Editorial - VGB PowerTech Journal 9/2018

Digitisation in power generation

The advancing digitisation is undoubtedly one of the great challenges and also one of the great new opportunities for our further development.

One generation ago, digitisation consisted of feeding computers with punched cards to speed up computing processes. Today, for example, we can use our voice to trigger orders or remotely control the room temperature in our homes.

Important developments in digitisation affect three levels:

  • Data volume (Big Data)
  • Data processing (capacity)
  • Data exchange/networking

All three levels are closely interlinked, each posing challenges in its own right and jointly, and offer those opportunities that can be decisive for the market position today and in the future.

For data volumes originating from processes today, an indication from the aircraft manufacturer Boeing for the Model 787 is certainly striking. Around half a terabyte of data is generated and recorded per flight. Compared to the punched card mentioned at the beginning, which could store 80 bytes in the standard format of the 1950s to 1980s, this is an increase in data volume by a factor of around 1 billion; and even the comparison with the first genuine digital data carriers, floppy disks, is still impressive with a factor of around 1 million.

Such amounts of data need to be mastered.

The development in data processing looks similarly impressive. In the past 50 years, since the market launch of the first integrated processors, computing power has increased by a factor of about 20 million.

This computing power must be used efficiently and intelligently.

In data exchange, it is the Internet with its services such as e-mail and the World Wide Web that is more than revolutionary. Only the Internet makes it possible to link the individual components of digitisation.

Out of insular life and into a common digital world.

The megatrend of digitisation does not stop at our industry either and affects all steps of the value chain, from generation to the consumer, regardless of the form of generation - whether “conventional or “renewable” - or the size of the consumer - from the household customer to the energy-intensive industrial company. In conjunction with the “Energy Turnaround”, digitisation has become one of the largest national IT projects.

While the “electricity” product in our industry remains the same, the processes surrounding its generation, distribution and delivery are changing. Parallel to the flow of electricity, a second information chain of digital data is thus created that needs to be managed in order to meet one of the main goals of digitisation in the “energy revolution”, to design processes that are effective and energy-optimised.

However, digitisation also means that internal processes in companies can be optimised. It is of crucial importance that all elements involved in the process are coordinated and integrated: The technical system, the management system and - crucially - the people must act together to ensure and shape a smooth process and further development, even with the increasing cultural change initiated by digitisation.

Anyone looking at power generation today will notice that the topic of digitisation is already very important and has a high degree of implementation. Power plant control rooms are “digital”, small plants are monitored and controlled “digitally” from a distance, and the evaluation of digital data makes it possible to further optimise power plant operation.

A challenge for generation, which “only supplies electricity”, therefore remains to open up possibilities for increasing flexibility, effectiveness and productivity by means of digitisation and innovative tools, whereby people should not only be the focus of attention, but should also shape digitisation through their creativity.