It’s Time to Embrace a Digital Future

Ganesh Bell of GE

The world is expected to need 50 percent more power to meet expanding demand over the next 20 years. That represents a huge opportunity for our industry. The truth is we are simultaneously facing a multitude of other equally complex opportunities and challenges. We are arguably in the midst of the greatest transformation the electricity industry has ever seen.

Renewables. Electric vehicles. Distributed Energy Resources. Micro grids. Intelligent thermostats. Smart meters. COP21. These technologies, trends and global commitments are disrupting our industry so dramatically that it will soon be unrecognizable as the one shaped by Thomas Edison.
Whitegate gas-fired power plant  

Electrons are flowing in directions they didn’t previously. Consumers are impacting business models more than ever. Utilities, generators and grids are struggling to keep pace with the changing fuel mix driven by both technology and policy. And we’re still only at the beginning of what feels like an electricity revolution.

An effective digital strategy is fast becoming a prerequisite for any organization seeking to thrive in this time of change.

I believe that the ability to make better generation, transmission, distribution and ultimately business decisions based on insights derived from connected machines, infrastructure and processes, and big data and analytics, will prove make-or-break in the years ahead.

While this digital transformation is still in its infancy – in baseball terms, we’re barely at the national anthem before a nine-inning game – I’m encouraged and inspired by the customers who are innovating and leading the way.

We started this journey in 2015 with the introduction of the ‘Digital Wind Farm’ and ‘Digital Power Plant’ software suites. Customers such as Exelon and PSEG were among the first to see the potential of these technologies, joining us as we unveiled solutions that enabled them to monitor, analyze, predict and ultimately improve the performance of power generation assets using data-driven insights and unprecedented real-time control.

Just a few months ago, we expanded the portfolio further, with the introduction of the Digital Power Plant for Steam. We all see the growing role of renewables and gas in the fuel mix, but the fact is that 40 percent of the world’s electricity is still produced by coal-powered steam plants. With coal set to remain world’s second largest energy source through 2030, new technology will be critical to boosting the efficiency of coal plants and reducing emissions.

Like its Digital Power Plant predecessors, GE’s Digital Power Plant for Steam software interprets data from thousands of sensors to improve plant performance and increase efficiency. In the case of coal-powered steam, we believe we can generate up to 1.5 percentage points of efficiency improvements, and deliver at least a two percentage point reduction in emissions. For a 1000MW plant, that equates to consuming 67,000 fewer tons of coal per year with the same output.

Given the rapid proliferation of renewables in Europe, it hasn’t surprised me that power producers in that part of the world have been amongst the first to embrace digital technologies to make their traditional fuel-based plants more responsive to the needs of their markets. In fact, it was an Irish power plant that first demonstrated the value that Digital Power Plant software can deliver.

With the Irish government targeting 40 percent of gross electricity consumption to come from renewable energy production by 2020, domestic electricity generator Bord Gáis Energy recognized a need to generate more reliable, on-demand capacity from its fleet of combined cycle gas turbines to provide load-stabilizing capacity.

Believing that software technologies could add the generating flexibility it needed, Bord Gáis was one of the first utilities in the world to install Asset Performance Management (APM) software from GE that harnessed industrial-scale data analytics to predictively identify operational issues before they occurred.

GE’s APM software was introduced at Bord Gáis’ 445-megawatt gas combined-cycle Whitegate Power Station in County Cork, Ireland, a plant which generates enough electricity to meet the needs of 300,000 homes in Ireland.

The APM monitoring solution connected to 141 sensors throughout the plant to provide around-the-clock monitoring of Whitegate’s hardware assets and a single, consolidated view of plant performance. The integrated solution – powered by more than 300 algorithms - has helped them identify a €1,2M cost avoidance in its first year of operation without any plant unavailability due to covered equipment and 21 additional “catches” by the system.

€1,2M is impressive, but it is really the tip of the iceberg. A 2016 World Economic Forum study on the digital transformation of industries estimates that the global electricity industry could generate $1.3 trillion in value from the application of digital technologies over the next ten years. Almost 30% of that could be captured by reducing unplanned downtime.

In the years ahead, I believe we’ll look back and recognize 2016 as a tipping point in the digitalization of the electricity industry, and PSEG, Exelon and Bord Gáis as digital pioneers.

The big question for every other power generator is this: are you ready go digital?

 

For more information about GE Power Digital Solutions, please visit:  http://www.ge.com/digital/industries/power-utility

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