At its Minds + Machines event in Paris, General Electric's GE Power unveiled a new suite of technologies designed to leverage the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve the performance and efficiency of coal-fired steam power plants.
GE's new Digital Power Plant for Steam monitors and analyzes data from more than 10,000 sensor inputs across a power plant to help plant operators make smarter decisions about how to optimally run their power plants. The company says the software increases efficiency up to 1.5 percentage points, allowing for five percent less unplanned downtime and three percent lower CO2 emissions. Every point of efficiency lowers CO2 emissions by two percentage points and can reduce fuel consumption by 67,000 tons of coal per year, while maintaining the same megawatt output.
"About 40 percent of electricity today is supplied by coal-fired generation," says Steve Bolze, GE Power president and CEO.
Bolze adds that coal is forecast to remain the world's second largest energy source through 2030, and will remain especially important in developing economies. But the systems in coal-fired plants are highly complex, average efficiency rates are low and the plant technology itself is typically very mature — in Europe, 50 percent of active coal-fired plants are more than 25 years old.
Tackling global warming
But even as coal maintains its prominent place in the global energy mix, 174 countries have signed on to the Paris Agreement, an accord reached at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris last December. The signatories agreed to reduce carbon emissions in an effort to limit global warming to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.
[ Related: How GE will bring the Industrial IoT to life ]
"The world is going to need 50 percent more power in the next 20 years and it will need to be affordable, accessible, reliable and sustainable," Bolze said in a statement today. "In order to meet these needs and achieve the Paris COP21 goals, companies must embrace digital technologies that can enable and accelerate transformation to help decarbonize the world. Together, with our customers, we're on a journey to realize the true power of leveraging software and analytics to provide comprehensive digital solutions that drive greater efficiencies that are environmentally compatible."
GE says its solution will help eliminate 0.58 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions — equivalent to removing 120 million cars from the road, switching 20 million incandescent bulbs to LED and adding 550 million square miles of forest (absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere).
Power of the platform
Operating on GE's Predix platform, the new Digital Power Plant software applications and capabilities include the following:
- Asset Performance Management for the Digital Steam Plant. This application continuously monitors steam plant equipment for health, enabling operations teams to make decisions that enhance plant performance, reduce unplanned downtime and extend plant life with minimal investment.
- Operations Optimization for the Digital Steam Plant. This application provides customers with plant and fleet-wide visibility of the impact of operational decisions on efficiency, emissions, capacity and production costs. Specific capabilities include:
- Boiler Optimization. Boiler efficiency has the greatest impact on overall plant efficiency. GE's software improves boiler reliability and efficiency. The company says it can reduce CO2 by 1 percent to 2 percent and NOx by 10 percent to 15 percent through integrated enhancement of the combustion and soot cleaning processes.
- Coal Analyzer. Coal Analyzer enhances plant performance by tuning combustion and exhaust management processes based on coal properties such as moisture content. This can reduce fuel consumption by 4,400 tons of coal per year with the same megawatt of output in a single steam power plant.
- Plant Optimization. This capability constitutes a "digital twin" of the physical steam plant that is continuously monitored to identify gaps between actual and ideal performance relative to key performance indicators (KPIs) such as output or emissions. For example, tuning a plant to run 1 percent more efficiently can add $20 million in value over 10 years.
- Smart Start. This capability reduces inefficiencies that occur on load change by helping the operator improve key parameters, including speed to grid, impact to asset life and fuel consumption.
- Business Optimization for the Digital Steam Plant. This application aggregates information such as fuel and power price, demand and plant capacity — including steam plants — to enable energy traders to make better buying and selling decisions.
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