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Digital Power Saves Billions – GE

A common saying suggests “you can never have too much of a good thing”, but this is not true when it comes to supplying electricity. In fact, oversupplying electricity to a particular district can lead to enormous wastage.

Unlike money, excess electricity is not easily stored in wallets and banks. To ensure grid stability, unused electricity is often unloaded into the ground and subsequently lost.

According to data produced by GE Digital, the energy industry can save more than US$1 trillion worth of electricity and other financial benefits simply by better matching electricity supply to demand, through the use of digital power solutions.

That is, the process of using thousands of sensors to collect data across homes and factories. Complex digital analytics are then used to understand the data, and inform engineers where instances of electricity undersupply, and oversupply, are taking place. Power plants can also adjust supply ahead of time, based on user patterns and demographic trends.

According to Luis Gonzalez, chief digital officer for Asia Pacific, GE Power Digital Solutions, many power producers today purchase power based on economic forecasts, and not actual consumption. “Sometimes, there’s oversupply for the next 20 years because they’re being cautious, or undersupply because there’s no budget,” he shares with Eco-Business in a recent interview.

A community that sees a population growth of 20 percent, for example, could see its energy demand grow by more than 20 percent due to changing energy consumption habits, leading to an undersupply. Thus, live data is needed to meet electricity demand accurately, and do better predictions on the investment and performance required from power assets says Gonzalez.

Benefits to the environment

Luis Gonzalez, chief digital officer for Asia Pacific, GE Power Digital Solutions. Image: GE

The environment stands to benefit from efficient energy use. In a coal-fired power plant, digitally-enhanced efficiency could monitor and reduce emissions by up to three per cent. Should digital power be implemented on a global scale, GE Digital estimates that as much as 5.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions could be avoided just by enabling fuel analysis and better combustion performance.

Digital power solutions can also be applied to both “big power” and “small power” projects.

“Big power” refers to large centralised power plants or integrated networks that supply power to huge grids. Data points – places where sensors can collect data – can be strategically installed at these places to gather information on a mass scale.

For instance, analysing data across 16 power plants and 1,400 miles of transmission lines for the New York Power Authority can generate up to US$2 billion of savings for this public network. These savings stem from more accurately matching supply to demand, using data analytics.

More commonly found in Southeast Asia, a region known for its vast archipelago, are “small power” facilities that provide off-grid electricity to rural communities on remote islands. Many of these growing island communities rely on diesel generators to produce electricity, despite the fact that such methods can be polluting.

Incorporating renewables into the energy mix can help provide cleaner power for these rural communities. Gonzalez says digital power solutions can play a part in managing their “power mix” – the proportion of conventional and clean power used – to stabilise power supply during disruptions.

GE Digital is implementing digital power technologies in some of its projects within Southeast Asia. This includes the Renewable Energy Integration Demonstrator in Singapore, and projects to implement fast and reliable power to rural villages in Indonesia.

Opportunities for digital “small power” facilities are set to grow. By 2020, GE Digital estimates that distributed power capacity additions will grow to 200GW, from 142GW in 2012. In addition, some 125 million people in Southeast Asia lack access to modern energy services and would stand to benefit from digital “small power”.

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