What Does a Connected Plant Mean for Power Producers?

The Connected Power Plant

In the past, a distributed control system (DCS) has served as the core or “brain” to a power plant. Think of it like this: The system centralizes plant operations – from control, monitoring and reporting of individual assets to delivering insights and individual process area KPIs.

Sounds like the way your mind functions, right?

So, what if plant operators were able to tap into not only the brain of their operations, but also each nerve ending to better understand real-time events?

The enabling technology of the Industrial Internet of Things is making this possible today. Companies can now take advantage of a more modern DCS to improve productivity, safety, flexibility and maintenance.

With a modern DCS, operators can make real-time comparisons of thermal plant heat rates for dispatching. At the same time, maintenance can also drill down into specific plant equipment health to help optimize assets and maximize profitability.

By linking physical and virtual aspects of a plant, a modern DCS has the ability to empower rapid decision-making like never before. It can bring process areas and human capital together to produce value in ways that were impossible just years ago.

A modern DCS is essential in the evolution of a connected plant for a variety of reasons. It serves as the foundation to transforming data into business value for improved asset utilization.

Historically, DCSs provided an infrastructure that captured, analyzed and contextualized data at its source. The ecosystem of data has expanded exponentially with the increase of connected devices and the convergence of information technology and operational technology systems.

A modern DCS uses a single, open platform to manage data and empower operators. In fact, as more and more business operations become visible, end users are able to capture operational constraints and opportunities closer to real time.

Applications and systems – such as integrated, intelligent electrical devices and smart instrumentation – can be unified, resulting in speedy data analysis for richer insight and better decision-making.

But a modern DCS doesn’t just help power generation companies operationalize data within a power plant. The system is able to aggregate information from across assets to the enterprise level to help facilitate better decision-making at the appropriate level in the organization.

Outside the plant, for instance, a fleet comprised of fossil and renewable generation assets can be connected at an enterprise level to collect and analyze data globally. Once connected, data can be standardized and presented in context to the operators and analysts across a unified and intuitive HMI.

Overall, a site can be combined into one unified, scalable platform creating a reporting solution that provides flexibility and versatility to help reduce the time to onboard and make new fleet acquisitions operational.

Throughout the last decade, the emergence of information-enabling technology has caused power producers to shift their operating and business results toward a connected plant, but the pace has been slow and uneven.

As utilities continue to experience pressure from policymakers, regulators and major market players, the right solutions – a modern DCS – is essential to staying competitive and enabling all the benefits of The Connected Enterprise.

Tom McDonnell
Posted February 8, 2017 By Tom McDonnell, North American Power Generation Industry Leader, Rockwell Automation
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