Data Insights are Illuminating the Future of the Power Sector

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Power has an essential role in today’s world. It fuels economic growth, supports industry, and provides billions of people with electricity for everyday needs. But evolving dynamics are changing the sector in many ways. Renewables’ share of global electricity generation will exceed one third by 2024. Depending on weather conditions, next year may be the first in which more electricity worldwide is generated from renewables than coal, according to International Energy Agency forecasts. Emissions regulations, meanwhile, are tightening. Power companies therefore face a pressing need to make their operations more efficient, and improve reliability, resiliency and safety – while reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with global net-zero commitments.

Power majors have been early adopters of digital transformation, in part to help deal with such dynamics. Cue a widespread adoption of smart grids, internet of things devices, advanced sensors and digital twins. With these tools, power plants are now highly sensorized, continuously collecting and storing vast amounts of data every day. However, aggregate data volumes are growing faster than ever. Scaled up, data from every industry and consumer process will reach 180 zettabytes by 2025, up from 64.2 zettabytes in 2020, according to Statista.

In the 21st century, data is the new gold. 

Yet, in this sea of data, the real challenge lies in extracting meaningful insights that enhance how we generate, distribute, and consume energy. Like gold, data needs to be mined, refined and molded into shape before it yields its true value. In the power sector, just 20-30% of available data is being put to use, McKinsey research shows.

Now, advanced technologies are playing a crucial role in making sense of this data. From statistical analysis to machine learning, artificial intelligence and cloud computing, these tools and capabilities are helping power companies to process, analyze, visualize and interpret data efficiently for better decision making.

Lay down a solid data foundation

The power sector understands data is key to overcoming tackling complex market challenges. Cloud-based data management systems can help organize, archive and contextualize data from a wide range of sources. Such systems complement physical infrastructure and serve as a foundation – or single source of truth – for all operations data. With access to this single digital thread, users across an organization can analyze extensive operational data in context from edge to enterprise.

Energy Queensland, which serves 2.3 million customers across the Australian state, uses data to monitor grid capacity. Large solar farms produce greater amounts of renewable energy and independent, home-based units have put downward pressure on operating costs. By utilizing real-time data on grid infrastructure, weather, and geographic features, engineers efficiently managed power flow, reducing unplanned outages, and maximizing network capacity. This approach improved customer satisfaction while increasing asset utilization by 20%.

Detect and correct anomalies across the value chain

Reliable, on-demand power requires a stable grid, but pressures for more sustainable practices are on the rise. Predictive analytics solutions can put operations data to good use. By leveraging historical and real-time data, predictive analytics algorithms help anticipate future demand, supply fluctuations, and potential grid instabilities, enabling utilities to take proactive and preventive measures to assure reliable supplies. The technology also supports predictive maintenance practices, so equipment failures can be detected in advance, slashing downtime, optimizing asset management and using fewer resources – leading to improved cost and sustainability impacts.

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is one of North America’s largest clean power producers. It uses a predictive analytics system natively integrated with a cloud-based data management tool across its renewable and nuclear fleet, thereby enabling AI-infused condition-based maintenance. Engineers don’t need to manually download and analyze transformer data any longer and the company has now shifted to a predictive operating model, using over 1,200 predictive and prescriptive maintenance operating models. OPG saved up to $4 million in efficiency savings achieved within the first 24 months, while cutting risk and improving operational efficiency by freeing up 3,000 annual maintenance hours.

Get a holistic view of enterprise operations

Different types of data are being collected across the power and energy sector. Besides engineering and operations, such data can come from financial and enterprise sources, as well as from external suppliers and partners. Modern technology solutions such as a Unified Operations Center (UOC) can integrate these sets into a holistic picture for complete end-to-end visualization and unlock faster returns on investment. 

In the energy sector, for example, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, a diversified group of energy companies, centralizes millions of data points across its entire value chain at its Panorama Digital Command Centre, enabling savings of between $60 million and $100 million. 

Enable frictionless data sharing for multiple stakeholders

With distributed resources becoming commonplace thanks to the growth of renewable energy supplies, an interconnected electric grid supply chain is crucial. Seamless power generation requires that multiple stakeholders are able to access different datasets from power producers. Emerging solutions such as a scalable SaaS products can now respond to these needs, providing secure and customized access to each stakeholder as required to meet its specific responsibilities within the network.

In California, consulting firm ZGlobal and electricity provider Silicon Valley Clean Energy have pioneered a data-sharing community using a cloud data management SaaS. The partners can securely share the respective real-time and historical datasets with multiple stakeholders, including producers, suppliers, schedulers and auditors. Each player has a customized, periodic report with all the information they need. Thousands of dollars have been saved on power purchases. And overall, data transparency, collaboration, and trust have improved, while enhancing security. 

Leverage insights for competitive advantage

As the power industry continues to be transformed at many different levels, operators will need to become more resilient, reliable and efficient. The value of insights becomes even more critical in these situations, empowering the power sector to adapt to evolving challenges, such as climate change, increasing energy demand, and regulatory requirements, while paving the way for a greener, more efficient, and interconnected energy future.

Data-driven insights can a competitive advantage that helps companies navigate the rapidly changing market with agility.

About the Author

David Thomason, Industry Principal – Power Generation at AVEVA. David has 35 years of experience in applying information technology to the requirements of the Power Generation and Utility industry. He is an active advocate in the use of advanced analytics and technologies to enhance business value. Prior to joining AVEVA, David s responsibilities included the company s multi-market Energy Management System, Plant Analytics systems, SAP Work and Material Management, custom SW development & Support teams. David joined OSIsoft (now part of AVEVA) in February 2011 and has been spreading the word on the high-value digital transformation can bring to the P&U industry.

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