GE uses IoT to revolutionise power plants

GE uses IoT to revolutionise power plants

GE’s IoT technologies are helping gas and oil plants to become more efficient.

Ideologically, many people working within the tech sector are looking for the energy industry to pivot for good, move away from fossil fuels, and instead focus on greener, renewable alternatives. The realists though will probably admit the need in the short term to simply make the process as clean and efficient as possible, especially in developing countries where such projects are only just getting underway.

Related: HPE and GE chasing IIoT through new partnership

GE and IoT

In the last year, digital industry solutions specialist GE has launched digital power plant systems for gas and coal plants. In new plants, GE’s technologies have increased the average conversion efficiency from 33 percent to 49 percent.

For the longer-standing coal plants, efficiency improvements are substantially less, although emissions of greenhouse gases can be reduced by 3 percent. These efficiency gains come about through a clever blend of Internet of Things (IoT) technology and active monitoring. Optimising fuel combustion, tuning the plant to adjust to the properties of the coal being burned, adjusting the oxygen levels in the boiler, and reducing downtime due to equipment failures all have an impact.

Lana Ginns, marketing manager at flare gas specialists Fluenta, highlighted the importance of smarter processes across the industry.

“Access to precise, real-time information on the amount of gas flared at different sites can be compared to more effectively manage the flaring process – site to site, country to country, or process to process – enabling continuous improvement based on best practice from top performing (low emission) sites,” she told Internet of Business.

“Information can be presented on a dashboard for real-time analysis, enabling a business to reduce workforce costs, increase employee safety, reduce carbon tax obligations and provide significant environmental benefits by reducing emissions and fossil fuel waste.”

Connected power plants help integrate renewables in the longer term

Increasingly connected power plants, although on the one hand extending the life of fossil fuels, can actually help to integrate renewables in the long term.

As outlined in the MIT Technology Review, this is made possible because smarter plants are more flexible and better able to respond to fluctuations in the power supplied by intermittent sources like wind and solar. In short, more connectivity means more efficiency, which allows fossil fuel power plants to go from zero to one-hundred percent output in less time than ever before.

Speaking with MIT Technology Review, Scott Bolick, head of software strategy and product management at GE, suggested that it’s now a case of making power plants as efficient as possible. He said “In places like China and India, they’ve already locked in plans to build brand new coal power plants, and those plants are going to be on the grid for 30 to 40 years. We look at it as our responsibility to make sure those plants are as sustainable as they can possibly be.”

Related: How GE is building a services company through cloud and IIoT


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