Digitalisation holds great promise for the power generation industry, especially in developing economies such as India, where increasing productivity, improving efficiency of processes and reducing cost of operations, as well as energy consumption and emissions, is critical. - Rajeev Kishore, Digital Lead, Hub Asia Pacific, ABB

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ABB is a pioneering technology leader in power grids, electrification products, industrial automation and robotics and motion, serving customers in utilities, industry and transport and infrastructure globally.

Continuing a history of innovation spanning more than 130 years, ABB today is writing the future of industrial digitalisation with two clear value propositions: bringing electricity from any power plant to any plug and automating industries from natural resources to finished products. As title partner in ABB Formula E, the fully electric international FIA motorsport class, ABB is pushing the boundaries of e-mobility to contribute to a sustainable future. Rajeev Kishore, Digital Lead, Hub Asia Pacific, ABB, says, “In Asia, digitalisation within the power industry is definitely going in the right direction.” Excerpts from his interview with Subhajit Roy:

The energy and grid transformation are driving changes in how electricity is being generated, transported and consumed.  What is ABB’s response to these changes?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is transforming businesses worldwide, adding sensing and communication technologies to turn machines and equipment into smart assets. Through secure connectivity, smart assets and systems can communicate and cooperate not only with each other but also with humans in real time, improving performance through the entire value chain. This revolution is making profound changes to the power industry. Renewables, distributed generation and smart grids require entirely new capabilities and are reshaping the way that the energy market works. Even for oil and gas companies, as we see more and more enter the energy space, slowly moving away from fossil fuels and diversifying into other forms of power generation, power trading and retail, battery storage and electric vehicle recharging.

For all those users with control of grid-connected assets, such as vertically integrated utilities, cities and aggregators, coordinating control of networked generation assets is vital. In doing so, the operation of each connected unit and the delivery of grid services are economically optimised in real time.

For industrial and commercial companies that actively manage their own power consumption and resources, digital solutions can give them the opportunity to trade more efficiently with the grid while optimising their own power consumption and resources, reducing energy costs, and minimising environmental impact. Tackling these issues on both levels, ABB has developed and launched OPTIMAX (for Virtual Power Plants and for Commercial and Industry) which, as part of ABB Ability, enables integrated planning, trading, operating, monitoring, and reporting of power plants, generation units, energy storages and controllable loads.

What’s your take on the recent trends of power plant digitisation?

From conventional power generation, including coal, gas, combined cycle, nuclear, hydro and waste-to-energy, to renewables like biomass, solar, tidal and wave, each sector and business has its own priorities and challenges. These include heavy investment in improving the performance of legacy equipment, gaining greater access to expertise in remote geographies and automating compliance reporting.

Power generators need digital solutions to solve specific business challenges in a scalable way – e.g. that can be extended across fleets or assets – to deliver real and measurable benefits, sustainable over both the short and long term. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to implementing digital solutions. It takes significant industry expertise, a deep knowledge of the market context and understanding of the power generation process. Sustainable progress for the power generation industry can only be achieved through a close, collaborative relationship between technology partners and decision-makers. In Asia, digitalisation within the power industry is definitely going in the right direction.

How do you see the need of power plant digitisation in developing economies like India?

Digitalisation holds great promise for the power generation industry, especially in developing economies such as India, where increasing productivity, improving efficiency of processes and reducing cost of operations, as well as energy consumption & emissions, is critical.

However, a range of internal and market challenges can constrain its effective uptake and implementation for those in the early stages of their digital journey. Innovative companies that approach digitalisation strategically, balancing the short and longer-term objectives of the business, will gain a significant competitive advantage, improving their ability to adapt and thrive.

In India, the power industry is thankfully fully aligned with the government’s initiative to digitalise the economy. As the country chases ambitious plans to be among the world’s top three growth economies by 2020, the government is taking bold steps towards building an alternative which promises a greener and cleaner energy generation.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set clear goals to generate 40 per cent of the installed energy capacity from renewable sources by 2030 and 175 GW of renewable generation by 2022, enough to power 60 million homes by the sun.

With renewable energy, which is intermittent in nature, digitalisation can cope with the load fluctuation issue, allowing more flexibility for conventional plants. ABB has been able to support India’s clean energy vision and push for solar power through a number of solar projects. One such project is Adani’s solar power plant in Kamuthi, located 90 km from Madurai city in southern India.  Here, we have provided the electrification and automation systems for the entire Adani solar project. The project is the world’s largest solar plant in a single location and has positioned India third in the world’s solar market, behind China and the US.

Digitalisation can also offer a significant range of immediate operational and financial benefits. Sensors, devices and software can enable operators to utilise a wide range of data in real time and improve decision-making; control systems enable improved performance and maintenance of vital infrastructure and equipment either on-site or remotely; advanced analytics enables predictive maintenance and simulation to optimise asset performance; remote monitoring and external support can address key human resource and knowledge retention issues.

The longer-term promise of digitalisation is also starting to be realised. New, more agile operational and business models are now possible based on connectivity, optimised decision-making and automated processes. Cloud technology and secured remote services also enable a closer relationship with partners. They allow expertise to be accessed securely from outside the plant and they free up company personnel to focus on strategic areas, such as the adoption of new business models.

ABB has launched OPTIMAX for virtual power plants. How does it help in optimising power plant performance?

OPTIMAX provides day-ahead optimisation based on weather and load forecasts. It then coordinates your energy assets and resources — in real time — to balance supply and demand using dynamic load shedding.

With optimised supply and demand, vertically integrated utilities, industrial sites and microgrids can readily add newer, low-cost but intermittent renewables without risk to grid reliability or stability. And when favourable pricing or production conditions exist, the sites and microgrids can even sell surplus energy production and capacity, enabling the operator to benefit from the available flexibility and increase the revenues. The system allows for bundled planning, trading, operating, monitoring, and reporting of power plants, generation units, energy storages and controllable loads.

Are solutions like OPTIMAX can be of help for existing power plant/s?

OPTIMAX helps existing power plants thrive given new opportunities presented by the bi-directional flow of energy and information. OPTIMAX for Virtual Power Plants aggregates and optimises decentralised energy resources into a virtual power plant. You can then advantageously buy or sell in wholesale energy markets or provide energy as a subscription service. Decentralised energy resources can range from dozens to many thousands of units, from microsites (kW) to utility scale (MW), and be spread over a large geographic area

Finally, digitisation of a power plant also involves a whole lot of data handling and is thereby prone to cyberattack. How do you ensure security of such data?

Cyber security is not a destination but an evolving target. It is about finding the right balance by taking a defence in depth approach to ensure operations are protected and secure. ABB has helped many utilities assess the security position of their critical assets, identify vulnerabilities and potential threats, develop a plan to protect the assets and comply with international standards, national regulations and corporate policies. With a more networked architecture, cyber security is a paramount design requirement for digital solutions, that must encompass both the life cycle of systems and data. As cyber-attacks increase and digitalisation expands, close collaboration between IT and OT is essential. ABB understands both departments and their roles and responsibilities. We help them come together, communicate with each other and understand one another. We can explain to OT why the new measures are needed, but we can also explain why OT is concerned about the disruptions those measures may cause.