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Japan’s First Digital Power Plant Goes Live

The massive gas-fired Futtsu Power Station, which forms a small peninsula in Tokyo Bay, is capable of generating 5,040 megawatts of electricity for millions of Japanese homes and businesses. Made up of four combined cycle blocks, the plant is already the most efficient of the 15 power stations operated by TEPCO Fuel & Power, the utility servicing the area around Japanese capital. But in the interest of “kaizen”—the Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement—TEPCO believes it can perform even better.

As a result, Futtsu is about to become the first power plant in Japan to go digital, specifically in its No. 4 block. TEPCO will soon start using Predix, GE’s cloud-based platform for the Industrial Internet, to see if it can squeeze even more efficiency out of the plant.

GE’s Asset Performance Management (APM) software analyzes real-time data—such as temperature, pressure and changes in the levels of liquids and gasses—coming from sensors embedded in machines around the plant to make it run more efficiently and predict when things need to be fixed.

TOKYO - November 29 : Akihabara district November 29 , 2014in Tokyo, JP. The district is a major shopping area for electronic, computer, anime, games and otaku goods.

Top: The massive gas-fired Futtsu Power Station, which sprawls on the edge of Tokyo Bay, is capable of generating of 5,040 megawatts. Image credit: TEPCO Fuel & Power. Above: The bright lights of Tokyo Akihabara district. Image credit: Getty Images

Normally, maintenance happens on a specific schedule whether or not the parts actually need to be repaired or replaced, a practice called time-based maintenance. With APM, TEPCO is aiming to better understand when parts really do need to be changed. This condition-and-analytics-based maintenance limits costly downtime and minimizes upkeep during periods of high electricity demand.

Futtsu’s No.4 block is equipped with three GE gas turbines—each cable of generating 507 megawatts. With more than 37 million people, the Tokyo prefecture is the world’s most populous metropolitan area and TEPCO wants to keep the plant in service as much as possible. There is also the matter of stopping a high-efficiency power plant, which is extremely expensive as power companies have to rely on less efficient and more costly plants to cover electricity needs in the interim. “One of the expected major outcomes from this is improving availability, reliability and efficiency,” says GE Power’s Futtsu project leader, Makoto Seki.

TEPCO also runs 10 power plants around the world in places such as Thailand and Qatar as an independent power producer. It will use the information gleaned from the Futtsu program to improve the efficiency of its power stations abroad and provide these countries with better-quality power. “This is the first step in their larger vision,” Seki says. “TEPCO can eventually become a global energy leader in business volume and profitability.”

Digital smarts, mixed with a dose of kaizen,  will help them get there.

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