A peek into peaker power plant operations

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Baby, it’s hot outside… and that, of course, means DTE’s customers are cranking up their air conditioners to stay cool. So how does the company make sure there’s enough power to provide you with reliable energy when there is a sudden increase in demand?

The company has 84 peaker units, ranging in size from small standalone units to full buildings, at 19 locations throughout Michigan to augment our 24/7 power sources during periods of high demand. The peakers are simple-cycle turbine plants that run on natural gas or fuel oil.

The need for peakers is largely predictable – DTE knows through weather reports what the temperatures will be in advance which gives us enough forewarning to put our peakers on notice.

“The greatest thing about peakers,” said Ryan Randazzo, plant manager, , “is their quick-start capability. Depending on which unit, we can be up and running within 20 to 30 minutes, versus the lengthy startup times for a coal plant.”

Additionally, DTE has “black start” capable peakers, meaning if the electrical grid were to go down completely, we have the capability to startup assets and restore power to our plants. “If an actual blackout were to happen, we have processes and procedures in place to ensure we can bring back power to our customers in a timely manner,” said Rahn Ledesma, supervisor.

The company’s peaker units have a start reliability rate of 96 percent, meaning we can count on them to start up as expected nearly every time. Depending on the demand, some of our gas turbines start upwards of 160 times a year, including multiple times a day. Combustion Turbine Specialist Tim Barth, says their performance is due in large part to weekly meetings to discuss potential issues. “We get together every week via WebEx to go over our daily pre-start checks and make sure they’re in order,” Barth said. “If not, we make sure to put countermeasures in place. I’ve always believed that if you take care of the little things, you won’t have to take care of big things.”

The Peakers organization is made up of 17 employees who understand the importance of working safely. “Everyone looks out for one another which shows in our safety performance,” Randazzo said.  “June 28thmarked eight years without an OSHA recordable, and that is something we are very proud of, but it also exemplifies the way we work.”

So, the next time you reach for that thermostat, remember there is a small group of men and women at the other end who are always ready to provide you the power you need, no matter the demand, every time.