Douglas Albright, President
Actuation Test Equipment Company (ATECo)
September 17, 2010
Acting Program Manager
Wind and Water Power Program
Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
Senior Advisor, Hydropower
U. S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation)
Department of the Interior (DOI).
Subject: Response to Topic 3, Demonstration-Ready Hardware and Software
The subject line description exactly describes the Index Test Box (ITB) for Kaplan turbines from Actuation Test Equipment Company. The background narrative covers 25 years of activity, including three DOE Funded field tests and purchase of two ITBs with DOE funds, all of which have been deemed successful by government hydropower engineers. Why this instrument, proven successful 23 years ago by a field test conducted by Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) hydropower specialists, and again in 2005 & 2006 by USACE hydropower engineers is not in use today is left to the reader, this letter is just telling you what happened and the opportunity still on the table.
All hydroelectric turbines should be optimized periodically by index testing to monitor and trend operating efficiency over time, to maximize generated power & revenue and to minimize the harm done to downstream-migrant marine life at turbine-passage. Variable pitch blades make the benefits of optimization even greater for Kaplan hydroelectric turbines. Determining the optimum head & gate to blade relationship and then redefining the control system’s 3-D cam head & gate to blade data surface profile will elevate a Kaplan turbine’s overall operating-efficiency envelope and minimize environmental impact. What is being presented herein is a proven, automatic data collection and analysis system especially designed for optimizing Kaplan hydroelectric turbines. Doubly regulated Kaplans are the most complicated and difficult hydroelectric units to optimize. Francis and Pelton turbines are comparatively easier to optimize and well within the capability of the demonstrated equipment.
To meet this need, an automatic Index Test Box (ITB) for Kaplan turbines was conceived, developed and field-tested successfully in 1986 by this author while employed at Woodward Governor Company. The prototype ITB was deemed successful by DOE engineers in 1986 - so this not really a new technology - it’s an unutilized technology (see sidebar on pg 64 “Little Black Box…”) that Government personnel have been aware of for over 23 years. Upon selling this first ITB to Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), Woodward acquired U.S. Patent #4,794,544 to protect this new invention.
BPA’s stated goal in 1987 was to test/demonstrate and then acquire these instruments for use in Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) to improve Snake and Columbia River powerplant operations. This offer was declined by USACE Hydro Design Center (HDC), followed by an attempt to duplicate the proven ITB at additional government expense instead of accepting the “free” instruments that would have been purchased by DOE from Woodward. In 1990 HDC engineers submitted a test report about their “automated index testing system” to the same DOE engineer that field-tested Woodward’s successful ITB for DOE. The dearth of subsequent information on HDC’s project would indicate this government boondoggle was unsuccessful.
In 1989, Lee Sheldon published a reminder that the ITB was available to the hydropower industry.
In 1993, this author quit Woodward and started Actuation Test Equipment Company (ATECo) to continue development on the ITB for the hydropower market as a new enterprise. Before the project was fully executed however, a request from HDC came in - shortly after Woodward’s patent expired (HDC had been watching it). This author received two solicitations from HDC seeking an updated ITB on a sole-source contract. (Solicitation #1, Solicitation #2.)
In 2004, an updated ITB was purchased from ATECo, field-tested and deemed successful (again); this time by USACE engineers in a “proof of concept” test at McNary Dam in December 2005. After a second parallel index-test at Ice Harbor Dam in 2006, which compared the ITB test results to USACE test results (using USACE’s data acquisition equipment and conventional methods), HDC personnel reported to DOE BPA HOT committee that the ITB was successful and requested funds to buy two more ITBs from ATECo – and then inexplicably HDC personnel broke off all communication with ATECo.
Numerous subsequent FOIA requests to HDC and BPA learned that internal politics from “higher-ups” at HDC had quashed this request in favor of Government personnel attempting to duplicate the proven, commercially available Index Test Box at government expense instead of buying the commercially available, successfully field-test proven product from ATECo. This led to numerous complaints of unethical conduct by Government personnel to IGs. HDC then renamed their test instrument the Gate Blade Optimizer (GBO) to “get it off the IG’s radar” so they could continue diverting money from ATECo’s contract to fund this “in-house” project to duplicate ATECo’s proven ITB. Government funds were again being expended on a government boondoggle instead of buying the proven, commercially available product from the private sector. Success or failure of the GBO is as of yet unknown. Despite 5 years of time and about $3-million (allocated in the contract to purchase up to 320 ITBs from ATECo after a successful “proof of concept” field test) diverted to fund the GBO project, nothing of any consequence has been seen as of yet from GBO.
Meanwhile - back in the private sector - in 2008, a third generation of the ITB technology was merged with the PLC-based hydroelectric turbine governors from North American Phoenix Energy Systems (NAPES in Sheffield Wisconsin), and is currently in use at the Brookfield Renewable Power (BRP) Clergue powerplant in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, Canada. ITB is also slated for use at BRP’s Gartshore powerplant on the Montreal River after a scheduled runner upgrade in 2011.
In April 2010 Alstom Power of Grenoble France purchased NAPES, but did not acquire the Intellectual Property rights to the ITB technology. Negotiations are just now getting underway between Alstom and ATECo to transfer this “not so new” technology to Alstom - a meeting schedule is presently being worked out for the 4th quarter of 2010.
ATECo has been in conversation with Oak Ridge National Laboratory about ITB since 2006 (Mike Sale, and then Brennan Smith after Mike retired) about this new test instrument and the new capabilities and methods it offers. Lack of funds and a general disinterest in hydropower optimization have always prevented any cooperative activity between ORNL and ATECo; Government personnel are fully aware of ATECo’s ITB technology and the successful demonstrations in 1987, 2005 & 2006 (that were all funded at DOE expense).
To prove this point - ORNL sent a “Statement of Work” to ATECo 2-weeks ago requesting a proposal for a specification for an ITB and a project plan to duplicate the ITB as a government funded project. This author believes that any Intellectual Property rights to the resulting device would have gone to the Government – this SOW was rejected and a more appropriate arrangement was requested; ATECo responded to the SOW with a proposal for ORNL to instead lease the thrice proven, successful ITB for another field-test demonstration that would again be funded by DOE at a site to be chosen by DOE. (If the site were to be chosen by ATECo, it would be to continue with BRP’s powerplants in Canada [Much of the power is actually sent to U.S. via a tie-line anyway.]. For DOE’s benefit, this test work could be expedited by an infusion of funds from DOE.
Test sites within the U.S. have thus far been unavailable due to a lack of funding and a general disinterest in hydroelectric turbine optimization or a “we’re already doing that” response.
This author must credit the engineer at BRP in Sault Ste Marie and another at NAPES that saw the potential benefits of the new ITB technology and have been working with ATECo to bring this project to fruition, albeit very slowly as they fit this work into an already busy work schedule.
The ITB is proven successful technology, ready for another demonstration field-test, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Here is a listing of reports about the ITB by other engineers:
(All of these and more reference materials on Kaplan turbine optimization are available on the web at:
1. Lee Sheldon P.E. (ph. 503-356-8302) was the hydropower specialist at Bonneville Power Administration that evaluated Woodward’s initial prototype ITB field test results from 1985. His report is at:
2. Lee’s evaluation led to BPA’s purchase of an ITB from Woodward for testing at PGE-PHP-2. BPA’s offer to demonstrate this ITB at Bonneville Dam was rejected by USACE. Woodward acquired a U.S. Patent to protect this new technology. The patent attorneys placed this author’s name on the document.
3. Gary Hackett was the PGE engineer on the project. His report is at:
4. Terry Bauman was Woodward’s engineer; a new-hire for this project. His report is at:
5. Lee Sheldon wrote the test report for the parallel, conventional method manual test to proof the ITB results:
6. This author published an article in Hydro Review magazine to introduce ITB to the hydro community:
7. Instead of utilizing the proven ITB, USACE attempted to duplicate it - and then presented their test results to Lee:
Lack of sales prompted Woodward to shelve (and then forget) the ITB, another good idea that slipped through the cracks. This author quit Woodward to pursue the ITB project in a new start-up, the Actuation Test Equipment Company. When Woodward’s patent expired, ATECo was almost ready to take the re-developed ITB to market – when a call came in from Lee Sheldon, who was then working at HDC (again) dealing with the fish mortality problem. A Federal ESA lawsuit named BPA, USBR, HDC and NOAA Fisheries as defendants in Portland’s Federal Court. Kaplan turbine efficiency is critical to fish survival at turbine passage, so HDC engaged Lee to help index test and optimize all of their 113 Kaplans in FCRPS. Lee recalled the earlier testing of ITB in the 1980’s, and persuaded HDC to resume the ITB project.
8. USACE HDC purchased an ITB for evaluation, referring to the subject device as a “prototype.” Contract negotiations took over 18 months because ATECo wanted to retain Intellectual Property rights to the pre-existing ITB software that had been developed at private expense. The “Optimizer Special License Agreement” on page 39 made a contractual agreement possible; this clause reserved Intellectual Property rights of any pre-existing software that was delineated by a U.S. Copyright to this author.
9. A U.S. Copyright was acquired to protect the Intellectual Property rights of the ITB, primarily the software source code: http://actuationtestequipment.com/Reference_Materials/2004-04-04_ITB_Software_Copyright.pdf
10. A field test at McNary Dam in December 2005 showed the ITB worked to automatically index test a Kaplan turbine, but a few “software bugs” were found that had to be fixed before a full deployment of the ITB could be undertaken. ATECo’s test report is at this link:
11. HDC’s senior mechanical engineer wrote a “Memo for the record” about this field test:
note: On Page 5, Rod states that:
Although some improvements can be made, the limits algorithm for defining steady state criteria functions
properly. The ITB monitors unit operation, determines when unit is at steady state, and then begins logging
data. It is anticipated the software bugs which caused intermittent program crashes will be identified and
corrected. This being the case, the ITB should then be capable of unattended, automated data logging of
“steady state” turbine operation.
12. No test report was requested from ATECo regarding the subsequent “parallel test” at Ice Harbor Dam in February 2006, and no information was ever provided to this author as to the relative success or failure of the project; HDC engineers simply broke off all communications. Numerous FOIA requests have gleaned enough information from HDC and BPA internal documents to show that all-along, HDC personnel had been claiming that the “prototype” ITB was conceived and developed by Government personnel, and that ATECo had simply constructed a prototype of the ITB.
At the project’s end, when HDC was claiming rights to the entire ITB technology (including the software source code) and demanding that ATECo give all of it USACE, ATECo produced the “Special License Agreement” and U.S. Copyright for the software source code, demanding the agreed-upon $750,000 payment before giving the software source code to HDC. Instead of paying this agreed-upon, negotiated price out of the funds that were made available in the contract, the remaining $3-million earmarked by the contract was diverted to an internal project at HDC to reproduce ATECo’s ITB as a new Government project, renamed the Gate Blade Optimizer (GBO) to hide what it really was.
13. This author published a second article about the ITB and its novel Constant Power testing method:
Since then, ATECo has been working with NAPES and BRP in the private sector to deploy the ITB for index testing three horizontal Kaplan bulb turbines and a vertical Kaplan turbine in Sault Ste Marie, Canada. About 6-months ago, Alstom Power purchased NAPES, without acquiring any rights to the ITB technology that was already merged with their new governor system’s PLC. Alstom has now set their sights on the ITB technology and a meeting schedule is being developed for the 4th quarter 2010 as this is being written.
The U.S. Government’s hydropower groups have had this technology in their grasp on two occasions, and yet, like Aesop’s dog looking at it’s own reflection, have let it slip away from them. The current SOW from ORNL was another reach too far into the private sector by Government personnel; the ITB technology may well become unavailable when Alstom Power snatches it away on an exclusive contract, and then reintroduces it into the United States as their own product.
ATECo has a fully developed and thrice-field tested automatic Index Test Box for Kaplan turbines, and would embrace an opportunity to deploy a “production” model ITB for a field-test demonstration for DOE, as suggested in your DE-FOA-000006. A test plan and firm prices for this exercise are included in the proposal sent to ORNL just last week at:
Douglas J. Albright – President
Attachment: 1 ITB Product Description and Project Milestones