Back to Top
Skip to main content

Sensors and Controls

Improving Coal and Gas Power Generation by Addressing Operational Challenges with Advanced Sensors and Controls

Sensors and ControlsThe Sensors and Controls program improves fossil energy power generation through with sensors, distributed intelligent control systems, and increased security. Advanced sensors and controls provide pivotal insights into optimizing plant performance and increasing plant reliability and availability. NETL tests and matures novel sensor and control systems that are operable in coal-fired power plants; capable of real-time measurements; improve overall plant efficiencies; and allow for more effective ramp rates. Given the crosscutting nature of sensors and controls, these technologies will also benefit natural gas power generation and other harsh environment applications.

The current energy landscape is seeing a greater energy mix than ever before. Technological advances enable renewable energy sources to penetrate the grid forcing existing infrastructure to switch from a traditional base load operational profile to a load following profile. Load following puts immense pressure on the aging coal fleet because the systems and materials of construction were not originally designed to endure the fast ramp rates, low load operation, and more frequent cold starts. Operators are increasingly turning to sensors and controls and monitoring and diagnostic tools to better enable flexible operations and predict component failures.

The Crosscutting Sensors and Controls program explores advances within, and the integration of technologies across the following primary Research Areas:

Sensor research investigates a range of advanced manufacturing techniques to determine the feasibility of embedding sensors with condition-based monitoring algorithms and the capability of operating in extreme environments into turbine blades, boiler walls, piping, and tubing to predict component failure, anticipate maintenance needs and reduce plant downtime. Sensors and controls lead to improved infrastructure while reducing operations and maintenance costs. Crosscutting research is helping determine optimal sensor placement allowing for optimal characteristic readings such as temperature, pressure, fluid composition and the state of materials. The information informs operators of plant health and performance in real-time.

Robotic technology is on a rise in the power sector to improve off-line inspections. Robots, ranging from drones to crawlers, have transformed the inspection and repair of plant equipment. These advances are helping to prevent unplanned power outages, enabling lower costs and more frequent inspections, and improving performance and reliability for a renewed energy infrastructure.

Controls research advances the accuracy of physics-based and data analytics-driven distributed intelligence systems for process control and automation. The ability to monitor key plant parameters and align results in real-time with self-organizing information networks will enable decision makers to improve the operational efficiency during challenging transient conditions, increase plant availability and dispatch, tighten environmental control and improve plant revenue profiles. Cyber-physical approaches are used at NETL to explore the complex interactions of power generation subsystems as well as to improve control of plant components.

While plants gain more insights into plant operations by integrating sensors and collecting and analyzing data, they also become more susceptible to security threats. The Crosscutting program recognizes these threats and focuses on developing technologies that enable secure communications and improve situational awareness. Research is underway to better define and prioritize the threat landscape for fossil power generation and developing innovative technology solutions to the most critical security challenges.

NETL Objectives

The Crosscutting program has a robust Sensors and Controls portfolio. The program’s goals are to improve the efficiency and reliability of the existing fleet and enable the next generation of fossil energy power generation. Specifically, the program works toward enabling the new tools that enable predictive maintenance for critical plant components, detecting faults in plant operations and empowering distributed intelligent controls for the plants of the future. NETL recognizes the role of technological megatrends that advance manufacturing and robotic automation as enablers of Industry 4.0. NETL is exploring topics such as embedded sensors and robotic inspection techniques as the industry drives toward an automated future.

Additional Links and Resources

To find out more about DOE Cybersecurity initiatives, check out the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) webpage here.

NETL’s Systems Energy Analysis group conducts a variety of energy analyses to identify and evaluate promising R&D opportunities. Check out their website for specific Sensors & Controls technology related studies.

BLOSEM is a multi-lab collaboration, established to test, evaluate, and mature blockchain-based concepts for device security, secure communications, and grid resilience. For more information about BLOSEM visit the website here.

NETL implements this effort as part of DOE’s Crosscutting Research Program.
Technology area contact:

Sydni Credle

HQ Program Manager
Sam Thomas