Author: Douglas Morris
The growth of renewables and distributed energy resources are challenging the traditional economic models of the utility industry. A growing school of thought in power generation is that embracing some form of digital transformation could very well provide an avenue for better economics. The problem is, though, that digital transformation has been ill defined and the focus is on “the technology” rather than “what it does for a user”. No one is going to deploy these technologies without a clear picture of the value.
Tangible value is available using targeted application of digital technologies and can help a utility spend less on O&M while helping its increasingly smaller workforce do more with less. The best approach that I’ve seen is to start by trying to solve a real problem at a plant. Let me give an example. At one site, the operations staff was stretched too thin and some rounds were late to be gathered and, as because of Murphy’s Law, the calibration gas for their continuous emissions monitoring system (CEMS) ran out.
This plant has since installed a wireless pressure gauge to automatically relay the 24/7 status of their cal gases. Other plants have gone beyond a single application like this and have installed sensors throughout to greatly reduce the need for manual rounds. Even other sites are using digital transformation to securely connect equipment to outside suppliers to monitor equipment remotely.
Another angle that is used to justify digital transformation is to use technology to help bridge the gap for an evolving workforce. As experienced workers leave and take their knowledge of how to address operations & maintenance (O&M) issues with them, the desire to push for lower O&M costs is much harder to achieve. Relying on OEMs can help, but they typically don’t have the depth of local knowledge as those retiring. Technology and automation can be a better bridge and help institutionalize the knowledge of senior staff. A concrete example of this is where startups have been automated so every operator is as efficient and effective as the most experienced of operators.
During the upcoming POWER-GEN conference in Orlando (December 4-6), Emerson will showcase how to apply digital technologies to solve real plant problems. We will have experts in our booth #2121 to discuss how you can make digital transformation real at your utility.