Itaipu Binacional Trains a New Generation of Operators

To retain knowledge and pass it on to the next generation of operators of its 14,000 MW Itaipu plant, Itaipu Binacional uses a comprehensive training program that consists of classroom lectures, simulations and practical testing.

By Fernando Menezes, Carlos Vergara, Marco Amarilla and Henrique Ribeiro

After operating the 14,000 MW Itaipu hydroelectric plant, located on the Parana River between Brazil and Paraguay, for 27 years, Itaipu Binacional was facing workforce turnover of about 40%. Faced with this potential loss of institutional knowledge amd experience, Itaipu Binacional created the ‘New Operators Training Plan’ to both retain the knowledge of current operators and transfer it to the future work force. The first course was held in 2011.

During the training portion at Eletrobras Furnas, operators and trainers such as the ones shown here grow closer as a professional unit in addition to gaining technical knowledge.
During the training portion at Eletrobras Furnas, operators and trainers such as the ones shown here grow closer as a professional unit in addition to gaining technical knowledge.

Their solution to preserve this knowledge has two components: hiring and training. To be considered a new hire, each candidate had to show their qualities, answering a lot of written technical questions. The training program was established by technicians and engineering trainers.

Training planning

Itaipu Binacional has set a daring goal to generate 100 million MWh of electricity in one year. Operations management is responsible for preventing outages or, in the event they cannot be avoided, getting the hydro plant back on line quickly. A major outage may happen only once every 10 years, but when it does, the operators must have the training necessary to allow them to react appropriately.

Itaipu sets new production record

Recent events reinforce the value of the operator training program, as the 14,000 MW Itaipu hydropower plant has broken its own record for annual electricity production. The plant’s previous mark was 98.2 TWh, a record established in 2011-2012. In 2012-2013, Itaipu produced 98.63 TWh.

These personnel must be able to maintain reliable power generation at the plant, which involves the ability to detect anomalies during routine inspections. This action allows repairs to be performed on a schedule, rather than in a reactive way, and significantly brings down the cost of any needed overhauls.

Another important emphasis of the training sessions is the fact that each person has different fundamental knowledge and it is vital to act as a team. Mistakes will happen, but do not need to be hidden. This allows for proper interpretation of alarms and eliminates the need for a timely delay to investigate the cause of the problem.

The total financial investment for the course was US$9,000 per person.

The Itaipu hydro project boasts 14,000 MW of installed capacity, making it the second largest hydro plant in the world behind China's Three Gorges.
The Itaipu hydro project boasts 14,000 MW of installed capacity, making it the second largest hydro plant in the world behind China’s Three Gorges.

Methodology

It required two months of negotiation with the trainers in order to schedule the program. There were 29 new employees, 25 technicians and four engineers both from Brazil and Paraguay. The training program is composed of eight months of theoretical lessons and three months of practical lessons that involve “job rotation” inside the sectors of operation: disconnection planning, real-time supervision, generator unit tests and auxiliary services.

The theoretical sessions are lectures, featuring experts from several different areas of experience. For example, Itaipu contains 20 generators, 622 hydraulic pumps, 572 fans, 895 heat exchangers, 594 current transformers, 325 circuit breakers, 554 isolation switches, 54 battery banks, 434 power transformers and 736 electrical switchboards.

On the Friday of each week of training, the new operators-in-training have to prepare a lecture that they present to the supervisors to demonstrate the knowledge gained throughout the week. This is the method used to verify the material has been learned.

During the practical lessons, the new operator will respond to common scenarios faced in the power plan in the presence of the senior operator, who monitors the correct sequence of the required tasks.

In addition, the operator is responsible for administering first aid to every employee inside the powerhouse as required. They learn how to do CPR — cardiopulmonary resuscitation, how to act in extreme situations according to the plant’s emergency action plan, and how to use the autonomous breathing apparatus on other operators and themselves.

The training program covers the following topics:

— Generator mechanical and electrical protection;

— Transmission line protection;

— Speed governing;

— Power plant restoration;

— Black start;

— Spillway control; and

— First aid and emergency action plans.

External training

Together with the training program discussed above, the new operators at the Itaipu plant received training from another big enterprise in Brazil: Eletrobras Furnas. The company was chosen because it has the first hydro project in the country, and in the past, Furnas trained the first Itaipu operators in its reference training center.

The course consisted of 300 classroom hours of theory and 80 hours in the three-dimensional control room simulator, where the instructor can manufacture failures and the operator, using a wireless joystick, executes digital maneuvers, demonstrating his or her knowledge to restore generation according to the relevant procedures.

Besides the considerable technical training, the course is important to form team camaraderie and build morale, which helps operators work together seamlessly within the plant.

Conclusion

Itaipu Binacional anticipates that the investment made in its operators will be shown by the team’s efficiency during restoration of the facility after an unplanned outage.

This training program produces practical team efficiency, which translates to decreased downtime and efficient power generation. The same training process could be adopted for application in any electrical power facility.

Celso Torino was an additional co-author. Torino is the operation superintendent of Itaipu Binancional – Brazil.


Fernando Menezes is substation and power plant operation division manager of Itaipu Binacional – Brazil, Carlos Vergara is substation and power plant operation department manager of Itaipu Binacional – Paraguay, Marco Amarilla is operation supervisor of Itaipu Binacional – Paraguay, and Henrique Ribeiro is operation supervisor of Itaipu Binacional – Brazil.

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