much ease in making upgrades.

What can you do to your existing asset to see if it is suitable for “Fast Start” service?

The first step is to understand your market and their requirements around Fast Start Service. Baseline your unit against those current regulations, including times for purge, fire, acceleration, synchronization, load, and total time. It’s important to baseline your unit against the original design, not where it is at currently (if you’ve made upgrades, for example). Once you understand your unit’s suitability, you can determine the modifications it needs and whether it will meet the final criteria. From there, you can offer the unit as a Fast Start option and make revenue.

What types of modifications can be done to gas turbines to compete in the “Fast Start” markets?

Modifications that can be undertaken on any gas turbine are driven by the current start-up and loading capabilities and process for the gas turbine. Essentially, anything you can do to shorten the start-up process is important. Generally, that means any steps you can take to remove delays and start the unit rotating after initiation, accelerate the firing time, eliminate waits or any other form of delays.There are a number of different benefits and costs for each of these upgrades. TTS can assist you in understanding your needs and what steps are most cost effective and beneficial to getting your unit to Fast Start ready.

Which modifications provide the most decrease in startup time?

These modifications are driven by the unit and manufacturer’s requirements, but generally reducing the loading times for synchronization. The next best modification to decrease startup is to look at any purge time you can reduce to what is the minimum required for safe operation. Or you can eliminate the purge time by modifying your gas delivery system to gain a purge credit. This is one of the most beneficial in terms of reducing time, but depending on the steps you need to take, there could be hardware costs to modifying your liquid or gas fuel system to accommodate purge credit requirements. The next best thing is to eliminate any waits, warm-ups, or stays in the unit’s ignition process.

Fire on the fly is a cost effective controls modification that reduces all of those times. Updating the loading time is usually achieved with simple software modifications that don’t require a major capital investment.

Take Your Unit from Vintage to Fast Start Ready with TTS.

These updates and modifications should all be looked at on a case-by-case basis to determine the best outcome for your unit. At TTS, we don’t look at all units as the same. Our team will provide a custom consultation on your unit and help you determine the best modifications that will take your unit from vintage to Fast Start ready. Getting units up and running is not only necessary for grid stability, but for your own revenue goals. That’s our promise at TTS.

Why involving a commissioning team early is critical to saving time and money

We’ve been commissioning power plants and compressor stations for over 35 years, and we’ve seen how easy it is for processes to break down when following an urgent timetable. No one intends to skip corners, especially when working on mission-critical equipment for the plant, but oversights do happen, resulting in costly fixes and lost time if they’re not caught early in the construction process.

Adapt to the flow of the project

Proper planning, communication, coordination, and the ability to adapt to the flow of the project on site are all crucial to nullifying the possibility of timetable setbacks and achieving project objectives. By involving a commissioning team lead early, you stand to reduce the risk of project slippage and associated costs. Commissioning and Startup is the integration of the individual construction elements with a focus on equipment, system and signal integrity.

The TTS team approach has successfully implemented this commissioning and startup methodology, saving clients tens of thousands of dollars in time, materials and labor.

Proper Planning With Project Team Execution Can Save Time and Money

By including a knowledgeable Commissioning Team Lead early in the project, you’re providing additional insight and awareness of equipment installation to the project team.

Focus on timely commissioning → The Commissioning Team Lead supports the construction and project team with a focus on timely commissioning and startup using a comprehensive commissioning checklist and associated sign-off in the commissioning manual.

Unify teams and achieve objectives → Construction drawings are reviewed, and coordinated installation and commissioning plans are developed with the construction and project team for a holistic approach to achieve the project’s many objectives flawlessly the first time.

Meet and stay in compliance → Monitoring the project’s progress in tandem with a commissioning checklist and sign-off within the commissioning manual ensures that equipment and infrastructure are within compliance rather than waiting until after the project team has left to discover problems.

Examples: Non-Compliance

Commissioning and Startup focus on equipment, system and signal integrity confirms the plant is ready for operation. It is not unusual to encounter non-compliance or concerns during this time. Typical commissioning and startup non-compliance items range from very minor to significant major impact elements such as signal integrity/noise to equipment high vibrations during operation or worse.

Signal Integrity

Noise on an instrument or control signal has been known to impact station startup. The noise may be caused by a number of different sources. Grounding grid not performing correctly, power cable position and termination problems are just a few of these.

Equipment High Vibration

Things happen during construction that can have an adverse effect on the commissioning or startup of the equipment resulting in high vibration levels during equipment operation. The construction team works hard to avoid problems and if they do happen to resolve them correctly. However problems can still arise for commissioning and startup of the equipment. By having the Commissioning Team Lead involved early with the construction and project team provides an additional resource to benefit the project. Rather than waiting until the full commissioning team is onsite the commissioning checks can begin sooner in the process.

Equipment high vibration can be caused by a number of things. Foundation, grout, hold-down system, alignment, vibration monitoring system and internal equipment problems to name just a few. Foundation problems would include surface roughness prior to grouting, concrete pour and fill for baseplates and hold-down bolting as some typically encountered causes.  Experience has found grout not adhere correctly due to surface roughness prior to pouring, hold-down bolting issues that resulted in soft-foot issues and incorrect concrete fill for baseplates (too little or too much). Project timeline is just one of the impacted consequences.

Take the Guesswork Out of a Smart Startup

The road to smart startup begins with cohesive project management and The Commissioning Team Lead can be of assistance during the construction phase to assist in avoiding these types of startup problems. Catching the anomaly during the construction phase whenever possible assists in maintaining the commissioning and startup project schedule.

What if I Don’t Include a Commissioning Team Lead Early in the Process?

Hiring a commissioning lead to participate in the initial construction and installation stages is good insurance. By not involving a commissioning lead early on, you open yourself to the potential of lagging timelines, additional costs, and lost operational profit.

Consider an equipment high vibration problem during startup that was due to the foundational concrete as an example. Fixing a foundation problem can take as little as  2 days or longer than 30 days depending upon the extent of the required repair work, and time for the material to harden. Elimination / avoidance of non-conformance items that result in equipment vibrations is the most effective. Having a commissioning team lead involved early to assist the construction team has shown to have a positive impact on the project. What is the most cost-effective and minimal risk approach? Each project is unique.

Signal integrity solutions may be an easy or difficult fix depending upon the cause. Finding the problem sooner during the construction phase affords a corrective action that is generally easier to resolve than finding it later in the commissioning phase requiring greater rework effort. Every time one of these setbacks is discovered too late, it pushes the plant’s operations handover further back. If the project team has already left the facility, they need to be called back to enact the fixes, creating additional costs.



Stay On Track, On Time And On Budget
Involve TTS’s Teams Early in Your Project

By including a skilled commissioning team early in the process, you’re safeguarding yourself from potential setbacks and involving experts who can think outside the box. Our specialists have commissioned hundreds of power plants and compressor stations across the world, giving them the necessary experience to see opportunities where others might not.

Save yourself the headache and the financial strain. Keep your project on track with TTS.