Timely Transformation

Gencos go all out on power plant digitalisation

The power industry is undergoing fundamental changes involving de­car­bonisation, decentralisation and digitalisation, enabled by the integration of information technology (IT) with op­erational technology (OT) alongside data analytics. Power plants are being di­­gi­talised with the aim to create an eco­sys­tem with improved monitoring, ana­lysis and prediction of plant operations. Digi­talisation optimises power pl­ant op­era­tions and maintenance (O&M), inc­reases safety and reliability, and redu­ces unexpected failure, thereby leading to operational excellence.

With digitalisation, the operating model of a genco becomes highly connected th­­rough sensors and smart devices. In­ternet of things (IoT) provides the building blocks of a digital plant, allowing collection, transmission, analysis and management of operations, processes and asset data. Advanced analytics, added to big data, provides tools to better ana­lyse plant performance and help developers make informed decisions. Real-time vis­ibility of demand/supply, coal cost and quality, and operating parameters ensur­es fleet-wise despatch optimisation.

Due to the variable nature of renewable energy projects, power plants need to adopt flexibilisation measures. Renew­able energy integration into the grid leads to lower plant load factors. There is thus a need to balance the grid. Digital solutions for advanced process control including combustion optimisation, temperature control, ramp rate impro­ve­ment, frequ­ency control and soot blow­ing optimisation; condition monitoring solutions such as boiler fatigue monitoring and tur­bine life monitoring; and frequency support through condensate throttling and automatic generation control are useful in maintaining power plant performance under flexible operations.

Apart from this, digital power plant solutions optimise O&M. Sensors, in­d­ustrial IoT (IIoT) and other digital solutions can be used to obtain data on plant perfor­m­a­n­ce for condition monitoring, predictive asset analytics and asset performa­n­ce ma­na­gement (APM). This allows de­ve­lo­p­ers to maximise re­tu­rns on assets and in­­c­reases their longevity and performance.

Powerful new technologies that are being adopted include low-cost sensors, analytics, IoT, the cloud, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). The use of ML, AI and reliability-centred ma­intenance (RCM) can improve the reliability of power plants by providing plant performance insights. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are being deployed by power plant developers for employee/field staff training as well as virtual site visits. With the emer­ging digital twin technology, power generators can use simulation and modelling syste­ms to prevent outages and optimise daily power production. This tech allows de­tailed modelling of burners and coal particle combustion, and analysis of oxygen concentration on the walls in a thermal power plant. Apart from this, digital technologies such as drones, 3D profiling and automated sprinklers are being used for stockyard management. Robotics is be­ing deployed for maintenance and ins­pection purposes.

Digitalisation initiatives by key gencos

NTPC Limited is implementing a digital strategy roadmap for generation performance optimisation and improved pow­er plant management. It has undertaken advance process control (for enabling flexible operation) and advanc­ed monitoring of stockyard (for hotspot detection and 3D profiling of stockpiles) as a pilot project, and is now expanding it to other units. To enhance reliability of eq­uip­ment and processes, the company is also undertaking initiatives for advan­c­ed performance management (mainten­an­ce optimisation suite), application of IIoT and asset information management (digital twin with life cycle documentation). The other digitalisation initiatives of the company include a water dashboard for real-time monitoring of water consumption at power plants; a centra­lised system for monitoring of all renewable energy assets; adoption of robotic process auto­mation, AI and ML in business processes; the strategic in­forma­tion management system; and an analytics platform for top management.

For capacity building of operating personnel, NTPC has completed a pilot AR/VR-based training project, and turbine training modules are under implementation. The company is developing full-fledged replica simulators for all available combinations of steam generator and turbine generator sets of supercritical units. A technology-intensive se­curity system with centralised control and multiple layers of security is being envisaged to replace manpower-intensive manual security. To this end, a pilot project has been completed at the Dadri station, and it is now being implemented at the company’s other projects.

Tata Power has undertaken maintenan­ce optimisation under the RCM approa­ch and APM analytics at Trombay. The company has recorded reduced oil wa­ste generation through the RCM pro­cess and condition monitoring, al­ong with the use of additives and offline filtration to maintain oil quality at its Jojo­be­ra po­w­er plant. The company is im­ple­men­ting a host of other digital initiatives to enhance operational efficiency, including complete life cycle management of coal supply chain processes through the deployment of IT analytical applicati­ons, improved IT-OT integration by enhancing the perimeter firewall under a unified PI project at all generation pl­ants, and an automated asset ma­nage­ment process to achieve 95 per cent as­set accuracy with digitalised assets.

Adani Power has been investing in cutting-edge technologies to enhance output and productivity, and strengthen its competitiveness. At Udupi, the company has initiated robotic desilting of the seawater intake pipeline. It is also setting up an Analytics Centre of Excelle­n­ce to en­hance plant performance by le­ve­raging digital transformation and analytics. The centre will strengthen go­vernance throu­gh its APM initiatives to improve asset re­liability, availability and performance, implement RCM, optimise O&M costs, and im­plement predictive analytics and ear­ly warning systems to reduce forced outage and un­planned downtime.

Sembcorp Energy India Limited has un­dertaken digital initiatives at its thermal power plants (TPPs) in Andhra Pra­desh with a total capacity of 2,640 MW. It has adopted the use of drones for coal in­ven­tory management. Photogra­m­­metry software is used to generate a high resolution map, integrating point cloud and 3D modelling. This digital intervention has reduced inspection time, outage time and O&M cost.

Nabha Power Limited has undertaken digital initiatives at its 1,400 MW TPP in Punjab. It has implemented en­terprise re­­source planning (ERP) besides carrying out certain non-ERP enhancements (da­shboards for O&M, commercial purposes, fuel sourcing, materials manage­me­nt and procurement, finan­ce, and human re­source functions) and deploying analy­tics-based solutions. It plans to use cogn­itive technologies such as AI, ML, IoT and robotic automation in pla­nt processes.

Conclusion and way forward

Overall, the digitalisation of a power pla­nt requires a defined roadmap and an im­plementation strategy. Cost-benefit ana­ly­sis, manpower training (for the ado­ption of technology), undertaking well-de­­fined change management and streng­thening the cybersecurity framework are necessary for successfully undertaking this transformational project.




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