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GEA Orengine Increases the Capacity of Large Hydroelectric Plant

100% sustainability within an easily replicable project that supplies enough supplementary electrical energy to cater for the needs of an entire village

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  • Exploiting the MVF of the river by installing a hydraulic turbine in parallel with the water-flow energy dissipation valve for the river course downstream of the dam, that can convert its energy (2.5 MW), which would otherwise be wasted, into electrical energy



  • Vibration control and monitoring on a single platform without any need for protocol conversion
  • 2.5 MW increase in generated power
  • MVF exploitation and the implementation of a high sustainability project


The hydroelectric plant is a 660 MW power station – located in the area of Medellín, Colombia – that harnesses the energy stored in the water confined by a 150 m high and 426 m wide dam. The owner of the plant, a Colombian multi-utility company, engaged GEA Orengine, an established company in the energy sector from Genoa, Italy, to build an auxiliary plant based on Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture in order to recover 2.5 MW of power which otherwise would have been wasted.

This may seem to be a small amount with respect to the potential that each one of the four 172 MW Francis turbines can generate, but the result achieved is truly laudable in addition to being 100% sustainable. The 2.5 MW capacity increase provides enough electrical energy to meet the needs of about 1,000 additional apartments, or 5,000 people, which is equivalent to an entire village.

But how was it possible to recover an additional 2.5 MW, especially in the shape of a hydraulic-turbine driven mini hydroelectric plant that can recuperate its costs very quickly, if fully exploited, in just three years? It was made possible by exploiting the Minimum Vital Flow (MVF), which is the minimum amount of water that must be allowed to flow by any water retention facility, such as a dam, to ensure the ecological integrity and the morphological protection of the watercourse being exploited.

As Mauro Brialdi, GEA Orengine International Automation Director explained: “The project implemented in this plant is symbolic of what can now be considered to be our expertise, i.e. mini hydroelectric plants with a typical range of operation between 50 kW and 10 MW.” The company’s technical staff working in the Lavagna port area, most of whom are engineers, are responsible for practically everything that needs to be done on the project from the design of the hydraulic turbines, to the power transformation systems and associated automation. And this is where Rockwell Automation comes into play.

“Besides Italy, we operate worldwide – especially in Central and South America”, he continues. “For the activities in these markets, Rockwell Automation is a standard for us, especially in terms of the quality and the performance of its automation solutions, for the wide acceptance that its solutions enjoy on the American continent and also for the on-site support that its staff always delivers.”


A river barely 100 km long is not classed as a major watercourse, but it is a resource that can support the sustainable medium-scale production of electrical energy. The client would like to exploit the MVF of the river by installing a hydraulic turbine in parallel with the water-flow energy dissipation valve for the river course downstream of the dam, to convert its energy (2.5 MW), which would otherwise be wasted, into electrical energy. To better respond to the client’s specific needs GEA Orengine wanted to give them the opportunity to introduce a more innovative approach with traditional control features, in line with the optimization, sustainability and costs reduction goals. An integrated single architecture would allow control of the system, as well as provide full visibility, not only of data related to energy consumption but also on machine vibrations, establishing an effective condition-based predictive maintenance program.


Rockwell Automation eagerly took on the challenge launched by GEA Orengine; meeting its needs with an innovative approach and offering a unique, complete and integrated solution that could manage and control the hydroelectric turbine while enabling the end user to reduce the operating costs.

For this purpose a single integrated architecture with built-in analysis and control functionalities of energy consumption was proposed. This has further strengthened the high level of sustainability of the project and helped to reduce plant operating costs as well. Moreover the ability to monitor vibrations led to their implementing a maintenance plan, reducing the risk of unplanned downtime and the related costs.

The control architecture is based on the processing power of four Allen-Bradley® CompactLogix™ programmable automation controllers (PAC) interconnected over an EtherNet/IP™ network, that also use the IEC 60870-5-104 transmission protocol which is the reference standard for remote control functionality in the context of automation of electric power stations. The four CompactLogix controllers were interfaced with the main plant central control, which is also equipped with Rockwell Automation units, in this case more powerful Allen-Bradley ControlLogix® PACs. To help obtain the best performance and for protection against electromagnetic interference (EMI), fibre optics was selected as the physical transmission medium.

An Allen-Bradley PowerMonitor™ 1000 was installed (energy load control and associated parameters) and protection and was connected to the Rockwell Automation PACs via Ethernet/IP protocol.

Finally in order to control and analyse vibrations Allen-Bradley XM® series dynamic measurement module was used. This is a an online solution for monitoring and protection that Rockwell Automation designed specifically to monitor the shaft, the casing or the pedestal of rotating machines. It was connected to a dedicated Panel PC Industrial Versa View 6181P standard on which the Rockwell Automation Emonitor Condition Monitoring Software Suite has been installed to activate an effective condition-based predictive maintenance program. The actual energy-generating equipment is located in a cave that can only be reached through a narrow tunnel; as a result the adverse environmental conditions could not constitute an obstacle for operational continuity.


As Mauro Brialdi explained, in addition to reliability and performance considerations, the decision to adopt an architecture sourced from a single supplier was also motivated by the fact that Rockwell Automation had all the necessary modules, including the vibration monitoring solution, readily available. This single supplier approach has also led to the creation of a completely integrated environment, without the need to resort to any communication or data conversion interfaces.

“By exploiting an existing infrastructure and thanks to Rockwell Automation technology, we were able to implement a 100% sustainable project – with a high degree of replicability in any hydroelectric plant – that made it possible to increase plant capacity by 2.5 MW and to supply enough energy to meet the needs of an entire village.” adds Brialdi.

“Notwithstanding a certain degree of plant complexity, there were no major obstacles,” he concludes. “On the contrary. Thanks to the features of the RSLogix™ 5000 programming environment, the on-site software development and fine-tuning phases took only three weeks, a notable contribution to limiting total cost. It has to be said that this was also achieved thanks to the support provided by the Rockwell Automation technical team, especially in relation to vibration analysis where their application skills were decisive.”


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