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How The Latest Technology Is Transforming The Oldest Green Power Plants

Scandinavian power company Fortum is the top producer of “certified” renewable electricity in Finland and Sweden. Much of it comes from 169 hydroelectric plants, some more than a century old, that use fast-flowing water to spin turbines and generate power. But how do you make sure that something built during the flapper era remains reliable and up to snuff?

Give it a brain.

Last year, the utility invited GE to analyze data from a malfunctioning hydroelectric turbine with software — including information about vibrations and temperature, output and efficiency. “We found the issue, which was a vibration that happens when you change from a low load to a high load,” says Check Haris, digital sales leader at GE Renewable Energy. “We suggested that they use another type of runner, or turbine blade. They hadn’t considered that solution.”

Next, Fortum decided to test the hydropower software at two plants in Sweden and Finland. In September, GE installed it on one unit at each of the two plants, where it will run for six months for a pilot trial.

The system collects vibration, temperature, output, and other data, and uploads it to the cloud, where apps running on Predix, GE’s platform for the Industrial Internet, look for insights. The software can monitor the health of the equipment, looks out for problems and recommend the best time for maintenance.

Harris says that digitizing the century-old plants could give Fortum new insights, help it predict problems, improve maintenance and generally pull the plants into the 21st century. It also could help keep prices down.

GE’s digital hydro software collects hydropower plant data on metrics like vibration, temperature and output, and uploads it to the cloud, where Predix — GE’s platform for the Industrial Internet — organizes and analyzes it. Image credit: GE Renewable Energy

GE also will install software directly at Fortum’s 127 megawatt Höljes station in Sweden later this year and use the data the system collects to create predictive models of the power plant. This design, called edge analytics, can connect to the cloud to create a computing continuum from the turbines and other machines all the way to the cloud.

The edge capacity will allow operators to learn and adjust operations based on their own experiences. So, for example, by analyzing constant feedback about the health of different parts at the hydro plant, they will be able to move the plant from a calendar-based maintenance schedule to a more flexible scenario where equipment can get taken out of commission and repaired at times that are convenient. This will help reduce down time at the plant, saving money and allowing for more consistent energy production.

The cloud-based aspect of the new software pairs well with the edge analytics by incorporating data from other sources, such as other machines, weather forecasts and market conditions, to help operators run the plant at peak efficiency.

The addition of edge analytics should reduce maintenance costs by 10 percent and increase plant availability by 1 percent, bringing Fortum closer to its goal of completely reliable, low-cost hydropower.

GE estimates that the edge and the cloud together can increase revenues by 3 percent. “The energy market is changing drastically,” Haris says. “This will help Fortum rise to that challenge.”

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