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Electricity 2.0: Why Asia’s Utilities Are Getting Ready To Download The Digital Power Plant

Asian economies grew an average of 6 percent last year—nearly triple the rate of Europe and the U.S.—and their appetite for electricity is growing accordingly. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that world energy consumption will increase 48 percent by 2040 and that much of that growth will come from countries such as China, India and Indonesia.

Speaking on Tuesday in Seoul, South Korea, at Power-Gen Asia, the continent’s key industry trade show, GE Power chief executive Steve Bolze said his business is helping meet that growing demand and signed a number of deals for software and digital solutions, plant upgrades, as well as new turbines and generators in the past year.

Fossil fuels are expected to remain the chief power source in Asia and the Middle East for the next several decades, and that’s why software is so important. GE is using software and Predix, its cloud-based operating system for the Industrial Internet, to make coal-fired power plants more efficient. It released its “Digital Power Plant for Steam” in June, and the design will soon be in use in Pakistan and Malaysia.

Dogital Power Plant

GE Power’s Chief Digital Officer Ganesh Bell says software could help eliminate 500 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions if deployed at all existing coal-fired power plants globally. Image credit: GE Power. Top image credit: Getty Images. 

Asia has nearly 900 billion tons of coal reserves, and the Middle East is pumping out copious amounts of cheap natural gas, so it’s no surprise that many of the deals involve coal and natural-gas technology. In fact, by 2035, China and India will be the world’s top and second-largest coal consumers, respectively, according to projections from BP. Meanwhile, natural-gas demand will grow by 1.8 percent each year over the same period to nearly 500 billion cubic feet a day.

Ganesh Bell, GE Power’s chief digital officer, told GE Reports that GE software can interpret data from more than 10,000 sensors located around a power plant, analyze inputs such as coal quality and increase the plant’s efficiency by as much as 2 percent. Bell said the technology can also help engineers build a “digital twin” of the entire plant inside the cloud that can help the operator identify any gaps between actual and ideal performance. GE says the technology could help eliminate 500 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions if deployed at all existing coal-fired power plants globally.

Pakistan’s Hubco, for example, will use the GE software and analytics at the country’s largest independent steam power facility to identify maintenance issues before they happen and reduce unplanned outages while increasing operating hours. GE also already has signed deals with the Malaysian utility PLN.

But sometimes ordinary engineering can still do the heavy lifting. GE Power’s turbines and generators already produce one-third of the world’s electricity, and the company has gained an important foothold in Asia with the acquisitions of Alstom and Doosan Engineering & Construction’s heat recovery steam generator business, which helps power plants boost efficiency.

In July, the Bangladesh Power Development Board asked GE to transform an existing steam turbine inside the nation’s largest power station in Narsingdi district. Under the $117 million contract, GE and local partners will transform the gas-fired unit’s steam turbine into a combined cycle power plant, double its output to 416 megawatts hour (MWh) and reduce carbon emissions by boosting the plant’s efficiency to 54 percent.

The large South Korean steelmaker POSCO is using GE software to extend operational life and double the output of four 50-year-old Toshiba-made steam turbines that supply the mill with electricity.

That’s pretty powerful.

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