The digital power plant of the future represents a more resilient, reliable, agile and secure path forward for power and utility companies .
With significant changes influencing the industry, from deregulation and increasingly strict requirements around emissions to growing consumer preference for renewable energy sources and a continuing rise in cyberattacks, power plants need to adapt and advance to remain viable and profitable.
The digital power plant concept emphasizes the optimization of key safety processes and operational procedures by developing a complete data ecosystem that brings together all areas of operations. This digital backbone connects professionals with actionable information and analysis that can optimize asset and workforce productivity. At the same time, it supports enhanced risk mitigation and supplies management with the data needed to develop effective strategies.
Let’s take a closer look at what the digital power plant of the future looks like and how digital transformation will enable a sustainable business environment that can develop following these important changes and improvements.
Understanding the digital power plant of the future: Empowering continuous improvement
Power plants must adjust if they are to align with a rapidly changing operational environment and remain viable. This means taking everything from regulatory updates and increased energy demand to functional inefficiencies into account, as current methods of operation for power plants leave much to be desired.
McKinsey & Company highlights the relative lack of thorough digitalization for power plant operators, noting that no company had yet realized total, end-to-end transformation through digital technology (as of March 2021). The potential reasons for this slow progress — conservative business strategies, lack of clarity around prioritizing changes tied to business value and other factors — are important to recognize, as they will continue to influence efforts to digitally transform.
What may be more valuable, however, is viewing the lack of transformation as an opportunity. A power plant that realizes a fully digital strategy for operations will enjoy key benefits absent at most or all other existing plants. That means opportunities for savings, improved safety and more informed decision-making, to highlight just a few advantages.
More specifically, businesses in the power generation industry can realize positive and transformative change in these four key areas through complete and effective digitalization:
- Operations: Digitalizing operational record keeping processes ensures all relevant information is placed in a single repository. This makes it easier for stakeholders to access it whenever needed and to generally enable efficient knowledge transfer.
- Maintenance: With a single source of truth established through digitalization, all records related to maintenance activities can be easily reviewed and assessed whenever needed. Power plant managers and maintenance experts can easily view records and conduct analyses that support key outcomes like reducing planned downtime in the future.
- Energy efficiency: Digitalization enables real-time analysis of efficiency metrics. Instead of engineers needing to first gather data and then conduct an analysis to identify an issue, they can receive immediate notifications of exceeded parameters and other key indicators and begin to resolve issues immediately.
- Health, Safety and Environment (HSE): By moving past manual data collection and information silos, a power plant can realize better safety outcomes through a complete analysis of incidents and develop strategies to reduce the chance of such issues in the future.
Addressing emerging and continuing risks and pressures
Concerns like a lack of complete visibility into operations and an inability to develop proactive strategies based on predictive analytics have long created inefficiencies and negative outcomes for power plants and the teams who lead and operate them.
As regulations, consumer preferences and other concerns force energy companies to be more agile, this combination of existing and emerging issues will only serve to create further drawbacks for businesses that don’t use digital transformation efforts to improve operations.
While defined business needs and return on investment considerations should drive tactical decisions about where to begin with digital transformation efforts, it’s crucial to recognize that a fully digital organization has many advantages over one that implements a constrained tool for improving a single process.
Security, HSE, operations, maintenance, energy efficiency and all other areas of power plant functions ultimately interconnect. Only a comprehensive data ecosystem and strategy for full digital transformation can provide complete access to all plant information and support continuous improvement.
Enabling a stronger power plant through digital transformation
Operational excellence — a journey wherein processes and workflows are regularly analyzed and improved upon to reach the best possible outcomes — depends on complete access to data and efficient pathways to transform it into actionable information and analysis. Digital transformation enables operational excellence by connecting all types of operational data, thereby creating a digital backbone for the organization and establishing a single source of truth for all activities related to review, analysis and strategy development.
This increased visibility, and ability to leverage data to make decisions that guide the plant forward, leads to broadly relevant and powerful benefits. Safety can improve as more situation data is collected and analyzed, providing an additional layer for mitigating risk. Productivity can similarly rise as information is quickly and easily accessible for all staff members who may need it. Ultimately, operational expenses are likely to decrease as informed decision-making reduces downtime and optimizes assets.
Automation, sustainability, digitalized operations and more actionable data
By automating a variety of tasks and processes, the virtual power plant of the future saves valuable time that staff teams and individuals can allocate to more important tasks. Automation also makes it that much easier for data to flow into central repositories, ultimately enabling easier access to that information and the processes that turn it into action.
Concurrently, a connected approach to plant data enables a proactive safety and security strategy, helping to keep employees away from danger and focused on their work. This digitalized environment leads to better sustainability outcomes as well, providing everything from in-the-moment alerts to long-term analysis that can help to reduce emissions — aligning plants with increasingly strict regulatory requirements and the interests of consumers.
A sustainable business environment for leaders, staff and stakeholders
A digitally transformed power plant, one that thoroughly incorporates automation and unlocks actionable data across all its functions, supports an environment that fosters continuous improvement and operational excellence.
Digitalization addresses a variety of obstacles related to manual data collection, gaps in available information, inefficient processes, and reactive safety processes. Eliminating these persistent problems leads to more resilient and reliable power plants in a general sense, and specifically drives more sustainable outcomes. This includes environmental, social and economic sustainability , which are especially important as companies in the power and utility industry begin to develop sustainability goals and the strategies necessary to reach them.
We’ve reviewed how digital transformation supports outcomes like more efficient maintenance procedures, reduced potential for industrial accidents and faster identification of potential issues related to emissions and other environmental concerns.
These improvements also positively influence sustainability. A reduction in industrial accidents, for example, also reduces the impact on the local environment surrounding the plant and any communities near it. An increase in plant efficiency leads to less waste, which has a positive impact across all three categories of sustainability.
An agile and informed digital power plant of the future can also more seamlessly make the transition to using renewable power sources, which supports consumer preference and aligns with regulatory changes. Supplying end-users with inexpensive energy from reliable, plentiful, and renewable sources is a broadly positive strategy.
Beginning the digital transformation journey
The widespread and major change needed to turn a conventional power plant into a digitized, agile, resilient, and sustainable asset is best navigated with the support of a dependable and experienced partner.
Hexagon’s Asset Lifecycle Intelligence division offers digital solutions that are proven to support success in digital transformation efforts. We enable the enduring and successful change that is so critical for remaining competitive in an increasingly complex industry and optimizing plant operations through a culture of continuous improvement.
To learn more about creating the power plant of the future, including a detailed business case for digital transformation, download our eBook .
Contact us today to speak with our experts about transforming your plant.