A tool for the future?

11 April 2005

The Institute of Waterpower and Pumps in Austria has developed a game to simulate refurbishment and organisation of a hydro power plant. E. Doujak explains how the tool works

THE Institute of Waterpower and Pumps has a long tradition of developing modern techniques for hydro power refurbishment. One of these developments is a game designed to simulate the refurbishment and organisation of a power plant. The Institute recognised that there is a need for management decision tools to help decide on the right solutions for different hydro power plants. But what is the right decision? Is there a better one? How much will the decision cost? Questions like these have to be answered, and it is much easier and more cost effective to discover how decisions will affect a project before they are put into place. As a result, the Institute developed a tool to show how different maintenance methods and economical practices will influence management targets.

This game should allow everyone working within the hydro power industry to learn more about the effects of their daily decisions.

The system is developed on an Internet platform that will allow players across the world to compete with each other.


The background for this kind of game is the experience in developing software tools for the technical and even economical evaluation of a hydro power plant. Past problems have shown that there is sometimes a lack of information or even that the necessary data is not available. Working on new technologies to overcome these barriers, the staff of the Institute for Waterpower and Pumps carried out a brain storming session and created the idea for this new tool. The basis for this idea was a certain kind of sensibility analysis where different parameters can be changed and the effect on the result can be studied. Taking this mechanism and transferring it into an existing evaluation system will give us a new view of the complicated task of refurbishing a hydro power plant.

Thinking about the complexness of such a game the Institute decided to start with an easier version with a view to refining the system afterwards. In this first version the Institute tried to include as small an amount of input data as possible for the player, allowing a game administrator to change the rest of the data. The administrator is also a kind of referee for the game, leading the players through the game.

Another important issue was the availability of a method to train people at their jobs. This led to the Internet solution because of its worldwide availability and cost effectiveness. The optimal result would lead to a training course held at companies with lectures and the game, giving participants the chance to understand the results of their decisions. The game could also be a form of competition.

A user needs an understanding of the different types of hydro power plants and their components, operation, power output and efficiency. Figure 1 shows the typical layout of a low head hydro power plant with its production lines, groups of components and main components. The interaction of each component and some special conditions for each one provides important information for making the right decision.

The basis for every investigation or simulation is a knowledge of the state-of-the-art of the hydro power plant. The simulation would be useless if it were not made as realistic as possible – this step should obviously be taken into account when setting up a training course for several players; the whole simulation is only as accurate as the implemented data. There are a number of different evaluating systems on the market to determine the state-of-the-art or the condition of the components. Developing this simulation, the Institute found that there is sometimes just a relative change of the condition of a component. The objective of this simulation was therefore to allow the user the chance to interpret their refurbishment and modernisation decision before any investment was necessary.

Technical game structure

The game structure is based on an Internet Information Server (IIS) that works in combination with a SQL Server. This combination gave the Institute the chance to split up the Input/Output-Mask and the Calculation/Store-Procedures, using the advantages of both systems.

The Institute decided to use ASP pages, since it is the best way to
combine HTML-code and Visual Basic-script to get the best performance in building up a transparent information table, as well as setting up SQL statements to get the necessary information out of the SQL tables.

Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP) is a server-side scripting technology that can be used to create dynamic and interactive Web
applications. An ASP page is an HTML page that contains
server-side scripts that are processed by the Web server before being sent to the user's browser. You can combine ASP with Extensible Mark-up Language (XML), Component Object Model (COM), and Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML) to create powerful interactive websites.

Server-side scripts run when a browser requests an ASP file from the Web server. ASP is called by the Web server, which processes the requested file from top to bottom and executes any script commands. It then formats a standard web page and sends it to the browser.

This gave the Institute the opportunity to design a game that can be played without any installation on the PC. The only necessary tool that has to be installed is an Internet Explorer (Microsoft Internet Explorer, Netscape, etc.).

An SQL database was used because SQL Server is the most popular relational database on Microsoft Windows, with 38% market share, (Gartner, June 2001). It is also the most popular Web database, with 68% market share (Zona Research, January 2000).

Game setup and flow

Before starting the simulation, the administrator has to set up each single hydro power plant. According to the flexible system, the administrator will need particular information to generate the needed modules. The hydro power plant will be modelled by these pre-defined modules which have all the same input structure and are afterwards formed to rows and all rows will result in the simulation of the hydro power plant. A ‘row’ is a list of modules that work together and therefore result in a breakdown of the whole modules in the same row (see Figure 2).

For example, a row could consist of trash rake, turbine casing, the runner, the turbine shaft, the generator and the transformer. If the runner is out of order the whole row could not produce any electrical energy.

If a second turbine is also implemented in the plant there would be a second row that consists of modules that are necessary to work the second turbine.

The first (or main) row called ‘0’ consists of modules like the headrace channel, the intake structure or the tailrace channel. If this row is out of order, due to a damaged module, the whole hydro power plant is out of order.

Some of the modules in Figure 2 are modelled with a certain efficiency curve as they have it in reality as well. This was developed by a mathematical system, which allows an estimation of the efficiency over the operation time by just entering three points of the curve (see Figure 3).

The mathematical background can be described as follow:


where X and B can be calculated by the formula below.



This background will be used to calculate the efficiency at the simulated time period. Together with the other input data the modules performance within the game is clearly described.

After setting up all players (Screen name, User Details), each player can start by entering into the main menu. Here you can decide to buy a hydro power plant out of a list of power plants that are set up by the administrator (see Figure 4).

Each plant has different specifications like efficiencies of the different modules, performance of the turbines, life cycle and of course the sales price. So the player has the opportunity to decide which hydro power plant he/she wants to manage. If you decide to buy an expensive plant you have the chance to make more money at the same cycle as he/she would if the power plant is less expensive, with lower main power due to fewer turbines or the use of turbines which produce less power than more expensive ones. On the other hand it takes a higher investment to manage the revitalisation of modules that are out of order.

On the main screen during the game the player has the amount of cash he/she is able to spend, the time period they are working in and a list of all the hydro power plants they manage. A player can manage more than one hydro power plant if they have sufficient funds.For each power plant the following information is provided: electricity power output, earnings and the list of the efficiency and
performance for each row.

Figure 5 shows the modelled hydro power plant, which we have seen in Figure 2. There is the mentioned row ‘0’ with all the headrace and tailrace channels and the two ‘production lines’ 1 and 2. These two rows are the rows with the turbine and generator set included. The green colour indicates at this stage that these two rows are working properly and the power production according to their performance.

If a module is damaged and therefore the row is out of order, the signal light turns from green to red. This indicates that the player has to repair a module to produce more electrical energy.

By pressing the signal button the screen switches to a more detailed list: List of modules (by name and order); Remaining lifetime: after that time (years) the module is breaking down; Maximum lifetime; Efficiency for each module; Calculated Efficiency: Percentage as a measure of usability.

If the module status becomes critical and fails to work, the module is lighted up by a signal colour, as seen in figure 7.

The player can refurbish each module by pressing the ‘FIX’ button. Each module has certain kinds of properties (see Figure 8), as there is the average time for how long it takes to repair it, the time where there can be work made at different kind of modules in the same row, diagnostic time and average cost of revitalisation.

Out of this information and the amount of modules that are going to be repaired a time inactivity is calculated. This results in lower energy production and therefore lower earnings for the next cycle.


A time history of selected factors has been built into the game to get an overview on all the decisions at single time steps. It is useful to see the power production about the time period or the development of the budget, which is indeed a good indicator if the player is managing the hydro power plant according to their expectations or not. If the budget development is not as it should be the player can look at their earnings in the simulated time period. Figure 9 shows the player’s output as figures of the time history.

The output respective to the time history can be interpreted in two ways – economical or technical. Within the economical part all the information on the refurbishment costs and the earnings respectively is included. The technical evaluation contains the information about the plant efficiency and the power output. Figure 9 shows the effects of refurbishment decisions according to their impact on the earnings and the power output. As the power output is based on the efficiency of each single module we can see that a loss of efficiency over the years results in decreasing power output and income. A total loss of power output as shown above means a total loss of income as well and an effect onto the general budget.Outputs like this can be simulated with each time period and with every new simulation of the given hydro power plant.

As it is in real life, each player has to decide the best time to repair a module or to use the time of inactivity to repair other modules as well. He/she has to manage the cost factor, so the owner doesn’t run out of money or use the earnings to reinvest into the health of his environment.

The whole simulation gives the player the possibility to determine management decisions and simulated results. As the refurbishment of a hydro power plant is a very complex task this simulation gives the chance to estimate your economical success as well.

To be more realistic, an administrator part was built in, which is able to change the boundaries of the game, such as the current rate. With this intervention it is possible to change the player’s income and to simulate from one time step to the other the liberalised market, where the price depends on offer and demand. The administrator can also cause the unexpected breakdown of a part at the hydro power plant. This should lead to a change of the maintenance or refurbishment strategy of the player, with their effects reviewed afterwards.


With this type of game/simulation the Institute tried to develop a tool for people working in this field and to help them make their daily decisions. The first prototype of this software is ready for testing. Programming this simulation takes a long time and even if the literature and know how is already there, the realisation was quite difficult. The Institute believes that it is possible to learn management decisions by playing a game; it can be an economical management tool but also a training software for all staff.

Author Info:

For further information please contact Dr. Eduard Doujak, Vienna University of Technology, Institute for Waterpower and Pumps, Karlsplatz 13/305, A-1040 Vienna, Austria. Tel: +43-1-58801-30515. Email: edoujak@pop.tuwien.ac.at. Web: http://info.tuwien.ac.at/wup/

Figure 5 Figure 5
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Figure 1 Figure 1
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Figure 9 Figure 9

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