“Thomas Edison wouldn’t recognize the industry we operate in today”

Speakers at Asia Power Week in Seoul highlighted the digital transformation of the global power sector, writes Kelvin Ross

Steve Bolze: “digitalization is the biggest change in the power industry that I’ve seen”

Credit: Pennwell

The digitalization of the energy sector is a topic dominating the talk and trends in the industry and it was high on the agenda of speakers at Asia Power Week in Seoul last month.

Indeed, the president of GE Power put a $1.3 trillion value on the digital transformation of the global power sector over the next decade.

Steve Bolze said that the digitalization of the energy sector “is real and it’s here. It’s the single biggest change in the power industry that I’ve seen in my career.”

Delivering one of the keynote speeches on the opening morning of Asia Power Week in the South Korean capital, Bolze said that “Thomas Edison would not recognize the industry that we operate in today”.

He said that the digitalization of the energy sector was “software and analytics working in conjunction – it unlocks whole new levels of performance. There has never been a better time for the investment in technology.”

And Bolze also told the audience that Asia was going to be at the forefront of the shift in the global power landscape.

“Advances in power generation technology in Korea and the Asia-Pacific region means that they are emerging as showcases for the world.”

He said that with 320 GW of new power expected in the region in the next 20 years, “there has never been a more exciting time for the Asia-Pacific market.

Later that morning, two speakers from ABB described how the intelligent use of data now available in power plants can not only deliver a competitive edge, but provide a solution to current and future challenges in the power industry.

But they were keen to stress that care had to be taken with both the volume of data and the ways in which it is handled.

Manjay Khazanchi, head of Asia Pacific for ABB’s Power Generation unit, said that “the most important thing is to be secure. The biggest challenge for all of us today is on security. We are spending a lot of money on R&D to ensure that our systems are secure and safe.

“All this data has to be handled in a manner in which the operators are able to judge and take actions in a proper and appropriate manner, without any loss of data or loss of production.”

Taehee Woo said South Korea would invest $27 billion in renewables

Credit: Pennwell

He stressed that “too much data is also not good. We have seen cases in power plants where data has been delivered and people do not know what to do with it. “Not having the right infrastructure in place at root level makes big data meaningless. We need to have strong infrastructure procedures in place.”

Marco Sanguineti, ABB’s power generation head of technology, referred to what he called the “Internet of Things, Services and People”.

“The success of our power generation customers will be more and more supported by the intelligent use of data generated by ever-increasing connectivity of devices. The integration of this data with people expertise and knowledge will create additional services in a cycle, delivering unprecedented knowledge of the behaviour and potential of their assets.”

He spoke about the ‘internetization’ of power. “What is changing is the direction of electricity. What once just went left to right is now going left to right, right to left and back, again and again.”

Sanguineti said that ABB’s Symphony Plus distributed control system was “the result of our careful analysis of the evolving power generation market, and our customers’ changing needs driven by global megatrends”.

Meanwhile, the rise of renewables in Asia – and their integration into the region’s energy mix – was repeatedly highlighted.

Giving the opening speech of the event, South Korea’s Second Vice-Minister of Energy, Taehee Woo, said that his country will invest $27 billion in renewables and from next year also begin to retire 10 coal-fired power plants.He said that South Korea had set an ambitious target to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 37 per cent by 2030, and added that energy storage, windpower and solar would all play a key role.

Woo said that “the power industry is undergoing profound transformation”.

“The traditional power business model cannot maintain its competitiveness. The grid has to become smarter.”

He said another key strand of Korea’s emissions reduction plan would involve retrofitting its existing plants with supercritical technology, and this retrofitting theme was taken up by Heung-Gweon Park of Doosan, who said that retrofitting “could be the stepping stone” for Asia’s decarbonization.

“I understand that extending the life of a coal plant does not sound very attractive,” he said, but added that all coal plants in South Korea will be supercritical by the end of the next decade.

And after stating that developed countries such as those in Europe had “relatively well-managed the transition to renewables”, he warned that “such a drastic transition in Asia could prove to be an unbearable shock”.

On the second day of the event, the biggest issues facing EPC companies and power equipment OEMs were tackled.

In a panel discussion, Gerhard Scheffer of Fichtner said EPC companies “need to target new markets – countries with high dynamics such as Iran, Iraq and South Africa, or regions with a different risk portfolio, like Africa and Latin America.”

Aditya Trehan, who heads Siemens’ large gas turbine projects in the Asia-Pacific region, said the trend in Asia was for large projects. “We are seeing a lot of bigger power plants – between 2000 MW and 2500 MW – and that means that the number of projects is shrinking.” He added that another trend in Asia power projects was “governments are asking, ‘How do we localize this industry’, and that is going to change the market.”

And adapting to change was highlighted when the panellists reflected on the impact of renewables in the power sector.

Markandan Rajagopalan of Wärtsilä said: “We first saw renewables as a threat – now we sell engines as enablers of renewables.”

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