For roughly 75 years, the utility industry in the U.S. has been set in its ways: big, centralized power plants and high-voltage transmission lines that send power to substations which then distribute that power to homes and businesses. But the times are changing. And that means CIOs at utilities are feeling the pressure to bring about digital transformation that can deliver greater efficiencies and enable the integration of new, innovative technologies.
Those big power plants and high-voltage transmission lines are still part of the equation, but so are community solar power, wind farms, microgrids, battery storage and more. Connecting these technologies to the existing grid — handling settlements in an enclosed market, linking up transactions between energy producers and buyers (perhaps via blockchain technology) — requires a serious IT overhaul.
"The utility industry is undergoing a transformation," says Ken Lee, senior vice president and CIO of the New York State Power Authority (NYPA), the largest state public power organization in the U.S., which operates 16 generating facilities (including two plants powered by Niagara Falls) and more than 1,400 circuit-miles of transmission lines.
"From a New York State perspective, we've got what I would call very progressive leadership from the governor on down in terms of really getting in front of distributed energy sources: microgrids, neighborhood solar, that sort of thing."
That leadership takes the form of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's comprehensive energy strategy for New York, Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), which, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, seeks to rebuild, strengthen and modernize New York's energy system while making climate change mitigation a priority. Its 2030 goals are the following:
Following the devastation left by Sandy, Governor Cuomo tasked the New York Public Service Commission (PSC), the New York Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), NYPA and the Long Island Power Authority to work together to make REV a reality, while spurring energy innovation, bringing new investments to the state and improving consumer choice.
NYPA, which operates hydropower plants and low-emitting natural gas plants, is typically responsible for 15 to 20 percent of the state's daily electricity output. To fulfill the governor's vision, NYPA is taking the lead on many of the grid and transmission modernization and reliability efforts across the state. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is at the center of those efforts — the process starts with the merger of the physical and the digital, connecting energy-producing machines (like gas and hydro turbines) to analytics software via sensors.
The software, running in NYPA's central Smart Operations Center in White Plains, NY, then provides operations leaders with predictive alerts that accurately forecast possible failures up to weeks before they occur.
GE Power is providing the Asset Performance Management (APM) software that will use the data analytics to monitor power generation and transmission equipment health, predicting potential failures and reducing unplanned downtime, lowering maintenance costs and operational risks. The APM solution runs on GE's Predix operating system for the Industrial Internet.
NYPA and GE Power announced their agreement, reached through a competitive bid process, last Thursday. The deal makes NYPA the first U.S. power provider to sign an enterprise-wide digital transformation agreement with GE Power.
"They're really trying to drive a transformation of their business and digitize it across both their generation assets and their distribution," says Brent Maxwell, general manager, Software, Power Services, North America, GE Power. "It's going from monitoring their assets to predicting failures. It's a big step up in analytical capabilities.