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Maximising output, minimising loss

As digitalisation becomes ubiquitous within the power and water sector, regional utilities continue to harness its limitless potential to enhance efficiency levels and increase output

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Efficient power generation will be a vital component to reliable, eco-friendly energy systems
Efficient power generation will be a vital component to reliable, eco-friendly energy systems

As demand for electricity and water in the GCC continues to grow amid tight government budgets, regional utilities are increasingly looking for solutions that will guarantee maximum output with minimum expenditure.

For instance, in Sharjah, peak power demand was estimated at 2,275MW in 2015 with power consumption expected to rise by about 10% per annum. But the Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) plans to address rising power demands via an innovative strategy to optimise its existing assets, plus energy conservation measures, with no new power stations planned before 2020.

The rapid advance of digital technologies presents a transformational opportunity for the region’s utilities sector. Innovations already used in many other industries, such as decentralised production, real-time analytics pulled from big data, sensor networks, and mobile computing, are changing the contours and competitive balance of utilities and enhancing efficiency levels.

According to a recent Transparency Market Research report, by 2018, the global market for smart grid technologies, which includes sensors, management and control technologies, communication networks, and software, will be worth $80.6bn, a growth of 28.7% from 2011. By 2020, the global smart grid market is forecast to exceed $400bn.

While the market for new gas turbines for GCC power plants has dropped, there is growing demand for power plant optimisation and gas turbine upgrade with the aim of increasing efficiency levels.

“A lot of what we are investing in right now is around efficiency gains. You want to continue to be economically advantageous for the customers that you are serving, so how do you create the same amount of power consuming less fuel? How do you produce more power taking up less space? Our solutions have become increasingly power dense over the last half decade,” Scott Strazik, President & CEO, Power Services Business, GE Power.

“Then there is the element of flexibility that enables one to quickly ramp the machines up and down to support some of the other power generation sources. So, through efficiency gains, power density gains, flexibility gains, we are giving optionality for our customers at a time in which optionality and flexibility is incredibly important. As the grids become complex, the problems they are trying to solve too become complex.”

Over the past years, GE’s Advanced Gas Path (AGP) technology has been installed on 435 units across four of its gas turbine fleets, generating $775mn a year in benefits to power producers and the markets they serve in 39 countries on five continents.

“It is time consuming and expensive to build new plants, but if you can upgrade the gas turbine and get an incremental 5%, 10% or 15% output out of an existing plant, that is very attractive to the customers, not only for the timeliness of it, but the economics of it also,” says Strazik.

“So this is a priority. In the Middle East, the biggest demand factor is output because they are craving demand. There is an immense demand for these solutions because there is an immense demand for power.”

GE’s AGP solution has delivered significant market-based benefits around the globe, including providing about 7GW of additional power capacity. AGP is generating nearly 19.4 million additional megawatt-hours (MWh) of power a year, which is enough to power approximately 2 million homes.

Granular data monitoring also means the life span of expensive capital equipment can potentially be prolonged, thanks to more careful usage over the years.

Perhaps another breather for the gas turbines market is additive manufacturing, which could potentially transform servicing. Although still in its early stages, it is a technology very much at the forefront of change and is already reshaping business.

“The possibilities in technology are endless. Most obviously for us, additive manufacturing can reduce service and spare parts lead times immensely, and at the same time improve technology performance. Burner tips in gas turbines, for example, have limited lives,” Dietmar Siersdorfer, CEO, Siemens Middle East.

As power grids evolve, they must be capable of adapting fast to rapidly fluctuating conditions, serving a complex power generation, supply and demand landscape. This will rely on digital technology at a deeper level in electricity substations than ever before.

The approach is already central to Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) for its research and development drive at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar park, where the operator is conducting research to integrate smart grid technology and enhance the production and efficient consumption of energy.

Digital substations will be a key component of next generation grids as they enable smarter power systems. This innovative technology concept supports the transformation of the power sector as renewable energy gains more traction and power generation becomes more decentralised. They will incorporate digital communications via fibre optic cables, replacing traditional copper connections using analogue signals. They will also enable greater flexibility, availability and safety, while reducing cost, risk and environmental impact.

Digital substations will also feature Intelligent Electronic Devices (IEDs) with integrated information and communication technology. An IED is a microprocessor-based protection and control device for power equipment, such as circuit breakers, transformers and capacitor banks.

The increasing amounts of data available in a digital substation will also enable more sophisticated monitoring, diagnostics, protection and optimisation of assets.

With end-to-end transparency of distribution and transmission, utilities and operators will be able to understand both grid performance and customer behaviour. That insight can be used to optimise OpEx (operational expenditure) and CapEx (capital expenditure) and create new business services.

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