By Ricardo Pires

According to the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), an independent statistics and analysis company, in 2015, the country generated around 67% of its electricity from fossil fuels: coal, natural gas and petroleum. The total of electricity generated by all sources was around an astounding 4 trillion kilowatt hours. However though Coal and Natural gas generated each 33% of the electricity, petroleum was only 1% of the source. The biggest source after coal and natural gas was nuclear, responsible for generating 20% of all electricity in the country. Hydropower, other renewables (wind, biomass, solar and geothermal) and other gases close the list with 6%, 7% and less than 1%, respectively.

Because of the importance of the 3 major sources of electricity – coal, natural gas and nuclear – to the U.S. economy, I will only focus in this article on these three types of power plants.

For a coal-fired generating plant, a rental compressed air company should be able to provide an air rental solution to do the essential, powerful job of soot blowing. The compressors should prevent soot from building up in the boiler so that the plant can achieve a clean, efficient burn. Usually compressors which accommodate applications up to 350 psig and can easily be brought into a plant on a planned or emergency basis and can be a quite effective clean-burning solution.

Natural Gas-Fired
For natural gas-fired generating plants, 100% oil-free air compressors, i.e., Class 0 ISO 8573-1 compressors should keep any operation running effectively during a period of maintenance or emergency. Because compressed air is used to operate so many components, the instrument air applications of these compressors can be the key to plant productivity and cost savings when it is needed the most.

While nuclear power plants have the same need for instrument air that other kinds of generating plants do, they also have a critical requirement for clean, quality air. 100% oil-free air compressors, i.e., Class 0 ISO 8573-1 compressors meet this exact standard. For example, the Integrated Leak Rate Test administered at all nuclear plants demand that compressed air be free of any contaminants. Refuel outages, i.e., when a nuclear facility turns off one of its reactors and replaces one third of their nuclear fuel, allow for some small works to be carried out in areas that are difficult or impossible to access when the reactor is on. During the time of a refueling outage, inspections, cleaning, testing of systems and equipment, rebuilding of valves and plant equipment upgrades, among other tasks, are performed. It is strongly recommended to use electric driven compressors because it is a difficult process to service a diesel compressor in the protected area of the plant controlled by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Actually, 100% electric driven oil-free air compressors, i.e., Class 0 ISO 8573-1 compressors are ideal as explained above.

Who is the best provider?
Compressed air is a utility – just as much as electricity, natural gas or water. Compressed air is essential to the operation of equipment. When a power plant is hit with an emergency or facing a planned outage, it needs a provider of temporary air that is able to be cost effective. Portability, quick-response delivery and excellent customer service are three of the essential elements of a good provider. Also, the rental compressed air supplier should have the expertise to help determine exactly what equipment is right for the operation.

For Instrument Air Applications
A plant will need clean, dry 100% oil-free air to operate safety and control valves. Similarly, when compressors and/or dryers go down or a planned outage is imminent, the compressed air rental provider has to be a fast, dependable resource for portable rental equipment to keep the plant running. A company that maintains a vast fleet of the best portable 100% oil-free air compressors on the market, along with a fleet of regenerative desiccant dryers capable of producing extra dry air (-40°F to -100°F pressure dew point) and which has whatever accessories needed, is ideal.

For Process Air Applications
First of all a provider that has an extensive experience fulfilling the temporary-air requirements of the industry should be selected. The main reason is that the quality of air is important and the air must remain clean and free of contamination. 100% oil-free electric (or diesel) driven compressors usually meet the toughest standards. High-performance Tier 4 compressors are environmentally compatible, help reduce or eliminate emissions, and are extremely reliable. A supplier with a diversity and range of equipment, allows to create an individualized solution to the plant’s specific needs by providing single or multiple air compressors supplemented by all necessary accessories.