In a scenario of an increasing use of renewable energy, conventional power plants will be more and more forced to compensate for the volatility of the natural resources. Even huge coal-fired units which have been designed for baseload operation will face an increased number of start-up/shutdown cycles and the requirement for faster load changes.

For the power plant operator that means a challenge as well as a chance: a challenge because the plant experiences higher alternating stresses which may reduce the lifetime. A chance because usually there are incentives for contributions to the grid stability which may give him additional profits. Coping with the challenges and making the best of the chances will require a detailed and quantitative assessment of the lifetime consumption in various modes of operation.

In this paper, an online software solution is presented that provides this kind of information right at the fingertips of the plant engineers. The innovative approach integrates the most recent European standards concerning the calculation of lifetime consumption from load cycling with state-of-the-art methods of predictive analytics and cutting-edge FEM technologies: the recent standards supported by FEM calculations allow an estimation of lifetime consumption which is unchained from unnecessary allowances. The predictive analytics easily correlate plant operation and lifetime consumption and allow for a reliable prediction of fatigue. This in turn gives the necessary information to make the best of the chances of load flexibilization while mitigating the risks of increased lifetime consumption. If the expected fatigue in a given period is exceeded due to the current mode of operation one can react with a more moderate mode of operation — or the other way round, if the expected fatigue is not reached.

Examples from German coal-fired power plants which have been put under economic pressure by the ongoing “Energiewende” (energy turnaround) are presented to demonstrate this approach.

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