Data: The Nexus of Digitization and Renewable Energy

by Ian Goepferd, General Manager of O&M Services

In 2019, NAES rolled out our NextGen strategy.  Included in that plan was a focus on Digitization and Renewable Energy.  Digitization, in this context, reflects our desire to increase the use of software to enable and enhance our O&M capabilities.  The Renewable Energy focus reflects our belief that the reliance on renewable energy in the United States will increase, and we need to be involved in that market as it predictably expands, to achieve the growth targets set forth in the NextGen strategy.

One concept that is key to the NextGen strategy is that reliance on data is necessary to effectively manage renewable energy generation.  Renewable energy, especially solar and energy storage, is very data intensive. For example, a typical 1 GW combined cycle facility generates 10,000 points of data.  A solar facility of the same size generates about 435,000 points of data. Automated detection of anomalies in solar is necessary due to the extremely large amounts of data and typically low staffing levels required to be commercially competitive.  Solar operators rely on automated data analytics to allow them to be able to make decisions about when to time corrective maintenance activities so that the cost of the repair is warranted by the impact to generation. Only through automated work order generation and technician dispatch, can a solar O&M provider reasonably manage to the sheer volume of data produced by their portfolio.

This data-driven approach that is required with renewable energy can also provide benefits when applied to thermal generation.  The argument can easily be made that a data-driven approach is essential for operators of thermal generation because steady increases in solar and wind generation have reduced capacity factors of thermal generation plants, impacting profitability. Adopting the use of digital tools will enable operators of thermal generation to become more cost efficient, increasing their competitiveness in the changing energy market. Additionally, clients of O&M providers are beginning to demand that their service providers automate data collection, processes and reporting to be considered as viable service providers.

Monitoring and Diagnostics (M&D), and related approaches that use operational data to drive operations and maintenance decision making, can be the differentiator between operating a thermal generation facility profitably, or not.  The ability to predict the timing of failures can have a significant positive impact on reducing maintenance costs and reducing lost generation due to forced outages, which typically have a bigger impact on profitability than generation lost due to planned outages.  For a service provider, like NAES, access to data provides the opportunity to have greater insight into what attention each of our facilities may need from the corporate team to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations.

For facilities that are not yet ready to invest in a full M&D solution, making use of available data to detect and notify operators of anomalies, can be a way to achieve much of the benefit of M&D, at a fraction of the cost.  There are many options available to plant operators to start using data to increase operational reliability and decrease maintenance costs.  Whatever direction you may choose to go, the use of operational data to guide operations and maintenance decisions is absolutely necessary for IPPs to remain competitive in a market that is becoming more and more saturated with solar and wind-generated energy. Not only are solar and wind-generation facilities producing more energy each year, they are becoming more cost competitive to thermal generation each year.

Don’t get left behind.  Start taking advantage of your data today!