Monday, September 1, 2008

While were at it, does anything else feel like breaking?

Fantastic. Now one of our generators is crapping out.


Our station gets it's electricity from two old straight-six Caterpillar turbo-diesel engines, each able to put out up to 250kw, although we generally draw around 150kw. We typically run one generator at a time, alternating them every week or so as maintenance demands. We also have a smaller emergency generator, also a Caterpillar, rated at 100kw.

Early today, alarms sounded in the power plant to alert us that generator #2 was dangerously low on oil. We hurridly put more in, only to discover that it was loosing oil at a rate of about five gallons every two hours (they hold a total of 24 gallons). So where was this oil going? There weren't any obvious leaks anywhere, and there's no way that much could be burned off.

It's going into the coolant. Yeah.

In an effort to explain this situation, here goes another question-and-answer session

Q: Why don't you just switch over to the other generator, #1, and fix the leaky one?
A: Because the other generator is in about ten million pieces all over the garage, in the middle of its once-every-two-years rebuild.

Q: Can you shut down generator #2, and run the station off the backup generator while you fix it?
A: That's one option, but there's a few problems. Number one, is that the GWR building is heated from the waste heat given off by the generators. So shutting down the main generator would shut down heat to the GWR building (Bio-lab, the other building, is heated with oil-fired furnaces). The other problem is that our emergency generator can only put out 100kw, max, and we usually need around 150kw. We do have load-shedding plans that can get us down under 100, but it involves shutting down a lot of things, including all the ultra-low scientific freezers and incubators. Shutting them down for more then an hour would destroy all of the scientists samples and things. Also, we'd not be able to do any cooking, or laundry, as all the stoves and dryers are electric

Q: Surely you can do without laundry for an hour! How long would the generator take to fix?
A: 48 hours. If what's wrong is what we think is wrong. It could be something worse.

Q: Oh.
A: Yeah.

Q: How long will it take to get the other generator back together?
A: About 40 hours, assuming our mechanic never needs to sleep or eat.

Q: Surely you must have been worried about this happening! How long have you been rebuilding the other generator for?
A: Almost a month

Q: But leaving the station with only one generator is so irresponsible, it's just begging for a near-disaster like this! Why isn't it getting rebuilt faster?
A: We were supposed to have two mechanics on station for the rebuild. One to focus just on rebuilding the engine, and the other could concentrate on the normal operations of the station, fixing the Skytracks, end loaders, chainsaws and whatever else breaks. But then money got tight, and the second mechanic got canceled. So we've had one guy trying to keep up with the maintenance of all the station's equipment, as well as do the rebuild.

Q: Does the GWR building have a backup heater in case that generator does crap out?
A: It did. It crapped out two years ago, and only last week did we actually pull it out. The new one hasn't gone in yet

Q: Wait, so the backup heater died TWO YEARS AGO, and only last week did you guys only get around to pulling it out!?
A: Yup. Budget cuts prevented us from getting a new one down on station until very recently, and then the engineers in Denver deemed that getting it replaced was a low priority, so they wouldn't authorize any work on it, saying that we had more important things to work on.

Q: What are you doing now?
A: Right now, we're nursing the leaky generator along, doing round-the-clock shifts to put in more oil, and try and separate most of the sludgy oil out of the coolant so that it doesn't cook the engine. We've got enough oil on station that we can run it like this for about two days, assuming the leak doesn't get worse.

There's a couple options:

1: Have the LMG come back on station, shut down the leaky generator, run the station off the emergency generator, and have the ship tie in to our power grid and try and supplement our generating capcity with theirs. Then we could devout all our resources to trying to get the leaky generator fixed.

2: Nurse the leaky generator along while our mechanic works as fast as he can to try and get the other generator back together and running again. This is probably what we're going to do, as long as the oil leak doesn't get worse, and the coolant doesn't get too sludged up.

When it rains, it pours . . .

1 comment:

Jason said...

Love the blog. Only just found it. I am currently based at Davis Station (Australian Antarctic) as the Communications Technical Officer (Electronics Geek/Computer Nerd).
My blog pales into comparison, I wish I had of found yours earlier.. some great posts and ideas there.

Keep it up and always remember
The A Factor will always bite you

(For those that don't know, the A Factor is the Antarctic Factor - Think Murphy's Law on steriods!