Over the past 20 years, there has been no shortage of challenges to solve: power market deregulation, increasingly stringent environmental constraints, the creation of wholesale power markets and the addition of renewable generation resources, to name just a few. As a result, the global power market is in transformation, with traditional business value streams and asset utilization models being turned on their heads. This piece examines how digital can help solve some of the biggest challenges facing power generators today.
Knowledge and expertise retention
A key challenge for companies operating in mature power markets worldwide is the retirement of experienced operations personnel. The ability to access expertise by remote is a huge enabler for these markets. ABB’s Collaborative Operations Centers provide infrastructure as a service, securely allowing experts outside the plant to monitor performance, support troubleshooting and maintenance, and help optimize plant operations. They help improve health and safety at the workplace and reduce the number of technical experts required to run and maintain the plant, thus lowering operating costs.
Improving operational practices
Another challenge for companies operating multiple power plants is to ensure that best practices are applied and lessons learned are shared across the fleet. Power company leadership often wants better visibility of key performance indicators across the fleet and the ability to ‘double-click’ into individual plants or specific classes of equipment. They want to know how best practices of the most efficient plant can be implemented across the fleet, or how lessons learned from a forced outage can be applied in operational and maintenance practices.
Power companies in highly complex markets want to grasp new opportunities and develop new business models. For example, distributed energy resources, like rooftop solar or even demand-side management, have made it difficult for traditional utility unit commitment or dispatching models to accurately forecast load and develop supply models. Pioneering power companies can use digital solutions to make accurate forecasts with data from smart meters. They can make unit commitment and bidding decisions more profitable with neural network generation forecasting modules. And, they can minimize labor and complexity by deploying advanced analytics that aggregate forecasts from many small renewable resources into a larger virtual power plant.
It starts at the top
Utilities are undergoing a cultural shift towards an information-based digital economy - where primary processes are digitalized - and moving away from the traditional business model that requires heavy investment in physical assets. In the face of this change, chief executives feel there is a real danger of getting left behind if they fail to rally their organization to the new digital order. The drive from leadership is key to the implementation of successful digital projects. It is vital that there is a clear link between any digital project and a company’s strategic priorities.
Think big but start small
While it is crucial to have a big-picture vision for digital, companies that are in the lead started with small projects and pilots that quickly delivered tangible results. Results and success drive action and greater cultural adoption of digital solutions on the plant floor. With the organization on board, larger and more ambitious projects are easier to execute.
It is all about people, process and technology
Without changing their business process to get the results that digital solutions offer, companies will have great technology but little else. Digitalization should not make people feel alienated or excluded from the industry’s digital future. Companies need digital programs, projects and pilots to engage the right stakeholders, which extend beyond operations and often involve information technology, compliance and finance. In other words, remember to bring the right team along on the digital journey.
Pick partners with expertise and experience
Customers have rich networks of multiple digital partners; this view contrasts with some competitors that push for a single platform. The partners selected should be able to demonstrate industry expertise, proof-points of challenges solved, and maturity in software development and cyber security.