We caught up with Pete Davies, Senior VP of Digital Engineering Solutions for Uniper to learn more about the growing trend of using data and digitalization to transform the way companies manage energy projects and also streamline how energy planning is executed.
Having made great strides in their goals for European power generation (they are ahead of schedule and expect to reduce greater than 50% of their current CO2 emissions by 2030, as opposed to their original target of 2035), it will be interesting to see what they can offer the dynamic and shifting ASEAN energy market.
Davies said they are up for the challenge and that Uniper essentially will bring to Asia the knowledge and experience of digitalization learned from successes in Europe. “So our expertise and experience that we’ve learned from doing this on our own assets is what we bring to other people’s assets, both from a digital perspective and an engineering perspective,” Davies said.
Since the business analytics portion is a vital part of digitization, we were curious to learn how Uniper could drive progress. What are the objectives of the analytics collected? Davies said the analytics are stored in a digital platform, and together with the use of the industrial Internet of Things (IoT) platform, analytics is what “brings together a set of solutions that help people optimize their power plan.” Even more exciting is that the data gleaned from the analytics can provide an edge and “beat the competition when used properly.” Uniper has proven experience from Europe, where their strategies have successfully supported European businesses with their energy transition agendas. Now they are looking towards the future and potentially aiding Asian energy companies to achieve their goals. With the help of their expertise and proven track record, they can help deliver similar results using “analytics in a modern web platform; using modern technology combined with traditional, proven engineering experience.”
But just how important is digitalization to providing flexible energy operations for the whole of Southeast Asia? When considering the capabilities of digitalization and regardless if the goals are tied to baseload, lower minimum load, increased efficiency, or flexible operation, the analytics and knowledge gained are useful as they are insightful Davies said. What’s ideal about analytics is when a company’s asset changes its mode of operation, the digital tools can adjust the approach to optimize.
The tools at your disposal are meant to be changeable and adjustable. For instance, Davies gave an example; if an investment were made in advanced condition monitoring and thermodynamic monitoring. When base loading, companies would be looking to improve efficiency and improve reliability, the difference here is the option to utilize a ‘condition-based maintenance approach’ as opposed to a ‘prescriptive time-based approach.’ Davies went on to say that a company can use “the same tools, but you use them in different ways as your asset changes, and therefore, they keep on giving you a return on investment, because it’s not that they become redundant, you just use them in a different way.” Who doesn’t want a fool proof way to optimize, especially when the payoffs can be sizeable, especially in a transitioning market like energy?
Human aspect will still be crucialPete Davis
Finally, Davies stresses that although the software is dynamic, there still needs to be a human element of understanding implementation and domain knowledge. When considering countries such as Thailand and Indonesia, there should be a focus on engineers who will know how to man the platform to ensure results. After all, Davies suggests the digital tool software is just that, a tool, and there is still a need for sound engineering in conjunction with software plus digital tools. Part of the extension of Uniper’s service is the engineering support provided and training for the staff to ensure proper use of the tools, which will secure the most significant return on their investment. “And that’s really important because let’s be honest, [that is] where we differentiate from the competition, [as well as] … getting quick paybacks.” When asked when artificial intelligence may make these challenges obsolete, he said not right away and “I think that’s more like in 10-year horizons.” For now, the human aspect of this equation is still crucial, as is the buy in from clients to move towards digitization. With moving towards digital platforms comes data, and as Andy Dunn, the co-founder of Bonobos Inc. has been quoted as saying, “Passion provides a purpose, but data drives decisions.”