Automation plays a pivotal role in the evolution of an information-driven business architecture. Companies are beginning to find ways to quantify the returns from incorporating the latest technologies, such as smart sensors, Big Data, and advanced analytics. Gradually, these technologies are becoming more prevalent as they enable relevant and timely sharing of data to generate actionable information, but implementation challenges remain.
India-Specific Challenges in the Power Sector
The power sector in India faces a multitude of issues, and power companies are striving to find solutions through a digital connected-enterprise approach covering the entire power sector value chain.
Converting data into actionable information remains challenging for many companies. To leverage Big Data to improve efficiency and ultimately improve the bottom line, analytics come into play. We need to understand this in the context of the power sector value chain and the associated challenges: fuel uncertainty, demand inconsistency, land and water resources scarcity, and regulatory norms (especially tariff fixation) that impact the plant operations. An overarching solution would be to optimize the resources at hand using the technology suites available to the Indian power sector. These include ultra-supercritical technology and renewables for the power generation segment; and high-voltage transmission, and smart grid/smart metering on the transmission and distribution side.
Power of Advanced Analytics
Power companies now use Big Data to develop business analytics models. Several top power companies have built a centralized monitoring center, wherein experts can access and utilize all real-time data generated across the geographically dispersed plants. The centralized expert pool helps develop uniform and standardized practices for operations and maintenance of power units. Power generation companies have shared several examples of advanced analytics used in plant operations.
They use special analytics applications to monitor power plants’ start up/shutdown, and provide expert guidelines for the respective sites and also send alerts using smartphones. To capture the expertise and experience of plant personnel, companies have also started creating repositories that help institutionalize knowledge. This is critical as many automation personnel are nearing their retirement age. Moreover, using advanced pattern recognition applications to implement predictive maintenance using Big Data, is gaining visibility, as it helps reduce costly unplanned outages.
It’s becoming common these days for power companies to develop in-house analytics teams to replace commercially available performance analysis, diagnostics, and optimization (PADO) solutions. They are developing analytics modules for performance monitoring, chemical analysis, boiler optimization, and so forth.
For instance, analytics for coal blending uses advanced sensing to give real-time analysis data for imported coal, domestic coal, and blended coal. This helps optimize fuel utilization, resulting in reduced emissions and increased operating margins. Also, for reducing generation costs, a cost vs. load curve for each unit can be derived based on historical operational data.
Remote operations management is gaining importance and power companies believe it is the need of the hour. Key benefits include reduced land usage and reduced human intervention in local operations, which to some extent, helps alleviate the shortage of qualified manpower available at remote locations.
Another area of focus includes achieving more efficiency in the engineering domain such as power plant designs, using advanced analytics. These advanced tools access operational data from various units to evaluate the configuration of processes and equipment in new plants, and assess the monetary impact of this on generation of power. Moreover, minimization of capital cost will have increasing relevance in the future power scenario.
The impact of an information-driven business model has redefined the power sector value chain, and is helping increase synergy between power generation, transmission, and distribution. Many top power generation companies feel that seamless integration of emerging technologies in the entire value chain, and advanced connectivity between various stakeholders will be instrumental in resolving challenges in India’s power sector.
Companies should take advantage of recent advancement to build, support, and update their technology and business architectures. Advanced sensing technologies make information across the value chain available; and Big Data approaches and advanced analytics manage the data and convert it into actionable information. Moreover, in the power sector with the new focus on renewables and smart grid/micro grid, there will be greater opportunities to leverage all available data to help drive business decisions.
About ARC Advisory Group: Founded in 1986, ARC Advisory Group is a Boston based leading technology research and advisory firm for industry and infrastructure.
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About the Author
Amruta’s main areas of focus are automation systems and solutions for process and hybrid industries, covering both India and the worldwide market. Amruta's expertise in automation technologies include distributed control system (DCS), SCADA, manufacturing execution systems (MES), process safety, and field instruments such as pressure transmitters, level measurement devices, control valves, and regulators. She has conducted capital expenditure analysis and customized strategy assignments (market expansion/entry, market opportunity assessment) for global and domestic companies. Amruta holds an MBA from Alliance Business School and B.Tech in Industrial and Production Engineering from VTU.