The data opportunity

How digitisation is driving transformation in the hydropower industry. By Maher Chebbo

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewable energy saw the highest growth rate of any other energy source in 2017, and this movement is only expected to accelerate over the coming years1. The IEA also predicts that, by 2040, total global generation capacity will increase by more than 60 per cent, with renewables making up over 45 per cent of that total.

This shift, combined with the wider transformation of the energy ecosystem, requires new ways of thinking about the electricity system and power generation that can be supported by the existing grid infrastructure. Hydropower generation is a powerful asset to integrate efficiently new renewable sources on the grid and ensure its stability.

Hydropower plants generate 17 per cent of all the world’s electricity and are unique as the only source of energy that can be stored at utility scale, making it a strong stabilising fuel to grids fed with growing renewable sources such as solar and wind energies. As the share of renewable energy is growing, hydropower plants are more and more required to balance the fluctuations of load on the grid. It implies increased flexibility and accurate data about the performance of the hydropower plants and their equipment. This is why monitoring asset performance and being able to understand any potential issues to prevent systems disruptions is critical for ensuring smooth operations.

Adopting a holistic digital strategy
There are numerous ways in which digital technology and data analytics can drive significant improvements across hydropower plants. However, a holistic digital strategy is needed to ensure this digital approach is not a one-time fix but a long-term strategic differentiator. This requires driving improvements in three key areas: Asset Performance Management (APM), operations optimisation, and business optimisation.

In 2016, GE launched the Digital Hydropower Plant, a range of different software apps and hardware solutions designed specifically to enhance reliability, efficiency, cybersecurity and profitability over the lifetime of a plant. Such suites include tailored solutions to reduce maintenance costs in hydropower plants, predict operating anomalies, increase energy production availability and enable predictive maintenance.

As an example, APM apps help reduce maintenance costs and provide unique insights on plant performance, which in turn provides plant engineers with deeper understanding of plant operations and allows them to improve production performance. Business Optimisation applications, on the other hand help increase potential revenue by leveraging comparisons to historical and benchmark data to improve production capacity, efficiency, and flexibility. By optimising APM as well as operational and business performance, plant operators can help hydropower plant engineers enhance the overall business case of their fleet.

For instance, we are currently working with the renewable energy provider Energias de Portugal (EDP) to support the digital transformation of their hydropower fleet in Spain and Portugal.

The scope of work includes the deployment of our unified hydro APM at EDP’s 23 key hydropower plants as well as the implementation of our Reliability Management Edge Analytics platform at 12 of their power plants. We will conduct an APM Asset Strategy Optimization (ASO) pilot. If the results are positive, the solution will be implemented in 34 EDP’s hydropower plants. We will also extend the operating range of five of their hydropower plants, based on the first works we conducted with them at Alqueva.

In addition to producing electricity, hydropower plant assets generate millions of data points. Most of them are useful for on-the-spot decisions but they can, via analytics, contribute to create greater value by optimising predictive maintenance and asset performance. For instance, GE’s Hydro teams collaborated with Druk Green Power Company for six months to pilot the GE Edge platform. The objective was to monitor the health of one of the two units at the Dagachhu hydropower plant located in Bhutan.

We conducted real-time assessment of the critical components. The 19 sensors analysed the vibrations and the air gap of the unit, and were remotely connected with the GE Support Center in Grenoble, France, about 10,000 km away. After processing terabytes of data, our remote monitoring and advanced analytics applications detected two problems: a mechanical unbalance and there was shaft overstress in overspeed condition. These had no shortterm impact on the performance of the plant and did not require immediate intervention. Concretely, the unit did not need to be stopped to fix these unexpected issues. The Edge platform helped identify and plan precisely the corrective actions to be performed during the scheduled annual maintenance. As a result, the customer avoided two unnecessary shutdowns and up to four weeks of lost production. GE teams proved they are able to turn the data collected into quantifiable positive outcomes for customers.

Data analytics can also help hydro plant engineers to better allocate resources and increase plant availability, while expanding the life time of the assets by better maintenance and more efficient usage. In 2016, we worked with the Scandinavian power company Fortum, the top producer of ‘certified’ renewable electricity in Finland and Sweden, to fix a malfunctioning hydroelectric turbine in one of their plants in Sweden. By using data insight to understand the cause of the problem, we were able to recommend the most effective approach to fixing it. This prompted Fortum to launch a large scale digital pilot at several of their plants in Sweden and Finland. The objective of both GE and Fortum teams is to capture key asset and operational data to gain improved visibility and actionable insights to enhance the availability and business outcomes of these plants. By eliminating unplanned outages and enabling predictive maintenance, our APM solutions can help reduce maintenance costs by ten per cent and increase plant availability by one per cent.

By adopting digital technology and leveraging data insight, hydropower plant operators will be able to drive operational improvements and efficiencies that create a strong competitive advantage for their business. This will help maximise hydropower generation capacity and make the most of the opportunities that the growing demand for renewable energy offers.


Global Digital Energy
Maher Chebbo is Chief Business Innovation Officer for Global Digital Energy. GE is the world’s Digital Industrial Company, transforming industry with software-defined machines and solutions that are connected, responsive and predictive. With people, services, technology and scale, GE delivers outcomes for customers by speaking the industry language.

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