HomeDigitalizationUnlocking the potential of digitalization

Unlocking the potential of digitalization

“It is vital that there is a clear link between any digital project and a company’s strategic priorities,” says Susan Peterson-Sturm. She told Kelvin Ross why it is crucial to have a big-picture vision for digitalization

Digitalization. Along with decarbonisation and decentralization, it’s the top buzzword in the power industry today. Everyone’s talking about it. But talking about it and actually doing it are two very different things. And what exa qctly is ‘doing’ digitalization.

One company that is – to borrow an American-ism – walking the talk, is ABB.

“Everyone says digitalization is important but very few people know how to go about digitizing,” says Susan Peterson-Sturm.

Appointed digital lead of the Power Generation & Water arm of ABB’s Industrial Automation division, Peterson-Sturm is an industrial control leader with 15 years’ experience working with energy companies to scale industrial digital solutions.

In an interview with PEi during Asia Power Week in Bangkok in September, she said: “Our industry is in a tremendous state of transformation, with a lot of forces merging: distribution and generation sides, and functions getting pushed together.

“So to be able to show some proof points around reducing emissions and economic performance – and providing some additional support to very stressed workforces, greater compliance and cybersecurity concerns – is really key.”

ABB is to supply a distributed control system to a solid
ABB is to supply a distributed control system to a solid refuse fuel power plant in South Korea.

Peterson-Sturm says a key challenge for companies operating in mature power markets worldwide is the retirement of experienced operations personnel. “The ability to access expertise by remote is a huge enabler for these markets.”

Another challenge she highlights for companies operating multiple power plants is to ensure that best practices are applied and lessons learned are shared across the fleet. “Power company leadership often wants better visibility of key performance indicators across the fleet and the ability to ‘double-click’ into individual plants or specific classes of equipment. They want to know how best practices of the most efficient plant can be implemented across the fleet, or how lessons learned from a forced outage can be applied in operational and maintenance practices.

“Power companies in highly complex markets want to grasp new opportunities and develop new business models. For example, distributed energy resources, like rooftop solar or even demand-side management, have made it difficult for traditional utility unit commitment or dispatching models to accurately forecast load and develop supply models. Pioneering power companies can use digital solutions to make accurate forecasts with data from smart meters.

They can make unit commitment and bidding decisions more profitable with neural network generation forecasting modules. And, they can minimize labour and complexity by deploying advanced analytics that aggregate forecasts from many small renewable resources into a larger virtual power plant.”

When it comes to making the change into digitalization, Peterson-Sturm stresses that “it starts at the top”.

“Utilities are undergoing a cultural shift towards an information-based digital economy – where primary processes are digitalized – and moving away from the traditional business model that requires heavy investment in physical assets. In the face of this change, chief executives feel there is a real danger of getting left behind if they fail to rally their organization to the new digital order. The drive from leadership is key to the implementation of successful digital projects. It is vital that there is a clear link between any digital project and a company’s strategic priorities.”

She adds that while it is crucial to have a big-picture vision for digital, “companies that are in the lead started with small projects and pilots that quickly delivered tangible results. Results and success drive action and greater cultural adoption of digital solutions on the plant floor. With the organization on board, larger and more ambitious project are easier to execute.”

She also stresses that “it is all about people, process and technology”.

“In digitalization, we talk a lot about technology but not about people and processes.”

She explains that “without changing their business process to get the results that digital solutions offer, companies will have great technology but little else. Digitalization should not make people feel alienated or excluded from the industry’s digital future. Companies need digital programmes, projects and pilots to engage the right stakeholders, which extend beyond operations and often involve information technology, compliance and finance. In other words, remember to bring the right team along on the digital journey.”

In terms of choosing a partner or partners for this ‘digital journey’, Peterson-Sturm – who spent 10 years in various roles at GE developing, launching and operating software and security solution product lines before joining ABB – says expertise and experience are essential.

“Customers have rich networks of multiple digital partners; this view contrasts with some competitors that push for a single platform. The partners selected should be able to demonstrate industry expertise, proof-points of challenges solved, and maturity in software development and cyber security.”

At a press conference during Asia Power Week, ABB said that the power industry is “battling complex challenges and rapid change: shifting and ever-widening regulations, the large-scale integration of renewables and distributed energy resources, the increasing risk of cyberattack, a generational shift in the workforce, aging plant equipment, volatile dynamic pricing and business model disruption”.

It stressed that digitalization, big data and analytics “offer a timely and uniquely powerful solution to solve these challenges. They give power and water companies visibility and insights into the performance of their equipment, plants and fleet that open new ways of operating more competitively in ever-changing markets.”

According to a new report by LNS Research, which was commissioned by ABB and launched on the first day of Asia Power Week, the benefits of digitalization are already proven. “Gains of 10 per cent and more for productivity, maintenance and reliability are being achieved, compared to 1-2 per cent for companies that don’t embrace digitalization,” it states.

Matthew Littlefield, president of LNS Research, says: “The power generation industry is in the midst of a major paradigm shift. Thirty-five per cent of power generation companies have already invested in the Industrial Internet of Things in 2017. In our newest research report, we have identified the key steps for power generation companies to successfully deploy big data analytics to address dynamic market pressures in a scalable and cost-effective way; avoiding the need for high-risk big-bang technology projects.”

ABB’s solution to unlock the benefits of digitalization is Ability Symphony Plus, a portfolio of digital solutions for power and water applications which it claims is the most advanced on the market.

Peterson Strum says that collaboration is at the heart of ABB’s digital strategy: “We work hand in hand with each customer to better understand their digital requirements and provide solutions that meet those requirements.”

But she stresses that collaboration is only possible in an open ecosystem. “Our ABB Ability platform uses industry-standard, open-source and proprietary ABB software. It combines our technology leadership and deep domain expertise with strategic partnerships, including with Microsoft and IBM. This approach makes it easier for customers to integrate our solutions with other platforms. Such an open ecosystem delivers massive benefits to customers.”

Peterson-Strum told PEi that the Ability Platform “is very promising in how it will allow us to scale digital solutions that have been applied in the past around asset optimisation, around model predictive control, and allow them to be scaled across an entire fleet. That could be from, say $500,000 dollars a year from combustion optimization across the fleet, to easily into the area of millions.”

Complexity and flexibility

She stresses that the so-called digital power plant – “where data meets the physical world and where new opportunities are unlocked for the customer, is not science fiction: it’s already here and able to bring benefits to operators around the world”.

“Increased complexity and flexibility, and new business models, are the new hallmarks of the power sector, which – as with other industries – is seeing changes on an unprecedented scale and pace. Complexity is increasing due to a number of factors, including in the areas of generation, infrastructure, regulations and security.”

She says the new energy landscape requires technologies able to collaborate with operators, especially in the effort to turn the unordered mass of data generated by all equipment installed onsite into meaningful and usable information.

“Within the third industrial revolution, the latest technologies of the time allowed a single operator to keep several areas of a plant under control from a central point, marking the birth of the distributed control system. Now the fourth Industrial revolution is taking automation to an ever more connected level.”

ABB has first-hand experience of this more connected level: it has 70 million connected devices and around a third are linked with power generation control systems. This, it says, in the manifestation of the digital power plant.

“Sensing data and then analyzing it to create insights are two necessary steps of today’s plant operations,” explains Peterson-Strum. “However, realizing these insights in the physical world of a company’s operations – making them actionable, delivering solutions and ‘closing the loop’ – is the crucial third step where customer value creation occurs.”

ABB defines ‘closing the loop’ as going beyond the mere generation of data; it is applying this data to real company operations, allowing power plant operators to visualize the effect on their plant and gain even more value from their assets.

Peterson-Strum says: “It’s unlocking new opportunities – reduce downtime, lower energy or fuel consumption, lower maintenance effort, increase resource efficiency, raise performance, and improve productivity via enhanced uptime, speed, and yield – starting from their assets and continuously bringing the benefits back to these assets.

“The digital power plant is a technology philosophy, but it’s not science fiction. The full potential of it is already innate in most power facilities around the world. It is just a matter of choosing the right technology to make it real and so plant the roots to our digital future.”

Susan Peterson-Sturm
Susan Peterson-Sturm

ABB unveils power control systems cybersecurity solution

At Asia Power Week in September, ABB launched a solution that it says automates “security best practices for power generation automation in response to increasing security demands on the vital energy sector”.

ABB’s Cyber Security Workplace provides a suite of security applications and automation to reduce cybersecurity risks, increase system reliability and to minimize efforts in sustaining and maintaining security best practices.

“Industrial control systems that increasingly use open standards and commercial technology have introduced major operational benefits, but also cyber security concerns,” says Kevin Kosisko, managing director of ABB’s Power Generation & Water business, which is part of the Industrial Automation division.

The company says the solution is capable of demonstrating compliance with international standards, national regulations and recommended security best practices.

And it added that with the new solution in place, “power generators can easily enforce corporate industrial control security policies and maintain enhanced visibility to security status reporting without burdening plant personnel with time consuming routine security maintenance”.

“ABB’s security solution gives customers a way to embrace foundational security practices while minimizing time demands on plant personnel, who are facing growing demands associated with security, regulatory compliance and corporate risk,” adds Kosisko.

ABB says the cyber solution has been designed to fit into existing plant level business processes and to address foundational security controls without impacting safety, reliability or availability.

ABB also used Asia Power Week – which is taking place in Bangkok, Thailand – to announce two contracts wins.

It has clinched an order to supply a high-fidelity operator training simulator from its Symphony family of control systems to a 460 MW coal plant in the Mauban municipality of the Philippines.

Operator Quezon Power will use the high-fidelity dynamic simulator to ensure operator competence. ABB said that “with the daily decisions of personnel directly impacting a plant’s safety, production, process availability and quality, it is critical that operators have all the information they need to make correct and timely decisions”.

The simulator will offer a virtual recreation of the actual Quezon plant, including non-standard scenarios and faults, allowing both new and existing staff to become more familiar with their working environment and learn how to react in challenging situations. The scope of work for this project runs from design and engineering to installation, commissioning and training.

The second deal announced in Bangkok was for ABB is to supply its distributed control system Ability Symphony Plus to what will become the largest solid refuse fuel power plant in South Korea.

Construction of the plant, which is owned by Naepo Green Energy, has begun in Naepo New City, around 100 kilometres southeast of Seoul.

Due to be commissioned in 2019, the 66 MW plant will provide heat and electricity for the local district from domestic waste. ABB will provide complete design, engineering, commissioning and training for its Symphony Plus DCS, including the latest generation of SD Series energy-efficient control and I/O modules.

Once the plant is operational, ABB says that Symphony Plus will offer plant performance monitoring of the boiler, turbine and its auxiliaries, by combining intelligent data analysis with an innovative calculation algorithm, using data generated by the plant.

“This digitalization-driven benefit will provide the customer with actionable insights based on data analysis, ultimately allowing them to improve asset performance, efficiency and profitability,” said Kevin Kosisko. “While overcoming the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution, ABB is able to draw on its long-standing spirit of control technology innovation that represents its roots to the future.”