Sustainable Power for All: Decarbonisation, digitalisation and decentralisation for value generation

Decarbonisation, digitalisation and decentralisation for value generation

By Gerd Deusser, Executive Vice-President and Head, Energy, Siemens Limited

The past 18 months could possibly act as a defining moment for the power generation and transmission industry, where the average life of equipment is around 25 years! So, if we were to step back and extrapolate these 18 months, they would actually boil down to the three Ds – decarbonisation, di­gi­talisation and decentralisation –  which will define the future of this industry. And given the pace at which the 3Ds are being adopted globally, with the active support of government policies, the changes could happen faster than anticipated earlier.

At the outset, let us consider how the changes in demand and consumption of power will impact the industry. According to the findings of the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global energy demand decreased by 6 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019, while it dropped by 20 per cent or more during full lockdown measures in several countries.

During the lockdown, since almost all economic activities came to a halt, power generation needed to be adjusted to compensate for the reduced consumption. While the pandemic created an unprecedented set of challenges for the entire power sector value chain, the industry itself remained resilient. The primary reason for this resilience is the industry’s investments in automation and digitalisation. We saw this in operation during the nationwide call to switch off power for nine minutes in April 2020. The power generation utilities could manage to stabilise the grid in the face of the massive and sudden fluctuation. It did so successfully through the control system along with different modules for flexible operations, and helped contain disturbances due to grid fluctuations. To put things in perspective, as per Power System Operation Corpo­ration Limited, the total reduction in demand during the “lights out” event was recorded at around 31,000 MW, which is roughly 26 per cent of the total power demand of India.

As per India Energy Outlook 2021, India, with its expanding eco­nomy, is anticipated to double its primary energy consum­p­tion to almost 1,123 mtoe, with GDP accelerating to $8.6 trillion by 2040. With the increasing consumption comes an exponential growth in data, which, in turn, calls for in-depth data analysis and interpretation. Over time, we will also see power plants that run autonomously in decentralised mode.

Digitalisation driving the power sector

Digitalisation empowers the power sector with operational data and safety records, allowing operators to manage uncertainties, reduce risks and conduct prevention planning. Plant managers can now adopt preventive measures and take real-time actions with automated systems.

Digitalisation empowers the power sector with operational data and safety records, allowing operators to manage uncertainties, reduce risks and conduct prevention planning.

Edge technology

To leverage the digital and decentralised network, it has beco­me vital to interconnect high voltage transmission products in a substation, such as transformers, switchgear and circuit breakers, per default.

The internet of energy for the grids of the future is providing operational data of intelligent assets that can be analysed and fixed in real time. Such digitally enabled transmission products, systems and solutions can function independently, or be integrated into an enterprise’s network, or interoperate with the help of cloud technology. Further advantages of the cloud include app-based data analytics, data processing and storage concepts, updating and versioning of applications, and corresponding management of devices.

The three Ds – decarbonisation, digitalisation and decentralisation – will define the future of the power industry.

HVDC solutions

High voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission systems provide the most efficient means of transmitting high power over long distances, leading to integration of green power in the grid. HVDC systems supplement the existing alternating current (AC) infrastructure by providing fully controlled power supply in either direction and connecting asynchronous grids and grids with different frequencies, thus improving the efficiency of firewalling of AC grids against cascading blackouts.

Digital sensors

Today, the availability of digitalised solutions is catering to contain necessary sensors for oil level, temperature, low voltage winding current and GPS positioning; and are effectively carrying out data submission via GSM and Ethernet connection without the need for a secondary IT infrastructure. Digital sensors can analyse the behaviour of physical assets in real time, and digital operators can manage temporary overloads without compromising on the lifetime. Advanced sensors provide advanced analytics such as full temperature view and current heat status.

According to the India Brand Equity Foundation, Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency Limited has invited bids from solar module manufacturers for setting up solar manufacturing units under the central government’s Rs 45 billion ($616.76 million) production-linked incentive scheme. Also, the State Bank of India has financed Rs 319.18 billion ($4.28 billion) in renewable energy projects in India, with a total installed capacity of 13.8 GW.

Comprehensive framework of future energy systems

It needs to be borne in mind that the paradigm shift towards producing renewable energy requires an intricate and strategic approach to maximise the current assets and minimise future expenses. Further enhancements and policies are expected to contribute to achieving the decarbonisation goals set by the government. We can see massive changes in the power generation landscape, as listed below:

  • Transition from coal to gas: CO2 emissions can be drastically reduced by using gas to power the boiler of a conventional steam power plant instead of burning coal. Converting old steam power plants into highly efficient combined cycle plants can help achieve consistent climate stabilisation objectives for the next 50-100 years.
  • Supporting an end-to-end hydrogen value chain: An entire power-to-x value chain with end-to-end solutions provides an integrated approach to solving complex problems. Expert competencies assist global services and hydrogen solutions in contributing towards successful projects across the energy market. These solutions include innovative gas turbines, hydrogen production via polymer electrolyte membrane electrolysers, and the Omnivise Hybrid Control solution for microgrids and hybrid power plants.
  • H2 gas turbines: Technology innovations in burner design and fuel staging increase gas turbines’ capacity to store more hy­­dro­gen. Low-NOx gas turbines can now produce power fr­o­m­ low-carbon fuels such as hydrogen, leveraging natural gas and infrastructure resources and minimising CO2 emissions.
  • Grid stabilisation via voltage, frequency support and load flow control: Power systems using fluctuating renewable en­ergy sources can be stabilised using different measures. The unified power flow controller (UPFC PLUS) expands the options for grid stabilisation, enabling a balance load flow in the AC grid within milliseconds. It is arranged as two voltage sources: one in parallel, which controls the voltage, and one in series connected to the AC line, translating into reactive power compensation, voltage control and active power load flow control in one space-saving unit. All in all, it ensures system tolerance to unexpected failures or outages of a single system component.
  • Battery storage: The battery energy storage system (BESS) is an important technology option that serves as an ideal backup for instant power supply. The hybrid solutions available to­day are enhancing fossil fuel-based and renewable power generation capabilities with the integration of BESS. Such hybrid solutions provide instantaneous, reliable and sustai­nable energy, and are integrating a large proportion of variable renewable energy into large power grids.
  • Thermal storage integration: Electric thermal energy storage (ETES) can store surplus energy in the form of heat, which can be used for various applications such as re-electrification and process heat. ETES electricity is driven from the power grid, which is used to heat volcanic stones to 600°C or higher temperatures. By using a conventional ste­am turbine, the heat can then be converted to electricity. The system is built on 80 per cent off-the-shelf components and can work independe­ntly. These benefits can be added to an existing heat cycle, or a thermal power plant can be converted into a storage plant.

Having seen the benefits of the initial efforts towards decarbonisation, digitalisation and decentralisation, we are confident that the adoption of cutting-edge technologies and sustainable approaches will gain further ground. Our optimism stems from the fact that the government has the vision and resources to make quality power for available within the next 10 years. That would be the best gift that we could give our beautiful Planet Earth!