The El Canada hydropower plant is located just a few kilometres from Santiaguito, a 2,550-metre high volcano that has started to erupt in recent years and has left debris in the area’s rivers. An unexpected problem for the EGP plant’s efficiency, addressed with creativity and an ability to innovate even in the smallest details.
It’s all about point of view. In terms of size, Guatemala is very small: of the 196 nations that exist in the world, 106 have a larger territory than this Central American country. Yet its 180,899 km2 of surface area contain one of the greatest geological treasures on the Planet.
Guatemala is home to 324 eruption sites, with 12 volcanos over 2,000 metres high, 11 of which are active.
In recent years, the Fuego, Pacaya and Santiaguito volcanos have seen magma eruptions. In the shadow of Santiaguito, located in the western highlands of Guatemala, there are two Enel Green Power hydropower plants, El Canada and Montecristo.
A red-hot challenge
Canada and Montecristo are two hydroelectric plants (H.P.) from Enel Green Power Guatemala (EGPG). Separated by just three kilometers, the Montecristo H.P. is operated remotely from the Canada H.P.
“The Hjdro Power plant are located in the vicinity of the Santa Maria de Jesus village, Zunil, Quetzaltenango, very close to the volcanic complex of Santa Maria – Santiaguito.”
Since the Canada H.P. began its operations in 2003, sediments started accumulating in the reservoir. To understand how this phenomenon could affect the operations, analyses of the water of Samala River, which is the water source were carried out.
The analyses showed the presence of extremely hard materials of volcanic origin, such as sand and silt. These sediments had a direct impact on the wear and tear of the facilities’ equipment, and were therefore a daily challenge for the plants’ Operations & Maintenance (O&M) teams.
For unique problems, unique solutions
After many meetings, the team led by Florencio Gramajo decided to develop an action plan with three priorities: ensuring the safety of the equipment, reducing operational risks and developing preventive maintenance measures.
“The O&M team was facing a great challenge. The working conditions in the hydroelectric plants were very special, perhaps unique in the world, so the usual solutions could not be applied.”
First of all, to reduce the sedimentation levels in the reservoir, two floating dredges were placed to constantly extract the materials deposited in the bottom.
Secondly, filters were placed in the sand traps, the structures that prevent solid materials from entering the plant. Grids and trash extractors were also placed, thus minimizing the floating material.
Finally, to counteract and prevent the excessive wear caused by these materials, it was agreed to coat with tungsten a key element of the turbines: the injectors’ needles.
Small innovations, great results
Results were almost immediate. Some parts of the plant, which had to be changed twice a year in specific instances, came to last four years. It was possible to avoid critical situations in the operations with the use of filters and measuring devices.
The O&M team in Guatemala demonstrated that innovation does not only consists of revolutionary and disrupting ideas. Constant improvements at small levels are also innovations that often go unnoticed. We can all come up with ideas of small improvements that achieve great results.