The POWER Interview: Engineering the Best Use of Data in the Electricity Sector

Utilities and other power generators recognize the importance of proper data management and the use of data analytics. Maximizing the value of data enables utilities to draw operational insights, including identifying current or potential issues at power plants and along the transmission and distribution system.

Power generators are adopting communications networks to improve their operations, and these systems are providing a growing volume of data. Sensors and other equipment, working with a utility’s infrastructure and also providing information about weather and other external variables, can help the power sector improve its efficiency. Data utilization supports reliability and resilience, and also provides utilities with tools to educate customers about their energy usage—and about how to make their own electricity consumption more efficient.

Joseph Stevenson, Product Marketing Manager-Protection Software at Doble Engineering, a company that provides comprehensive diagnostics and engineering expertise for the energy industry, recently provided POWER with his insight into data utilization in the electricity sector. Stevenson noted the importance of systems that can support decarbonization, operations and maintenance, and the performance of renewable energy installations.

POWER: What are some of the ways power plant operators and generators of electricity can use data to make their operations more efficient?

Stevenson: Eliminating silos is key to using data for operational efficiency. Technicians and engineers, for instance, need to be on the same page and the separate systems they use prevent that from happening. Obviously, different data formats in play are tough to harmonize into uniform information that can be easily shared, but many utilities are overcoming that issue with asset and test management systems that exist commercially. In other cases, utilities are successfully tying work management to asset condition data so that automated work orders trigger from inspection data. Whatever the approach, the goal should be to integrate systems as much as possible.

POWER: How can data be utilized to increase the performance of renewable energy plants?

Stevenson: System monitoring data generated by sensors on components like bushings, conductors, insulating mediums, and event records that IEDs (intelligent electronic devices) such as modern protective relays monitor, can become valuable insights via software tools that produce visual signatures, or profiles, of the performance of given segments of the network.

Joseph Stevenson

Quality software can reveal the status of the network moment by moment. When taken against normal electrical conditions, such data provides the basis for altering maintenance practices and their frequency. This data could also reflect on protection and control schemes. So, whether they indicate maintenance operations or relay settings calculations should be revisited, both kinds of data hold keys to increasing the performance of renewable facilities connected to the grid.

POWER: How can data be utilized to support decarbonization of the power generation sector?

Stevenson: While field experience is still evolving in terms of best practices toward ensuring the reliability and resiliency of wind, solar, and battery facilities, (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s) Order No. 2023 will accelerate the interconnection of these non-fossil generation sources. Transmission owners and developers who have invested in renewables are now sharing a sense of urgency to complete interconnection studies by mandated deadlines. Order No. 2023 requires studies to be performed in bundles whereas previously they were one-at-a-time. Engineers, in particular protection engineers, have an immediate need for faster computations facilitated by data uniformity and format interoperability.

Want to learn more about how utilities and power generators are utilizing data to improve their operations? Read “Diversification of Power Generation Brings Greater Need for Data-Based Decisions,” part of POWER’s Special Report. And don’t forget to register to attend POWER’s Connected Plant Conference, happening May 20-22, 2024, in Houston, Texas.

Additionally, the utilization of data extends beyond regulatory compliance; it can become a strategic tool for optimizing power grid operations. Data-driven insights enable grid operators to dynamically manage the variability of renewable energy sources, enhance forecasting accuracy, and implement control strategies. This not only contributes to grid reliability but also supports more effective integration of diverse energy resources, ultimately advancing the decarbonization goals of the power generation sector.

POWER: How can data support the electricity transmission and distribution network (can also compare and contrast Europe to the U.S., etc.)?

Stevenson: Not too many years ago, data mainly had relevance only to the end users of the systems that produced it. Today, with demands for electricity and renewable generation at unprecedented levels, operational data is becoming more and more interconnected and critical to business and engineering areas across the utility organization. The T&D (transmission and distribution) networks need data that will help them evolve rapidly and stay secure. With thousands of products and systems producing data, owner/operators need central control, preferably from a database environment that handles asset management and engineering aspects universally. A solid set of goals and an emphasis on interoperability in the implementation process with vendors will help organizations achieve success.

POWER: How is data being used to support decentralization of power generation, and are there better ways it can be utilized to make power production and the power grid more efficient?

Stevenson: As an emerging industry, distributed generation might have facility specifications that resemble those of transmission and distribution assets rather than the types of robust designs required for renewable applications. Incomplete or inaccurate commissioning data will impede electrical engineers facing system phenomena brought about by intermittency and other physical stresses on assets.

Avoiding challenges and increasing efficiency comes down to investing in well-designed power assets upfront and protecting those investments by adequately upskilling workers for troubleshooting in remote locations. Work management software, which already finds use among utilities connecting asset condition and engineering details for trending performance, hold potential applications for the distributed generation segment as well.

POWER: How can data be utilized for predictive maintenance and remote monitoring of power generation assets?

Stevenson: In-service test and diagnostic techniques—EMI (electromagnetic interference) testing, partial discharge (PD) testing, infrared and PD surveying, oil analysis—generate data that offers insights into asset health and performance for more informed and strategic maintenance decisions. Additionally, software systems can process asset health data to help organizations develop effective approaches to increasing availability, ensuring reliability, and lengthening maintenance intervals which in turn will reduce their costs.

(Editor’s note: Special thanks to Brian Snyder from Doble Engineering for sharing his insights on these topics.)

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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