[VIDEO] POWER Insights: Why Digitalization Has Been a Lifeline for Power During COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the power sector has so far been immense, resulting in supply chain disruptions, labor constraints, construction delays, restrictions on business activities, and, crucially, financial challenges. But according to Dr. Colin Parris, senior vice president and chief technology officer (CTO) at GE Digital, the sector’s response has been adaptive, and digitalization has played a crucial role in ensuring business continuity. 

During an interview for POWER’s Video Insights series in June 2020, Parris suggested a cultural shift underway in the power sector is rapidly evolving, driven by two trends: productivity and sectoral dynamics. “For productivity, as with every industry, what you want to do is do more with less,” Parris explained. While productivity has always been a key focus for the power sector, the focus previously rested on cost reductions and safety. “Now, as a result of COVID, it’s how do I do productivity, but how do I do it remotely, which is very interesting,” he said.

Dynamics, on the other hand, involves changing markets. “In the power market you have renewables coming in, you have new demands from customers showing up, you have government policies showing up, you have cyber [challenges] showing up. A lot of demands. How do you deal with that?” said Parris. The pandemic has added new complexity to existing dynamics. “Now with COVID, you see those demands not only affecting a long range, but you see absolute short-term dynamics.” Those demands, expressed by GE customers across the world, for example,  involve an immediate need for remote work, he said.

While such challenges have historically been resolved via software, COVID is also accelerating digitalization “in dramatic ways,” Parris said. Despite financial constraints, companies are embracing big data to enable monitoring and predictive maintenance, alleviate business risk, improve efficiency, and even provide added business value. 

During the interview, Parris provided examples of how digital twins have offered new management and oversight opportunities at generation plants, as well as prospects for “network twins.” He also addressed why power entities are now viewing digitalization a a sound investment, despite financial constraints, and how technology is helping to boost digitalization’s benefits and address its risks.   

About Colin Parris: As senior vice president and CTO at GE Digital, Parris leads teams that work to leverage technologies and capabilities across GE to accelerate business impact and create scale advantage for digital transformation. He also champions strategic innovations and identifies and evaluates new, breakthrough technologies and capabilities to accelerate innovative solutions to solve emerging customer problems.  Colin created and leads the Digital Twin Initiative across GE.

Sonal Patel is a POWER senior associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine).

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