Guatemala: Innovation in the Shadows of Volcanos

Published on Tuesday, 14 November 2017

“The Hjdro Power plant are located in the vicinity of the Santa Maria de Jesus village, Zunil, Quetzaltenango, very close to the volcanic complex of Santa Maria – Santiaguito.”

Since the Canada H.P. began its operations in 2003, sediments started accumulating in the reservoir. To understand how this phenomenon could affect the operations, analyses of the water of Samala River, which is the water source were carried out.

The analyses showed the presence of extremely hard materials of volcanic origin, such as sand and silt. These sediments had a direct impact on the wear and tear of the facilities’ equipment, and were therefore a daily challenge for the plants’ Operations & Maintenance (O&M) teams.

For unique problems, unique solutions

After many meetings, the team led by Florencio Gramajo decided to develop an action plan with three priorities: ensuring the safety of the equipment, reducing operational risks and developing preventive maintenance measures.

“The O&M team was facing a great challenge. The working conditions in the hydroelectric plants were very special, perhaps unique in the world, so the usual solutions could not be applied.”

First of all, to reduce the sedimentation levels in the reservoir, two floating dredges were placed to constantly extract the materials deposited in the bottom.

Secondly, filters were placed in the sand traps, the structures that prevent solid materials from entering the plant. Grids and trash extractors were also placed, thus minimizing the floating material.

Finally, to counteract and prevent the excessive wear caused by these materials, it was agreed to coat with tungsten a key element of the turbines: the injectors’ needles.

Small innovations, great results

Results were almost immediate. Some parts of the plant, which had to be changed twice a year in specific instances, came to last four years. It was possible to avoid critical situations in the operations with the use of filters and measuring devices.

The O&M team in Guatemala demonstrated that innovation does not only consists of revolutionary and disrupting ideas. Constant improvements at small levels are also innovations that often go unnoticed. We can all come up with ideas of small improvements that achieve great results.