Hydroelectric power plants are used worldwide to cover varying electricity demands. The Salime hydroelectric power plant, which is located at Asturias, Spain, has four hydro turbines with a total design capacity of 128 MW. Each turbine has a ball valve with two maintenance seals to ensure a closure as complete as possible when the group ceases to operate. Unfortunately, at some occasions the seals did not really perform their sealing function properly, but started to develop periodic vibrations of indefinite duration. This phenomenon generates periodic leakage flow as well as high amplitude pressure fluctuations in the penstocks, which are not acceptable. This phenomenon corresponds to the field of flow-induced vibrations, in particular to the type of self-excited vibrations. The purpose of the research now reported was to develop a simplified theoretical model that can explain the excitation mechanism for the seal vibrations and that can estimate the behavior of the hydro-mechanical system depending on the relevant geometrical and physical parameters. In order to calculate the pressure and flow rate fluctuations, the energy equation for unsteady, unidirectional, incompressible and viscous flow has been applied along each pipe of the hydraulic system, together with continuity considerations at each pipe junction and the seal equation of motion. The perturbation technique has been used to solve the system variables. The mathematical model was solved by means of a specially designed MATLAB code, which allows simulating the time evolution of the annular seal vibration as well as the unsteady flow and pressure induced throughout the system for different system configurations. The results show that the system stability depends on the behavior of the hydraulic pressure force acting on the seal and the gap flow rate after system disturbance. Besides, the results obtained support that, at standing group situation, seal vibrations are less prone to occur when operating at either low reservoir energy level or very large reservoir energy level.
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