This was originally posted on LinkedIn.
Batteries open up innovative ways to improve how plants and grids enable dispatchable renewable power, and now there’s another forceful wind of change blowing through our industry. It’s the enhanced connectivity generating mountains of big data across the full length of the energy value chain—from power plant to grid to consumer—and the powerful digital technology now available to help us exploit it. Using digitization to maximize efficiency is already opening up big opportunities across the renewables space to manage both supply and demand.
The large volumes of data generated by power consumers paint a detailed picture of demand at a macro level by region. In turn, this intelligence can help us model the daily demand curve, which offers insights to further smooth its peaks and troughs and to minimize grid stresses. For example, the data could inform a business of the best time to switch on a power-hungry process like industrial refrigeration or even flip different price tags to encourage electric car charging at an optimum time during the workday.
Starting from “always-on” power generation
Renewable energy is known for its intermittent nature, yet an always-on energy economy needs to start with generation. On the supply side, this means technology needs to be implemented that helps plant owners get the most from their generating assets by reducing downtime, improving efficiency and minimizing operating expenses.
Maintenance is one of the areas with the most potential for optimization. With the sun setting at dusk and solar power gained throughout the day considered precious, any downtime during daylight hours will directly hurt productivity and hit the revenue stream.
Previously, maintenance tasks had to be carried out manually on a calendar basis—a labor-intensive approach that’s inherently “hit and miss.” Simply working by the book in a way that disconnects maintenance processes from real-time performance also further compromises effectiveness.
Digitization, such as with Asset Performance Management (APM) from GE Digital, can help minimize the need for armies of experts by using a “digital twin” baseline virtual model to simulate how a plant should be performing under optimum working conditions. By comparing real-time asset performance with its perfectly healthy virtual equivalent—a digital twin—APM can deliver advance auto-notifications of services required (such as inverter adjustments or panel/filter/cooling system cleaning). APM also will alert operators when something is wrong or needs to be fixed, so potential problems can be prevented before they strike. This also enables operators to pre-order the correct part for “just-in-time” delivery and to roster the necessary engineer.
The key to integration
Written for the challenges of the grid today as well as the increasingly distributed grids of tomorrow, GE’s Energy Management System (EMS) software smartly integrates with batteries to optimize energy output. At the plant level, it can make automated decisions on whether an inverter should load a battery or feed the grid—or even disconnecting the inverter should data dictate this makes most operational sense. Now live at Berlin’s GE-built hybrid power plant, which combines gas and rooftop photovoltaics (PVs), an EMS-driven battery system is delivering the reliability, security and control needed for the carbon dioxide-free generation on which future grids will depend.
The shift in favor of distributed renewables further puts the spotlight on what digital can bring to the plant fleet—in other words, managing multiple assets in ways that optimizes their operation and cost reduction. Gone are the days when electricity was sold at different rates simply on the basis of time of day and demand. Digitization now offers a real-time, holistic view that enables operators overseeing different plants to automatically maximize output from a particular source based on its availability and revenue stream. Like this, different forms of renewables and dispatchable power—such as wind, solar or hydro—working alongside traditional power sources will form the bedrock for the next generation of the always-on energy economy.
Inter-connection: a solar ecosystem-first principle
Although the technology is still evolving, a true smart grid system will eventually make nearly all of its own decisions about the way a grid stores power for earlier or later use as well as how to help manage or shift demand to bring greater efficiencies. Digital insights also will help inform critical future planning about the best location for increasingly distributed power generation sources.
Digital rewrites the rules for solar and distributed power generation systems when it comes to managing and controlling dispatchable power—both from the supply side through control and asset management and from demand management to optimize energy distribution.
One category of technology or individual piece of equipment, however, can only do so much. The next step is to see the entire industry as an ecosystem in which each piece is interconnected—a route that forms the lynchpin of GE’s solar strategy.
At GE, we are taking an integrated system approach to solar plant design and management that encompasses the best fit of PV modules, inverters, balance of plant, energy management systems, battery storage and digital solutions—plus full service to guarantee long-term performance. The result is a reduction in system complexity, associated costs and risk, as well as increased performance and reliability—ultimately lowering the levelized cost of electricity and benefitting 21st-century businesses and consumers with the clean, affordable, always-on energy they need.