October 22, 2021

How is digital technology upgrading power generation?

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Many people take power generation for granted, especially because the technology behind it works in the background. Most people who benefit from this readily available energy never see the infrastructure that makes it possible. Even so, digital technology is instrumental in helping power generation stay reliable and up-to-date. Here are some compelling examples.

Reducing Costly and Inconvenient Failures

Digital technologies can be instrumental in preventing incidents that cause unexpected power losses. For example, asset performance management (APM) tools use data analytics to warn people of possible failures before they happen.

One market analysis anticipates that 40{24d3bdfa809a857f5c7f6d66fc88b03519545d546623e4573a359ce9619440d7} of wind farms will have APM and image analytics technology to diagnose faults. That’s helpful because if company representatives can identify problems faster, the overall outage time would be reduced as a result.

In another case, researchers built a model showing the effects of using smart devices that only activate a product that requires power if the grid has sufficient resources to accommodate it. In that case, the intelligent devices combined with data analytics could reduce blackouts.

A power outage could be a mere annoyance that persists for a short period. However, some failures can be significantly worse, particularly if they affect hospitals or other essential organizations. Digital technologies like those described here could dramatically reduce such instances.

Allowing Remote Visibility and Tighter Security

Power plants must maintain stringent security measures for numerous reasons. For example, unauthorized parties may obtain access and become too curious. They could get hurt due to a lack of understanding about specific safety precautions. There’s also a possibility of a malicious party trying to gain access to a power plant to wreak havoc in a terrorist attack.

Outside of those extreme examples, companies should record who accesses a power plant’s property and when those visits occur. That’s why many facilities have automatic entry gates that are large enough to accommodate vehicles. An employee or service provider can swipe a key card or enter a numeric code to get access through the gate, and there’s no need to have 24/7 security guards at the entrance.

However, a company may have security guards stationed elsewhere, such as in a remote location. Digital technology advancements allow a person to keep an eye on the premises even if not physically located there. Relatedly, they could keep an eye on traffic associated with an automatic security gate, ensuring that all is as expected for a particular day. Some solutions let guards remotely allow or deny access via an app.

Technological progress supports better cybersecurity at a power plant, too. For example, some software allows an IT manager to see precisely when someone attempts to gain access to company resources and where they are when doing so. Those details can minimize the possibility of cyberattacks.

Improving Resource Planning and Enhancements

People in the power generation sector also rely on digital technologies for better resource planning. One example is the use of a digital twin — a virtual model of a real asset. It could help plant employees determine if the current infrastructure suffices to meet a new client’s needs or if it’s necessary to make upgrades before signing a contract.

A digital twin can also go beyond showing a company’s assets and include details about a surrounding area. That might mean displaying the tree growth and the number of residences near a certain power line. Having that information helps managers determine when and where to send people to take care of vegetation management.

In another example of digital technology applied to power generation for resource allocation, a gas-powered plant in Mexico used advanced remote monitoring to keep tabs on a plant during the COVID-19 crisis. That allowed employees to shift to a condition-based monitoring plan rather than performing maintenance at specific intervals. The plant moved a scheduled outage back by six months and used the monitoring data to achieve better flexibility in resource planning.

Efficient and accurate resource planning can go a long way in preventing catastrophic or costly circumstances. Fortunately, digital advancements can make relevant gains after the applicable parties identify which weak points they want to target when pursuing progress.

Providing Essential Information About Power Distribution and Usage

Power generation professionals need reliable information about the variations in how certain areas or customers use power. Digital technologies can provide those valuable specifics and ensure reliable performance.

For example, power company representatives in some locations install microgrids that can function independently if something goes wrong with the primary grid. In Borrego Springs, California, residents may get their power from a microgrid during severe weather. That system uses artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure the most essential facilities get prioritized for electricity when necessary.

The Borrego Springs microgrid operates from solar power. However, microgrids work with any kind of energy source. One of the main benefits of connecting them to a renewable resource is that company representatives could use data analytics to see how that type of power performs compared to conventional options.

Another recent example involved combining blockchain technology with the microgrid associated with the Port of Rotterdam, the largest seaport in Europe. It allowed the destination’s commercial electricity customers to trade renewable energy with distributed ledger technology.

The trial program applied to solar and battery-stored energy. People using the platform also interacted with an AI-driven feature that learned a customer’s power needs and preferences, plus their habits. Buyers and sellers could access a 48-hour forward market that showed dynamic energy prices based on supply and demand. Results showed that energy users saw an 11{24d3bdfa809a857f5c7f6d66fc88b03519545d546623e4573a359ce9619440d7} reduction in their costs, while providers reported a 14{24d3bdfa809a857f5c7f6d66fc88b03519545d546623e4573a359ce9619440d7} revenue increase.

Digital Technologies Help Power Generation Stay Reliable

Inadequate maintenance, severe weather and poor security can cause problems at power generation facilities. However, the examples here illustrate why digital technologies are crucial for reducing those challenges and helping companies stay profitable while serving varying customer needs.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, a magazine exploring how innovations change our world. She has over 3 years experience writing articles in the industrial and tech sectors.

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