The evolution of automation

Power plant automation is in the midst of converging with the trends of big data and the Internet of Things. However ABB stresses that without human know-how, multitudes of data can be meaningless, writes Kelvin Ross

In the past we just wanted power. The future will want power with flexibility.”

So says Manjay Khazanchi, head of Asia Pacific for ABB’s Power Generation unit, as he talks about how the company has approached the hot topic of so-called big data in the energy industry.

At the forefront of ABB’s strategy is Symphony Plus, its system which is “designed to maximize plant efficiency and reliability through automation, integration, and optimization of the entire plant”.

“There is a big shift in automation,” explains Khazanchi. “The Internet of Things is there, for sure, but ABB is not looking at it just from that perspective, but as an Internet of Services and People. This is how we connect the ‘Things’ to services and people and how we get the optimized leverage out of the internet.”

Khazanchi says the concept of big data is being delivered by technology like Symphony Plus. “We have a system that is simple, scalable and secure. When you are talking about big data it is very important to understand how the data is captured, how the data is verified and how the data is then reproduced in an intelligent manner.”

Big data means “cybersecurity, energy management, asset management and plant optimization”

Credit: ABB

He says that Symphony Plus has “flexible architecture which can deal with the complex type of configurations on power plant controls. You can grow it over a small configuration and then a multi-tier configuration, with multiple servers handing hundreds of thousands of data points which come from within a power plant – going up from a fleet level to a network level, seamlessly integrating not only vertically with the control and instrumentation systems, but also horizontally with third-party systems or other manufacturers who might have a presence in the plants.”

He states that when we talk about data at a plant level, “we are not talking only about plant optimization in terms of boiler control of protection or burner management: we are also talking about cybersecurity, energy management, asset management, plant optimization. This is what is needed for the big data analysis for information management.”

And he stresses that the key with big data is knowing exactly what information is relevant: “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.

“Too much data is 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, adds that “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 behavior and potential of their assets.”

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

Symphony Plus

Credit: ABB

He said with this in mind, Symphony Plus was “the result of our careful analysis of the evolving power generation market and our customers’ changing needs, driven by global mega trends.”

ABB is witnessing particular success with Symphony Plus in Asia. It recently won a repeat order from Doosan Heavy Industries to automate a 600 MW supercritical coal-fired power plant in Vietnam.

The project is an expansion of the Vinh Tan 4 plant east of Ho Chi Minh City and once completed, it is due to add an extra 5600 MW to the national grid. Symphony Plus automation system will control the plant’s boiler, turbine generator and auxiliaries.

Sanguineti said that with Symphony Plus, ABB is “connecting the dots between the need and the technology, providing a solution for the better sustainability of our customers. That’s the goal at the end of the day.

He said automation of any kind had always been devised to help “people do things in a better, simpler way”, and this has not changed. “We are simply becoming more global, moving from a very traditional architecture to intelligent automization.

“Because what is behind the data? It’s the human experience. It’s human intelligence. It’s the fact that people know how to use that data and to make the best benefit of it. And this is something that the technology is not bringing. “The technology is an enabler – it’s a commodity – it’s the ingredients, and we are creating solutions for how to use it.”


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