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MerCo Publishing Inc.
525 Route 73 N, Suite 104
Marlton, NJ 08053

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The future of power: fueling efficiency and sustainability with proven technology

By James Fraser, Emerson

The power industry has reached an inflection point. Anyone who is paying attention can see that the way generators around the globe produce and deliver power to consumers is rapidly changing.

The most obvious reason for this shift is the global call to stop Climate Change. Not only are the resulting decarbonization regulations and standards shifting market dynamics, but they are also prompting consumers to take a more active role, demanding increased flexibility and greater control over how their power is generated.

Additional complexities contributing to this paradigm shift are not as immediately obvious. Rapid retirements are causing the power industry to lose its most experienced people, just as a new generation of “digital-born” workers is proving difficult to attract to the field. As a result, it becomes increasingly hard to tap industry veterans to upskill and reskill the current and future workforce. And as the workforce shrinks, electrification of modern life around the globe is rapidly driving up consumption, and that consumption is more widely spread—across homes, businesses, electric vehicle charging networks, and more. As more energy sources are added to the grid, interconnectivity and bi-directional communication make operation and maintenance more complex.

Navigating the new normal

What energy companies have not done in reaction to this changing environment is rip out all their traditional energy sources and replaced them with 100 percent new renewable technologies overnight. If power providers want to maintain reliable power generation and a stable grid, they must strike a balance between the intermittent nature of renewables with baseload power provided by traditional energy sources for the foreseeable future.

In that balance is a lesson that can also be applied to the digital transformation of power industry operations. Just as generation sources must gradually evolve, so, too, must the technologies to support them. As producers consider new technology, focusing on fit-for-purpose solutions supported by a deep history of power industry experience and application expertise helps ensure safer, more reliable, and more efficient operations throughout their gradual evolution.

Data aggregation

Critical enablers of better fleet performance are the data analytics and information management that help teams optimize operations by predicting required maintenance and mitigating downtime. Power producers have long relied on accurate, real-time data on the generation side, but now need to expand that capability throughout the grid to the distribution side, to ensure continuity of reliable operations and grid stability.

With the rise of renewables also comes a rise of disparate assets from a wide variety of manufacturers, all using their proprietary control systems. A utility’s operations and engineering staff forced to log into many different systems and manually gather data often struggle to maintain consistent, optimized operations, instead wasting time on repetitive information gathering and siloed data analysis.

To solve this problem, many organizations are turning to interoperable software that collects and contextualizes data from a wide variety of assets across a site, a fleet or even the power network. Fit-for-purpose applications use custom protocols designed from decades of power industry expertise to connect to any asset and bring all the data into a single intuitive dashboard. These dashboards display critical key performance indicators and asset health all in one location, so operators, technicians, specialists, analysts and executive leadership of any experience level have constant data visibility and a clear view of their fleet’s operational health.

Increased adaptability

Power providers transitioning to more renewable technologies face variability issues that were of little concern for the grid of yesterday. Sometimes the sun does not shine or the wind will not blow. Or perhaps an unprecedented winter storm causes peak consumption during low production. As power needs and availability fluctuate, teams require smart software that can handle the complex and sometimes unpredictable tasks of energy trading, load shedding, and virtual power plant management.

To meet this need, many organizations use simulation solutions designed specifically for the power industry. Digital twin simulation software built using the same engineering tools as the automation system creates exact replicas of a plant, a fleet, or even a grid to help providers plan for any event—anticipated or unexpected. Teams using purpose-built simulators can test their responses and see how changes cascade across the entire system, without any risk to real-time operations.

With expertise, reliability

These issues and solutions only scratch the surface of the technology available to help power producers better manage their operations. But they all share one critical commonality: the technology is most effective when designed specifically for the power industry by suppliers with years of experience and domain expertise. Such solutions will be easier to integrate and secure while also delivering the field-proven operational technology needed to automate and protect operations as organizations navigate an ever-changing future.

James Fraser is Vice-President Renewables, Emerson (www.emerson.com) and has almost 25 years of automation experience in the power industry. Fraser is responsible for leading the continued development and execution of Emerson’s renewable strategy. His focus is driving the global growth of Emerson’s expanding renewable capabilities through the increased sales of software and automation technologies of the Ovation Green Suite of solutions and quality implementation of customers’ clean energy portfolios including wind, solar, hydro and energy storage projects.

Q4 2023