The most noticeable shift is the surge in new renewable electricity generating capacity while non-renewable capacity growth is slowing or declining. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data, utility-scale solar and wind generation dominates the planned U.S. capacity additions for 2021, and battery storage also made the chart this year. By contrast, natural gas is expected to increase by only 16 percent while the vast majority of scheduled capacity retirements are in nuclear, coal, and petroleum.
Meanwhile, local renewable electricity generation is growing with homes and businesses feeding the grid or their own battery storage packs, despite national electricity networks not being designed to accommodate decentralized renewable energy production.
To ease the burden of managing power plants in this extraordinary era, advanced software and technology solutions designed to help to deal with the new realities are rolling out at an impressive pace. They are streamlining the connection and management of complex production networks, distributed and linear assets, local and mobile workforces, global supply chains, new investment projects, and the overall customer experience.
Coveted capabilities for power generation
Electric power generation organizations, large and small, need sophisticated asset management and service management solutions rooted in a robust, scalable, and secure platform architected to encourage innovation and optimization. The solution set will enable an intelligent and autonomous enterprise, giving power plant operators the ability to flex with market changes, embrace new opportunities, and become imaginatively competitive.
The utilities sector already is focusing on digitally disruptive technologies and advanced solutions that are enabled by the industrial internet of things (IoT), big data, and cloud computing. Opportunities to increase operational efficiency and performance are many, including:
- Managing diverse and geographically dispersed operations in a consolidated, cloud-based environment with integrated asset, supply chain, HR, project, and finance applications, providing an integrated view of company performance as well as collaboration with vendors and suppliers
- Using IoT sensors to automatically capture condition or performance data from critical assets, such as aging telemetry systems, increasing risk awareness
- Applying streaming asset data to advanced analytics, which trigger alerts at early signs of degradation and allow predictive maintenance (PdM) to occur before failures cause costly downtime
- Enhancing field service productivity and effectiveness by providing full enterprise visibility and functionality from a mobile device and leveraging AI-powered scheduling optimization
- Reducing reliance on the personal knowledge of an aging workforce and incorporating knowledge capture, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and advanced analytics for data-driven decision making.
- Assigning drones or autonomous robots to distributed, distant, or at-height asset inspections, reducing safety risks and redirecting staff to more rewarding, skilled work
- Enabling immersive training through virtual reality (VR), and real-time remote collaboration and assistance through augmented reality (AR) and merged reality (MR) solutions
- Creating digital twins of assets, systems, or processes to allow analysis, simulation, and training in a safe, real-time, digital representation of the physical world
Coal-fired plant shows how modernization pays off
SDIC Qinzhou Electric Power in China embarked on a digital transformation to address the challenges of market reform and pressure to increase operational performance and output. Multiple disparate, disconnected, costly, and outdated systems were replaced with a highly integrated, centralized solution that provided real-time insight into daily operations. It also laid the groundwork for plant expansion. After implementing IFS Applications, Qinzhou Electric Power commissioned two additional coal-fired units.
- 20% reduction in operational costs on average
- 15% reduction in maintenance and repair costs
- 30% enhancement in inventory turnover rate
- 33% reduction in inventory cost through improved demand estimates
- 10% reduction in management cost through labor force control and improving operational efficiencies
- Reduction in unscheduled asset downtime through predictive maintenance
The new solution provided proactive asset monitoring and analytics capabilities to predict failures and plan maintenance to increase uptime. Optimized supply chain and procurement management including demand forecasting ensure inventory levels are right-sized and parts are on hand when needed. Human resources are properly skilled and available when scheduled.
The benefits realized by what is now the largest thermal power plant in Guangxi are multidimensional. “IFS Applications not only meets the needs of our business and management team, but has reduced supply chain, procurement, asset operation, and maintenance costs by an average of 20%. It also enhanced power generation capacity and elevated our core competitiveness through digitally transforming our business,” says Zheng Xianjin, Supervisor of Information Equipment at SDIC Qinzhou Electric Power.
Further modernization is planned. “Of course, we are also considering the fast integration of field device data and applications through IoT on equipment to reduce maintenance costs,” adds Zheng. “In the next phase, we look to enable field and operational work through mobile tools to create further efficiencies.”
Present steps drive future success
Further innovation and digitalization inevitable in power generation will lead companies into new markets and geographies. For instance, ongoing advancements in renewable technologies will invariably lower the cost of renewal electricity production and increase demand. “The pressure to conserve energy and reduce carbon emissions remains high,” observes Simon Orchard, Industry Architect of Energy, Utilities, and Resources at IFS.
Planned U.S. generating capacity additions in 2021
- 39% Solar
- 31% Wind
- 16% Natural gas
- 11% Battery storage
- 3% Nuclear
Planned U.S. generating capacity retirements in 2021
- 56% Nuclear
- 30% Coal
- 9% Petroleum
- 5% Other
“As energy companies diversify, their energy mix will create increasingly complex organizations that require agile and flexible solutions,” adds Orchard. IFS designed its applications to help facilitate this transformation by providing the capabilities needed by local and multinational generation companies to manage complex organizational structures, control projects, and optimize their assets and supply chains. Comprehensive, integrated asset management functionality supports the entire asset lifecycle, from design to decommissioning. Complex global supply chains are optimized with support for inter-company transactions and specific site held inventory. Transparency in financial reporting at global and local levels is ensured along with compliance throughout the business.
Furthermore, as more consumers generate their own power, a new breed of field service will emerge to provide installation, asset monitoring, and preventive and PdM services. “There are huge opportunities for forward-looking energy companies to capture new revenue streams,” explains Orchard. “Big energy companies can benefit from economies of scale and well-developed service networks that benefit consumers.”
If current trends continue, it is very likely clean energy investments will accelerate, and more utilities will adopt a sense of urgency in evolving their technologies and business models.