Harnessing the power of digitalization

18 March 2020

Enhanced digital controls can help improve the performance of hydropower plants and equipment by reducing costs and optimising asset management, with a number of systems available on the market for both new and refurbished projects

Digital control systems can help play a major role in improving decision-making and supporting operations at hydropower plants. With a growing number of the world’s hydropower plants due for upgrade and modernisation, digitalization is increasingly being seen as a way to help improve the performance of turbines, plants and equipment, by reducing costs and optimising asset management.

A number of products have been developed designed to help hydropower plants embrace digitization. At Uniper for example,  many of the milestones in the company’s digitization plan ‘[email protected]’, consisting of seven projects, are already complete. One of these, the ‘Mobile Workforce App’, was developed by Uniper teams in just four months.

According to Dr. Christian Kunze, Head of Quality & Performance at Uniper Hydro Germany: “The maintenance app is already being used successfully by Uniper Hydropower. Eighty percent of the approximately 100 hydropower plant operators in Germany currently use the app. The rollout will be completed in 2019.” 

Soumya Chatterjee, Project Manager at Uniper, adds: “Hydropower is a very decentralized form of generating energy, sometimes involving many small and medium-sized plants. Effective order management is therefore very important. In the past, this required a lot of paperwork and reporting, but our maintenance app has made things much easier.”

For example, the app, which was developed by Uniper IT and SAP, can be used by a plant’s foreman to send all maintenance orders to the tablets of the plant operators almost in real time. Since the app works offline as well, the mechanic can also view and enter all the information relevant to the execution of his order on-site at the power plant without an internet connection. They can submit their feedback in just three clicks. The power plant operator can also enter any observations or suggestions for improvement directly in the app. This ensures that the foreman is always kept informed and can make the right decisions based on up-to-date data.

Roland Eichiner, Team Leader at Uniper River Group Lech, explained: “We now have a modern order system that does not require paper. It allows us to allocate and process maintenance orders much more efficiently. This saves time for our entire team, which gives us the freedom to do other things such as optimizing and maintaining our systems. The app is simple and easy to use.” 

During the implementation of the app, particular attention was given to its offline functionality, intuitive design, and the introduction of users to this digital solution. This makes the maintenance of hydropower plants much more efficient and, in particular, significantly reduces travel and process times in the large regions of Bavaria and Hesse where the app is used.

e-learning platform

In early November 2019, Voith announced the launch of new e-learning platform DRIVE, designed to future-proof manufacturing companies and to support them in harnessing the potential of digitalization to its fullest. Short for “Digital Readiness Ideation Velocity Engagement”, DRIVE’s programs are comprised of a wide range of web-based courses whose industry-specific and customizable contents offer a valuable tool set for upskilling employees at every stage of a company’s digital transformation.

The implementation of state-of-the-art digital technologies not only requires new solutions and processes, but also additional knowledge and skills. DRIVE users gain access to a variety of structured learnings designed to improve the digital prowess of individuals and teams or to increase competencies throughout an entire company, regardless of its size.

Depending on where users stand in their digital transformation, DRIVE helps to create an initial awareness for the steps necessary to foster a culture of true innovation or provides deeper insights into dozens of different subjects, such as the Industrial Internet of Things, automation or artificial intelligence, says Voith. More advanced programs within DRIVE are geared towards improving digital dexterity, i.e. the ability to make full use of the potential of digital solutions. For this, more than 600 valuable digital skills can be acquired to help manufacturing companies to meet both current and future challenges.

DRIVE users can easily create their own training videos for internal distribution, thus generating customized content for their specific requirements. Message boards allow for an exchange on all things digital, enabling users to discuss opportunities and challenges in implementing digital technologies. Initial assistance is provided by chatbots while various games offer a playful way to showcase the impact of digitalization on the organization and its customers.

Available in English, German, Portuguese and Chinese, DRIVE can be used on virtually all devices, including smartphones, tablets, PCs and augmented reality glasses for use in the field.

End-to-end solution

Another product available on the market is GE‘s Digital Hydropower Plant, an end-to-end solution that employs data, analytics and hydropower plant software applications in partnership with GE’s hardware solutions to enhance efficiency, cybersecurity, reliability, as well as profitability of a hydroelectric energy plant over its lifetime, says the company. 

The Digital Hydropower Plant takes everything needed to build, operate and maintain your hydroelectric plant at less cost, says GE, which is done through a suite of products that reduce hydropower energy costs and increase energy production, creating a more efficient hydro turbine.

Hydro utility companies are changing the way they operate their plants, switching from baseload to more flexible energy production. Intelligent condition monitoring and diagnostics become crucial. To adapt to this change, French utility EDSB (Energie Développement Services du Briançonnais) was looking to expand the time between plant overhauls (TBO) and shortening the mean time for repair (TTM).

As a solution, a few years ago Pont Baldy – a hydropower plant operated by EDSB in France –was connected to a new generation Condition Monitoring System (CMS) called iCMS. It remotely collects real-time data that GE analyzes to improve diagnostics and prognostics on faults in the plant that the monitoring system has identified.

The iCMS has been collecting and analyzing almost 2 Terabytes of raw data per month that are combined with 3 years worth of previously collected data. Thanks to their analysis turned into predictive models, faults and maintenance operations can then be identified automatically through a Human-to-Machine Interface (HMI) that gives recommendations on what to do for each diagnosis. Faulty components are easily detected and the HMI helpfully brings up any related documents, manuals and reports to make the repairs process as smooth and as fast as possible.

The Pont Baldy plant had for example a bearing that was running hot and iCMS diagnosed the cause and analyzed that no action was needed, saving time & expense of unnecessary repair.

Overall, the iCMS can bring up to 1% extra availability for the power plant.

GE’s new iCMS, the ‘on premise’ part of the GE Asset Performance Management (APM) solution, uses machine learning and innovation to turn monitoring and maintenance into a successful story.

Discussing energy security

During the session Energy Efficiency and Energy Security of Hydropower Facilities in the Context of Modernization and Digital Transformation, held as part of the Russian Energy Week (REW) forum recently, PJSC Power machines presented a report on modern digital monitoring solutions to ensure the energy security of hydropower facilities.

The participants in the discussion discussed topics related to the modernization of hydropower equipment, as well as the digitalization of technological and business processes that affect energy security and energy efficiency.

During the session, Vladimir Demyanov, Deputy Head of the Power Machines Hydropower Division, spoke about the complex automation project, a digital monitoring system for the Sayano-Shushenskaya HPP. 

The data that comes from hundreds of sensors installed on each hydropower unit are processed by the automated control system, systematized, displayed at operator stations, and archived. This allows us to accumulate a large amount of statistical information on the operation of each unit and take into account all the nuances in the development of algorithms and solutions for automation, and not only for equipment of our own production. 

“When creating such systems, we are based, first of all, on existing equipment and its real performance,” said Vladimir Demyanov. “Our system is able to automatically respond to changes in the work of dozens of units, each of which has its own unique performance characteristics. Such a fine,individual setting for each machine allows us to optimize the modes of operation of hydropower units while ensuring reliability. “

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