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Here’s Why Connecting Niagara To The Internet Is A Really Good Idea

The 1953 movie “Niagara” starred Marilyn Monroe as a honeymooner with a wandering eye taking a trip to Niagara Falls. But she was hardly the only one seduced by the power of the water flowing through the Niagara River, which straddles the border between the U.S. and Canada in northwestern New York. Just a few years later, engineers built one of America’s largest hydropower plants a short drive below the falls.

That power station is about to make history again — bringing the state’s electricity generation into the digital age. The plant’s operator, New York Power Authority (NYPA), signed a deal with GE today to connect the plant’s 16 turbines — as well as other power assets throughout the state — to the cloud via the Industrial Internet.

The deal is part of NYPA’s $1.1 billion drive to modernize its infrastructure over a decade. Using software and data analysis to improve reliability and efficiency and reduce downtime will allow the authority — which produces as much as one-fifth of New York’s electricity and owns one-third of the state’s transmission lines — to capture an estimated $2.25 billion of savings.

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Above: GE has already connected a hydro turbine in the French city of Briançon to the cloud. Image credit: GE Renewable Energy. Top: The Niagara Falls are powerful on many levels. Image credit: Getty Images

The agreement is one of the largest to date for GE Digital. It will use thousands of sensors to gather data from hundreds of NYPA’s gas and hydro turbines, generators and other machines and feed it to its asset performance management (APM) system powered by Predix, GE’s cloud-based operating system for the Industrial Internet.

The system will use the real-time data — such as acceleration on bearings, vibrations, wear, heat and moisture — to optimize the equipment. It will also build a “digital twin” — a virtual doppelganger of the NYPA network that will allow engineers to simulate multiple scenarios and predict possible outcomes.

The systems can monitor equipment made by GE and also by other manufacturers.

The data analysis results will flow to NYPA’s new Smart Operations Center in White Plains, New York, which is set to open in December. They will alert operators to possible failures weeks before they might occur, among other issues. Better operations will also allow the authority to cut its carbon emissions.

NYPA Chief Executive Gil Quiniones says the deal is “a transformative moment in the 85-year history for NYPA and its customers as we reach the next milestone in our digital journey.”

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NYPA’s hydropower plant at Niagara Falls. Image credit: Shutterstock

NYPA generates power for government customers in New York City and Westchester County and sells power through utilities. It is the first U.S. power provider to sign such an enterprise-wide digital deal with GE.

GE already has tested its approach of blending physical and digital elements to generate hydropower at a dam above the city of Briançon, in a mountainous corner of France best known for punishing Tour de France stages. From last December to July, they collected and analyzed more than 7 terabytes of data and also digested three years’ worth of temperature, maintenance and downtime data collected by the utility.

Bringing digital capabilities to electricity generation networks that got their start more than 100 years ago has the potential to generate huge savings, says Ganesh Bell, chief digital officer at GE Power. “The digital transformation of electric power has the potential to create more than a trillion dollars of economic and societal value in the next decade,” Bell says. “NYPA is truly a pioneer, moving first to unleash the value that comes from connecting, monitoring, analyzing and ultimately optimizing the performance of its entire electricity value network.”

GE beat five other competitors to win the NYPA contract. In the coming years, NYPA says it will also use the center to improve such functions as cybersecurity and physical security across its generation fleet and transmission system.

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