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Power Point | December 2016

A Digital Solution to India´s Power Riddle

Increasing efficiencies in electricity is the priority for India and digitisation will support the country´s growth plans and also complement its commitments to reduce carbon emissions.

The Indian power sector is at the cusp of a massive transformation. Rapid urbanisation, the addition of renewables, advent of electric vehicles, consumers becoming generators, the establishment of micro-grids etc., are some of the dynamic factors and forces that are driving the change in the electricity landscape - making it more complex than ever before.

Such a scenario has generated a need to develop more efficient and sustainable energy systems that come with an assurance of energy self-sufficiency in future, while continuing to meet the growing energy needs. Therefore, increasing efficiencies in electricity is the topmost priority for any fast-growing nation in the world, and likewise for India.

With India´s energy goals focused on ensuring ´Power for All´ for its billion people, and access to reliable, affordable and sustainable power, it´s imperative to look at solutions that go beyond the conventional means. Increasingly, countries are looking at digitising the entire value chain of energy to turn it into an efficient and sustainable one. Digitisation will support India´s growth plans and also complement its commitments to reduce carbon emissions.

The Digital Leap
Globally, operators are increasingly looking at digital solutions to simplify and automate decision making in power plants in order to optimise performance and asset availability, while lowering life cycle cost. Digitisation of power plants in India will go a long way in unlocking critical efficiency gains for operators. The recent decisions made by GoI to invest over $230 million to develop advanced ultra-supercritical technology for thermal power plants and an investment of $1 trillion by 2030 for power sector overhaul, highlight the positive intent to adopt the latest and advanced technologies.

Coal-based power generation will continue to be the mainstay for power generation in India. Currently, nearly two-thirds of India´s power comes from coal and only a tenth of it is generated from clean coal, and that is expected to increase by up to 24 percent by 2022. However, according to a study, 47 selected coal-based thermal power plants across India had an average efficiency of only 32.8 per cent, which is one of the lowest among the major power producing countries. Therefore, in the current scenario, raising efficiency levels with operational flexibility and high reliability becomes vital. Higher efficiency in producing electricity means lower consumption of coal that leads to lower emission.

Deployment of digital solutions in the power sector can help operators accrue increased savings by delivering 1-2 per cent improvement in plant efficiency and reliability. Digitisation essentially means combining software and data analytics with advanced hardware to deliver greater reliability, affordability and sustainability, pull down costs, improve efficiencies, and lower carbon output.

For example, the average plant heat rate for a typical 200 MW coal-fired plant in India is 2,400 kcal/kWh. Assuming the same heat rate for India´s total installed capacity of 185 GW, a 1 per cent reduction in heat rate would translate into multi-fold savings. With a 1 per cent improvement in heat rate of the coal-fired fleet, India has a potential to annually save $167MM in costs, 6 million tonnes in coal and bring down emissions by 21 million tonnes.

The digitisation process has several facets that come together to provide the optimum solution to raise operational efficiencies. For example, the air-fuel mix component provides real-time optimisation by manipulating controls related to fuel and air mixing to improve heat rate, reduce NOx and better control carbon monoxide. It uses neutral network based optimisation and model predictive control to extract insights about the combustion process, determines the optimal balance of fuel and air flows in the furnace, and responds to changing conditions in the boiler. Similarly, soot-cleaning component provides real-time optimisation to determine when each device should be activated in order to improve heat rate and reduce unnecessary wear and tear on the boiler. This also helps prevent unplanned downtime.

Predix the future
Predix, which is a ground-breaking industrial cloud-based platform, collects and analyzes the vast quantities of data transmitted by about 10,000 sensors fitted in a modern coal-fired power plant. The information collected is used to provide insights into how the plant is performing in real-time and what actions are needed to be taken to boost efficiency further. These digital technologies can even predict future outages and help in scheduled maintenance as well. Such technology proves to be a fitting case for India wherein steam power plant operators can make smarter, quicker decisions based on a variety of inputs, ranging from real-time information to important historical data.

Another significant digital tool is plant optimisation. It shows the difference between the current status of the power plant and its ideal performance so that appropriate steps can be taken to run the plant optimally. Such a feature is central to reducing costs by increasing plant efficiency. Even relatively small efficiency gains of 1-2 per cent can represent a huge value of around $2 million per year for the operator. Over a 10-year period, that is $20 million in added value as a result of efficiency, output and availability improvements.

Contributing towards reducing the operating costs and curbing emissions using less coal to create the same amount of energy, these digital applications can be retrofitted into existing facilities as well. The suite of digital power technologies can tackle unexpected downtime of the plant due to a technical glitch in a cost effective manner. An app called Coal Analyser - is capable of real-time tuning of the combustion and exhaust management process based on the properties of the coal and ash. Further, the continuous online monitoring service can detect deviations in the performance of different pieces of equipment and thus, help avoid failures or expensive shut downs before they occur.

Energy is at the heart of India´s drive for development and modernisation. Owing to its increasing influence on the global energy scene, India is fast transforming into a focal point experiencing the latest technology innovations among other developing economies globally. Digital solutions catering to the power sector have the ability to serve India´s energy ambitions by maximising performance and efficiency across the entire electricity value chain.

Author: Alain Spohr, Country Leader - Steam Power Systems, India, GE.

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