Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lights out at Pole, or... Gen 2, Our Hero.

So far this winter we have had two adrenaline pumping events.  This week we had number three.  In late evening the station went dark.  And quiet.  Power for the station went off  unexpectedly and turned off all lights, electrical equipment, fans, air handlers, everything.  We later learned that power across the main station buss was zero - not enough to light a flashlight bulb.  I was in my room at the time and transitioned instantly from being in a nice book reading mood to being in a totally dark, scarily quiet environment.  Then the alarms started going off.  I don’t know if you have ever tried to find your clothes, shoes and radio in complete darkness while your heart rate is increasing by the second, but it isn’t easy.
Big deal, right?  Our power went off.  Happens all the time at your house.  Well, our power keeps us alive.  At -94F outside it wouldn’t take long for us to get very cold.  If our power is off it means our generators are probably off and not only will there be no electricity there will be no waste heat to warm the station.  We have five generators but one of those is usually undergoing maintenance and not available, and another in the Emergency Power Plant (EPP) sets off the sprinklers whenever it is started because the heat from its exhaust manifold heats the sprinkler head directly above it.  We know that because it happened last summer.  The EPP was inches deep in water and all the engineers were soaking wet.   I wish I had seen it.  So if we have to activate the emergency power plant we have two choices: get emergency generator A started or start generator B which will set off the sprinklers and exhaust all our fire-fighting water in about five minutes.  In my mind that is a design flaw, but hey, who am I to say? Just my opinion. Not criticizing.
Luckily one of the off-line generators in the main power plant (Gen 2) did exactly as it was supposed to do and started itself about fifteen long seconds after Gen 1 failed.  Still, what was going on in the power plant?  No one had heard from them.  People were standing in the hallways of the main station wide-eyed and wondering what was happening.  Being Safety on station, I put on my ECW gear and headed down to the Power Plant, trying to guess what might have happened.  Was it a fire?  No, the alarms were system failure alarms and not fire alarms (and from the previous scary event we know the fire alarms in the Power Plant work just fine).  What was happening?  As it turned out it was not too bad.

I learned that our old friend Gen 1 had overheated and shut herself down.  Since she was supplying all the station's power at the time, everything went black.  Regular readers will know that a few months ago Gen 1 set off all the fire alarms in the Power Plant, causing a station-wide emergency response when the Power Plant was filled with steam and coolant vapor.  Gen 1 is definitely on our  #$%^ list for the winter.  No one has figured out why, but Gen 1 apparently overheats at random intervals and shuts itself down. It did the same thing twice last summer.  Gen 2 however, is our hero. She started for both emergency events this winter and re-supplied the station with power on both occasions. And she doesn’t even set off the sprinklers.  Go Gen 2!

This is Gen 1...  

and this is Gen 2... our Hero. (She was dripping a little oil on the day this picture was taken- sort of like a bad hair day for generators).  As you can tell they are twins - just evil twin and good twin.

The third twin, Gen 3, doesn't get her picture posted because she sat through both emergencies and did absolutely nothing.  Nada.  She wouldn't start on the first one and was off-line for maintenance during the second.


Desert Tortise said...

Gremlins? Did someone not make the correct offerings? Glad you all are safe.

Anonymous said...

I always liked gen 3, she used to randomly shut off (05/06), but was always the most efficient. Gen 1 never seemed to run quite right but always chugged along. Gen 2 seems to just always get the job done. You'll (hopefully) be gone by the time I get down there, but I'm enjoying reading your blog and getting excited for another winter. Thanks.
-nate cannon

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