Kiruna: The polar plant that must not break down

Date: June; 11; 2013 | Author:
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It gets bitterly cold in Kiruna during the winter. Kiruna Värmeverk is responsible for ensuring that the town's inhabitants do not freeze to death. The waste-to-energy plant must simply never break down. Much therefore depends on the annual summer maintenance shutdown and a 24/7-contract with Babcock & Wilcox Vølund.

It is warm in Kiruna, north of the polar circle. The temperature has risen above 20°C on this Wednesday in late May. It is summer and the sun never sets. It's difficult to imagine that the temperature is usually 30° below zero when the dark of winter descends on the northern Swedish town during the long winter months.

But this is the harsh reality to which maintenance engineer Conny Furvall must adapt to at Kiruna's w-t-e plant, Kiruna Värmeverk, where a single furnace line is responsible for supplying heat to most of the town. Outages simply must not occur during the winter months. Admittedly, the plant does have two smaller biomass boilers, an agreement to take excess heat from its neighbour, Kiruna's iron ore mine, and an accumulator tank containing 20,000 m3 of hot water. All that, however, would not amount to much more than two hours' heat on an icy cold winter's day. Then Kiruna would have to start using its oil reserve, which is so expensive that Conny Furvall prefers not to even consider it.

Peace of mind worth its weight in gold

This responsibility, coupled with the financial risk, is why Kiruna Värmeverk has a service agreement with Babcock & Wilcox Vølund.

”It gives us tremendous peace of mind to know that we can rely on Vølund's help within 24 hours in the event of a major incident,” says Conny Furvall of the 24/7-service included in the service agreement, which guarantees the assistance of Babcock & Wilcox Vølund is physically in place in Kiruna within 24 hours.

"If we could be certain that nothing would ever happen it wouldn't be worthwhile. But it actually gives us the same kind of financial security as you get when you have your car insured. If something does happen, having the agreement is worth its weight in gold,” Conny Furvall emphasises. 


Call a friend – even on Christmas Eve

Normally, Conny Furvall and his colleagues handle the challenge themselves throughout the year. When out of the ordinary problems have occurred, the engineer has been able thus far to handle them with a phone call to Peter Enemærke, Babcock & Wilcox Vølund's permanent project manager on this contract. Conny Furvall then gets the help he needs to do the job and the necessary spare parts are dispatched – if they not already in Vølund's spare parts container outside the plant.

"It's like having a good friend who knows a bit more than you do and who is easy to work with," says Conny Furvall of his working relationship with Peter Enemærke.

They have had a service agreement for seven years now, which is four years longer than Conny Furvall has been at the plant himself. His predecessors did need to use the urgent help service, for example in 2009, when the economiser suddenly broke down. Calling in local labourers is no use when that kind of failure occurs.

"Vølund has licenced welders who are highly skilled. You can't just call guys like them – just like that," he snaps his fingers and continues:

"With Vølund, we always know we've got the skills we need. Even at Christmas or in the middle of the holiday season."

Risk-free maintenance shutdown

The cold is never far away – even now, as Conny Furvall shows us around the plant, when the heat rises above the ears and over the boiler onto the steps that lead to a little outside ledge with a view of Kirunavarra, the mountain of iron ore and the mine that is the reason for the town's existence. The reason for this May visit and guided tour is that Peter Enemærke and his colleague from Götaverken Miljö are at the plant to plan the annual six-week maintenance shutdown, which starts in July: an event crucial to securing operation during the coming winter.

This summer, they will be replacing two superheaters and two of the grate's four parts. Under the terms of the contract, Babcock & Wilcox Vølund discuss and plan the shutdown with Conny Furvall, the plant's operations manager, and Inspecta, the approving authority. The shutdown reports are subsequently used to plan next year's shutdown. A spare parts container is a permanent fixture at Kiruna Värmeverk, and kept full of the spare parts that will be needed for the shutdown as well as a year's operation. This does away with waiting times in connection with maintenance and operational work. The prevailing goal is to have a plant that will operate constantly throughout the winter. For this reason, Conny Furvall takes no chances during the annual shutdown, when the summer heat and reserves keep the town warm.

"The plant must keep running all winter," says Conny Furvall – emphasising the word 'must' – "so we take no chances during the shutdown."

Facts about Kiruna's w-t-e plant

  • Built in 1985 with two small 6 MW boilers running on biomass (peat and wood chips).
  • The third boiler was built in 1991, originally to burn peat, but converted in 2000 to run on household waste with a capacity of 27 MW.
  • The plant burns 10 tonnes of waste an hour and a total of 70,000 tonnes of waste a year. Of this, some 40,000 tonnes come from Norway, whose border is just over 100 km from Kiruna. The rest of the waste comes from Kiruna Municipality.
  • The plant produces 77 MW of heat, and supplies 90% of all properties in Kiruna – including a third of all houses – with district heating.
  • It produces 7 MW of electricity, of which 2 MW are used to operate the plant.
  • The annual overall energy production is as much as 300 GWh.
  • Steam data: 400°C at 65 bar. 

Read more about service agreements with Babcock & Wilcox Vølund

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