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Why the Changing World of Power Generation Demands Digitalization

The power industry has changed remarkably over the past few decades. A single distributed network has heavily evolved to encompass decarbonization, decentralization and digitalization.

Today, power companies are managing not only the traditional baseload systems – such as coal- or gas-fired power stations – but also renewables. The decarbonatization drive is here to stay and is rapidly expanding.

This leads to decentralization, as wind, solar and other renewable power generation plants are distributed over a large geographical area. The old model dominated by a large single baseload power station with a few mines around it or a few gas plants surrounding and feeding into it to produce power is a relic.

Power companies need to combine the output from this decentralized generation with that of their older-style plants. These assets are producing power in different ways and at different speeds but need to be managed together; that’s where digitalization comes in.


Improve work practices, boost efficiency, reduce risk

The digital transformation of operational procedures in the power industry gives the plant management team a framework to address multiple issues that can interfere with safe and efficient production.

When you convert manual procedures to a digital environment in the power and utilities industry, work practices improve across the plant while addressing key areas in operations such as shift handover, event management and production control. Integrated workflows mean you can better manage and report on your regulatory requirements, including safety and environmental. Integrated workflows make it easier to manage processes.

But by far the greatest benefit is a digital environment that reduces your operational risks. It’s reported that many fatalities and near-misses in the power industry begin with human error. The more you can digitalize processes and create efficient and safe workflows, the less chance of human error. Digitizing communications and being transparent about safety risks will help reduce the severity and amount of safety incidents.

There are many other ways that digitalization benefits power companies. This includes increased transparency and demonstrable compliance, with auditable traceability of work processes. Further, such companies are likely to assess cybersecurity vulnerabilities better and respond more effectively in the event of cyberattacks.

You can use a web-based digital operational environment to communicate critical safety events as well as the status of the plant to a wide group of personnel, even as the event is unfolding. This allows a larger range of expertise to be involved right from the start and effectively speeds up the resolution of the situation and improve resiliency.


Five steps for getting started with digitalization

For a few decades, the power industry has dabbled in digitalization, but has done so by using disconnected point solutions. Digital maturity levels still vary between different companies and in many instances remain low.

During any shift, for example, operations staff are not only performing dozens of tasks, but they’re also recording and reporting a range of issues; they’re submitting work requests and equipment tickets as well as logging maintenance reports. Frequently, they’re doing this on multiple digital systems. Spreadsheets and word processor documents are often used to document and manage the execution of key industrial processes such as control of work, operator rounds, shift handover and the capture of operator shift logs.

Meanwhile, the level of complexity of facilities, regulations and governance is increasing, as are the risks of getting it wrong.

Here are five actions power companies can take today to start to move toward digitalization and centralization of their current operations:

  1. Analyze the current situation to identify the level of digital maturity and the ‘hidden costs’ that a lack of digitization has for the organization in the form of inefficiencies and lost opportunity costs.
  2. Identify the potential benefits from implementing advanced digitization initiatives such as digital twins, electronic control of work, interoperable dashboards, situational awareness, connected workers. Prepare a roadmap identifying quick wins to gain support and calculate the business case with return on investment (ROI).
  3. Talk with peers that have implemented advanced digital solutions in power and other process industries and use their experience to gather support.
  4. Engage staff at all levels in the organization to develop and calculate the benefits of digitization initiatives.
  5. Pilot new technologies quickly and roll-out more extensively if they prove successful.

Realizing what’s possible

The main barriers holding organizations back from digitalization include inertia and a lack of management interest to invest. Many companies also lack the knowledge of what is possible to achieve even on brownfield facilities.

“The challenge of digital transformation can seem so immense to companies with many legacy facilities. Often, these power plants are 10, 20, 30, 40 years old. The information they have is likely unstructured, it’s not digital, it’s at best maybe some 2D CAD drawings and scanned images and documents. For them, the concept of digitalization seems too enormous to address.”, says Adam Goldfarb, Global Marketing Director, Power & Projects of Hexagon’s PPM division, a leading solution provider for complete asset lifecycle solutions for the power industry.

“One of the things that companies such as Hexagon can do is help people extract information from legacy information sources, and validate and consolidate this information to build an integrated digital twin. The gap may not be so enormous as people fear. One of the things we do is introduce our customers to the art of the possible. With access to digitalized asset information, efficiency and productivity can be improved throughout the complete asset lifecycle of a power facility – from planning and engineering to construction and commissioning to operations and maintenance.”

Explore more ways Hexagon can help optimize your power assets and operations – Discover more here.

Adam Goldfarb
Global Marketing Director, Power & Projects

Over the span of his 20+ year career, Adam has been fortunate to work with customers in capital-intensive industries including Power & Energy, Engineering & Construction, Manufacturing, Food & Beverage, Transportation, and Oil & Gas. With Hexagon, Adam oversees campaigns, content and initiatives to connect project- and asset-focused customers with technology solutions that unlock the power of data to drive greater efficiency, productivity and business outcomes. Adam holds an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business, with specializations in finance and strategy.

Hexagon’s PPM division helps the power industry not only streamline processes, improve productivity and create better returns but also to reduce their burden on the environment and protect and empower their workforce. We do this by providing software solutions to transform unstructured information into a smart digital asset to visualize, build and manage structures and facilities of all complexities, ensuring safe and efficient operation throughout the entire lifecycle.