Maths Required for a Career Gas Turbine Controls


Thread Starter


Hi Everyone,

I'm considering a career in Gas Turbine controls and would like to know the level of mathematics involved in Gas turbine controls.

I am a mediocre guy when it comes to maths and would like to know what level of maths to expect if I take this path. Please post any examples of maths topics I should expect.

Also, how would training on Aero gas turbines controls help in me getting a job in gas power turbines as I think I have a better chance of getting the training placement in Aero turbines because there are many of them close to home compared to the gas turbine companies which are more than 70 miles from home.

Thank you.

You definitely need to have a very good understanding of y=mx+b, also written as (f)x=mx+b--which is the equation for a straight line. It's very commonly used throughout process industries and the power generation business.

It's also useful to have a very good understanding of PID functions--Proportional, Integral, Derivative. Sounds much more involved and complicated than it is--and some people can make it seem downright mind-boggling. The maths aren't as important as the concept, but it does help to know something of the maths involved. Look for a website called something like ''--that man has the best and most simplified explanations and sells a very inexpensive workbook and simulation software. It's worth the investment, I guarantee it.

Just as important as the turbine control system are the inputs and outputs (the I/O). It doesn't take very long to learn the basics of thermocouples, RTDs, pressure/temperature/limit switches, pressure transmitters, pneumatic- and hydraulic actuators and positioners, and the mysterious, mythical and magical electro-hydraulic servo valves, and LVDTs (Linear Variable Differential Transformers). Many of these are very simple devices, but if not wired correctly or not configured correctly can result in lots of lost production and troubles. And lots of them use the "y=mx+b" principle.

I see more problems caused by improper wiring or failure to understand basic device fundamentals.

If I were going to be able to choose a route in the profession (gas turbine controls) given the state of the power generation industry I would choose aero-derivatives for the simple reason that they can be started and loaded very quickly. In today's environment of ever-increasing reliance on renewables (wind and solar) <i><b>without energy storage</b></i> the need to bring thermal generation on line very quickly means that aero-derivatives are really the best solution.

Of course, that will change very quickly when large-scale energy storage becomes economically feasible and goes into service--so one needs to be aware of the current and coming conditions so as not to be left out of a job in the near future.

But, of course, if--and when--cold fusion becomes a reality all bets are off. That will truly be a "disruptive" technology--in more ways than one.

Hope this helps!

This is very helpful and I'll save this in my notebook. It's nice to have someone who has knowledge of the industry to advice me. I'll go strengthen my maths in this area.

Are there any other jobs that a Gas Controls Engineer apply or transfer his skills should there be cold fusion or commercial power storage for renewables looking into the future?.

I appreciate your response.
Thanks again.

All I'm saying is, while this is a good time to be getting into gas turbine controls (there are a lot of experienced people retiring and with the availability of inexpensive natural gas increasing), there are disruptive technologies on the very near horizon. In general, the use of renewable energies (wind and solar, and even wave) are going to keep increasing--and that's going to make the need for fast-dispatched thermal generation that only aero-derivative gas turbines can currently supply very necessary in the short term.

But, once large-scale energy storage is in use one has to seriously consider how their knowledge and experience can be leveraged in that industry. The need for thermal generation isn't going to go away entirely, not in the foreseeable future, but with energy storage and nuclear fusion ("cold" fusion) the need is going to decrease significantly. There will always be control systems for these technologies, and once you see the disruption beginning it would be best to make the leap sooner rather than later.

I don't think anyone really knows how either technology is going to shake out and what form(s) it's going to take. We could also see a large-scale adoption of residential solar once energy storage systems are more economically feasible and simpler and less expensive and less "hazardous" (lead-acid batteries just aren't going to be widely adopted unless they are much safer and less hazardous; lithium-ion or something similar needs to be scaled-up for residential use). So-called "micro-grids" and "distributed generation" may also be more wide-spread than currently thought.

Electric vehicles will also be some part of the "energy storage" solution--charging vehicle batteries at night or in off-peak hours could help to reduce peak loads and increase efficiencies of some thermal generation plants, reducing the need for cycling thermal generation plants (gas turbine-driven power plants) greatly. There are efforts underway to allow unused vehicle battery energy to flow back onto the grid during peak usage.

The whole energy generation, transmission and distribution industry is going to undergo a huge change from what we currently know and expect. It's inevitable--just look for opportunities, and be ever-vigilant for "disruptive" technologies and opportunities there, also.

Best of luck!

Sorry I have been away hence the delay in replying.

Thanks very much for all the information you have provided me. It's the best advice I've had since since I started looking for advice. I now have an idea which way travel.

Thanks a lot.

Glad to have been of help. Gas turbine controls work can be both lucrative and satisfying. It can also take and keep you away from home for long periods of time. You will always be learning new things, and you will have little time for reading anything other than instruction manuals for all kinds of equipment. (Power plants are made up of lots of different components from many different manufacturers, all of which have to be configured and adjusted and tuned to work together to achieve the desired outcome.)

Best of luck in your endeavours!
I just don't know how to thank you. It feels like you are God talking to me and answering every question I have.

I cant find any bigger words to thank you than to say Thanks again and again and again.


Sorry to bother you again but I have one more question.

I'm currently studying in college in HND Electrical Engineering which is equivalent University Second year here in the UK.

I am considering enrolling on a degree program but I was wondering if it was necessary considering the role I want to work in (Gas Turbine Controls) is more of a hands on role.

I have heard several arguments about not needing a degree and others to the contrary. I could be spending around £14000 if I do enroll on the course. I do not want to go and waste huge sums of money and time on a degree so please advice me on the general industry requirement.

Thanks very much.
Your advice has been invaluable.

Not an easy subject for me. The North American-based OEM seem to have <b><i>had</b></i> a policy that precludes hiring/promoting people who don't have a four-year college degree in the turbine business. There are now people in positions of management who have decided that they don't need to pay for degreed "engineers", that the work is just technician-level work, and they are "experimenting" with hiring people who don't have university degrees but have industrial experience to commission and service the equipment. These inexperienced managers have been VERY lucky to date--but it's just a matter of time. There have been some very close calls of late; I just hope nobody gets maimed or killed. So, while the practice was to hire people with university degrees, it now seems to be swinging to hiring lesser-skilled people--because the control systems are SO smart! (And, these lesser-skilled people don't get paid as much.)

I don't know what the European-based manufacturer(s) do--if they have an apprentice-ship program, or take people with trade-school certificates/diplomas.

Why do employers look for people with university degrees--even though many of these people have little or no practical, hands-on experience. Receiving a university degree means the individual has set a goal for him-/herself and that the person has taken the necessary actions and made the necessary "sacrifices" to achieve that goal--and has done so. It's one way of determining the drive/ambition/"stick-to-it-iveness" (a word my grandfather used to use) of people, versus someone who may have some experience but didn't go to university. In university we all have to take classes we don't especially like (to get that well-rounded education the administrators think every graduate should have!), and that's part of doing what needs to be done to achieve the goal. As a student, you probably had some instructors/professors and maybe even some fellow students you didn't necessarily want to work with--but you did, to get the degree.

And there's always the point about how taking calculus makes one a better thinker/problem solver.

So, it's kind of easy to see why many employers are looking for some kind of training/education, be it a bachelor's degree, or a certificate program from a trade school.

It's interesting to note how some employers--like Google, for instance--are now telling applicants that if you complete and satisfactorily pass a certain group of classes (generally technical, but not always--depends on the job) they will hire you without a full degree. I don't know if they expect people to complete their education and obtain a degree, but the idea seems to be that they need people with certain skills that can best be obtained from university-grade courses, and they don't want to have to wait for students to complete four- or five years at university and obtain the degree.

I would suggest you do some "interviewing" of your own, and find out what the employers you might want to work for are considering and what they want in terms of education. In my personal opinion, the gas turbine industry--particularly the aero-derivative engines and some of the new heavy duty units based on aero-derivative designs--is poised to explode, and soon. And, from what I've seen, most of the OEMs haven't been investing in training people for the last four or five years, instead relying on people they've trained and have hired from operating plants. And when the "bubble" hits, they're going to need people with certain skills right away.

For gas turbine controls, the work mostly involves understanding what's supposed to happen when. Just about any programmable action controller (the "new" programmable logic controller term) to control the process(es) involved in operating a gas turbine as a prime mover. The trick is to know how to program the control system--what's supposed to happen when.

The rest of commissioning is just about doing what's called loop-checks, which is the logical process of ensuring that every input and every output of the control system provides the proper indication or causes the desired result. EVERY input and output has to be checked (and since there are usually at least two wires involved--one going "out" to the device, and one coming "back" from the device, that's where the term "loop" comes from). Understanding how various field devices and instruments work; how the OEM wires those devices and instruments to the control system; and how they all work together to accomplish control and protection is the real key.

I don't know where one gets that "what's supposed to happen when" training, other than OJT (On-the-Job-Training). I can tell you that North American-based OEM does a pretty poor job of teaching their controls field service personnel how turbines are supposed to operated--they just ass-u-me everyone already knows.

I digress, don't I? I think you need to find out what prospective employers want these days. And, that means you need to do some "interviewing" of your own. Actually, I have found over the years that asking questions and showing interest about technical topics is highly valued by the more respected--and powerful--people, who can open doors for you. They are always willing to share information, and when they see someone who's genuinely interested and shows drive and ambition, they are usually quick to help--in some pretty amazing ways, too.

But, when the work dies down--and it always does--the people without degrees are going to be the ones sacked first. I've seen it time and time again--even if these people are better at their jobs than the degreed people left to take up the slack. It's really sad, but it's true.

Gotta run! Best of luck--wish I could follow your journey. Drop a line once in a while to let us know how you're faring.

Thanks again for your quick, wide ranging and in-depth response.
I ask one question and I get a truck load of answers than I expected which is always good to have the likes of you on here.

I'll surely be trying to make contact with Siemens in Lincoln to ask about it but I'm gravitating towards the degree having read your reply. I guess it will always be good to have a degree even if I wasn't going to be working in gas turbine controls.

I'll be trying to gain a work placement with SIEMENS even if I have work for free a day a week for a year during my gap year from college.

I've been looking at their website to make contact with the training department but they make themselves difficult to contact.
I'll persevere in my search.

Thanks very much again.
You motivate me.


Curt Wuollet

I would temper CSAs wisdom with my experience of some 40 years. There is a certain percentage of people who can apply knowledge and know what they are doing, and the remainder simply can not. As far as I can tell, possessing a degree doesn't perceptibly change that percentage. That's why some people of both classes advance the state of the art and some do busywork. And the selection system is broken, many of the brightest minds and most productive inventors through history couldn't get a job today.

Thanks very much for your contribution to my questions.

It's always nice to have the likes of you with the vast knowledge and experience on here to guide me.

I guess I straddle a bit of both categories that you stated. I'm not the intellectually sophisticated type and also not too technically gifted. I'm the sort that has to learn a couple of times to comprehend something.

I finally got the phone number of the one I need to speak to at Siemens about training.

I'll let you all know what happens.

Thanks again.

Thanks you all!