The Digital Power Plant: How Digital Technologies Keep Power Generation Reliable in Times of Crisis

The Digital Power Plant: How Digital Technologies Keep Power Generation Reliable in Times of Crisis

Digitalisation has proven itself vital in ensuring reliable power generation in times of crisis such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Industry leaders from Leader Energy Pte Ltd, Hubbell Power Systems, Meralco Powergen, PT Pembangkit Jawa Bali (PJB), and Black & Veatch recently shared their expectations on the significant role that digital power plants can play hereon and the hurdles that may be encountered along the way.

There is unanimous agreement on the advantages of digitalisation in improving power plants’ and networks’ efficiencies, reducing unplanned outages and downtime, and extending the operational lifetime of assets, which have all been especially apparent during the past few months of lockdowns, restricted travel, and social distancing policies.

The ability to remotely monitor a plant’s activities has kept essential services, like in the power generation sector, efficiently functioning despite movement restrictions in place. Henry Pariaman, Head of Power Generation Engineering at PT PJB attests to this, as having smart technologies enables his team to directly monitor the power plant without being physically present. With this, Pariaman is still able to give approvals on urgent maintenance tasks. Likewise, engineering works and recommendations are optimised with the use of analytics that comes with the automation.

Managing the power plant has been possible despite social distancing protocols that need to be followed. Gan Boon Hean, Chief Executive Officer at Leader Energy, highlights the fact that they don’t need a full maintenance team but only a small team so group interactions can be avoided. Having digital processes allows him to “actually zoom into all critical areas and just let a person or two coordinate…” Thus, despite physical limitations, they are still able to work efficiently.

In the same way, Aria Ghautama Malik, Territory Manager at Hubbell Power Systems, emphasises that digitalisation brings with it the benefit of data collection. Since automated power plants are able to gather data for 24 nonstop hours, the plants can mitigate even minor breakdowns to ensure smooth operations. Hean contrasts this with manual problem identification. A human eye cannot really zoom into the plant’s processes, whereas smart technologies can make this possible allowing operators to do necessary steps to solve and prevent problems from occurring.

The massive amount of data gathered by digitalised power plants also contributes to the extension of the plant’s assets’ operational lifetime. Data can be used to conduct analytics and predictions, including the lifespan of the plant and its next major overhaul, so that operators can better utilise and prolong the life of the plant’s assets. This can then lead to a reduction in the plant’s operational cost.

As regards to digitalisation supporting a zero-carbon future in Southeast Asia, John Quirke, Senior Vice President and Chief Technical Officer at Meralco Powergen, confirms his optimism that it can cover renewable technologies citing their success on centralising control and strengthening preventive maintenance for several wind farms in the US. Though digitalisation is moving at different speeds for different technologies, there is no doubt that it is moving in the right direction, says Quirke.

Still, with every innovation comes difficulties. For digital power plants, these are human reception, communication, and financial resources.

The traditional way of doing things can be quite difficult to change. Hean witnessed this first-hand as he shares how 60% of attendees in a training on computerised control systems dropped out on the second day having struggled to use the technology. To facilitate an easier transition to digitalisation, human reception must be addressed. However, there is growing confidence that younger engineers can support to make this happen.

Communication serves as a challenge, particularly for plants located in remote locations. Thus, infrastructure problems for each area also contribute.

However, the biggest issue that prevents the full adoption of digital technologies in power generation is financing as going digital requires a huge budget. As Pariaman notes, the pandemic makes it even more difficult to get funding for this innovation. Nonetheless, Hean assures that the relative cost will reduce if the technology is integrated into the system from day one rather than when customisation and modifications are done later. Equally, Malik believes that the return on investment will outweigh the CAPEX on digitalisation considering the benefits it has on plant efficiency.

Indeed, the health crisis has accelerated the recognition of digital power plants as the solution that can maintain the sector’s growth despite various restrictions. Albeit with some challenges, the hope embraced by industry leaders toward the full adoption of digitalisation can give this paradigm shift eventuality.

To hear a full recording of the webinar “The Digital Power Plant: How Digital Technologies Keep Power Generation Reliable in Times of Crisis”, click here.

Speakers included:

  • Gan Boon Hean, CEO, Leader Energy Pte Ltd
  • Aria Ghautama Malik, Territory Manager, Hubbell Power Systems
  • Henry Pariaman, Head of Technology, PT Pembangkitan Jawa Bali
  • John Quirke – Senior VP and Chief Technical Officer, Meralco Powergen
  • Yatin Premchand – Managing Director, Management Consulting, Black & Veatch

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