SUMMARY

This roadmap defines R&D pathways for data creation, information management, artificial intelligence technologies and application of digital devices to provide the industry workforce with the right information when needed to take action or make decisions in increasingly complex and dynamic operational and business environments.

The overarching theme is to develop Insight through the Integration of Information to enable Intelligent Generation (I4Gen). For thermal and renewable generation assets, innovations are being pursued in the following areas:

  • Data collection, information management, and system/software interoperability
  • Data analytics, artificial intelligence, and prognostics
  • Connectivity, communications, and cyber security
  • Digital technologies and devices for operations and maintenance functions
  • Low cost distributed sensing and new measurement capabilities
  • Advanced control algorithms and improved process control schemas
  • Automation and decision support for engineering, maintenance, and operations

Advances in these areas will provide the real-time information required to proactively and positively impact plant performance, staff effectiveness, and overall cost competiveness.  The connectivity and adoption of digital plant technologies will also support the integration of the generation assets into a modern grid.

At existing plants, near-term I4Gen innovations will enable plant personnel to conduct inspection and maintenance tasks more efficiently. Future I4Gen plants will anticipate market conditions and have connectivity and communication with the integrated grid and business management systems in order to dynamically optimize performance for a shifting set of complex performance objectives.

KEY INDUSTRY DRIVERS

Diversity of Generation

Power industry transformation is requiring reduced operation from many baseload plants and greater flexibility across generating portfolios. The demand for more efficient use of staff resources typically competes with that for greater responsiveness. Increased automation, improved decision-support tools, and enhanced control capabilities can help meet the challenge of maximizing operational readiness with reduced staffing and maintenance investment.

Generation Excellence

Changed mission profiles and competing objectives create the need for greater levels of efficiency, responsiveness, and controllability, adding new layers of complexity to asset management at the plant and fleet levels. Existing plants have relied on paper-based processes and disparate electronic platforms to manage mission-critical data and information. Search, collection, re-entry, and aggregation tasks divert time from analysis and synthesis, leading to delayed responses and lost opportunities. Seamless integration of data and information management, monitoring, control, and other functions promises to reduce costs and increase productivity across multiple dimensions.

Power Industry Transformation

The new workforce brings different skills to the power generation industry, including in-depth familiarity with connected technologies running seamless applications and serving inquiry and control functions. Connected platforms that capture the expertise of senior personnel and supply real-time information will empower digital workers to assess equipment status, forecast future conditions, and make proactive operations and maintenance decisions.

Valuing data and transforming how information is used for power generation create opportunities to turn central-station plants into networked assets within larger fleets and enterprises.

Achieving Near Zero Emissions and the Water-Energy Nexus

As grid and market conditions change and the power system evolves, future central-station generating plants and asset portfolios may need the capability to provide energy, capacity, and additional services—as well as steam, heat, and other products to end users—while meeting stringent limits on air emissions, freshwater consumption, and other environmental impacts. Workers and automated systems require the right information at the right time to continuously optimize performance.

DESTINATIONS

I4Gen is an all-encompassing vision for transforming how technology, data, and information are used in power plants and the industry. The digital portion of the plant will emerge and evolve as scalable, modular, and networked systems with varying degrees of embedded intelligence and automation. Plants will continue to generate electricity using thermal, mechanical, and electrical processes, but the ways in which they are monitored, controlled, operated, maintained, and managed will be more dynamic through the adoption of digital tools and technologies.

Data from disparate sources—ranging from tiny sensors embedded within components to enterprise-wide networks—will be seamlessly integrated and mined to deliver actionable information through digital platforms for use in various systems, functions, and analyses. Real-time component status and future projections will assist plant personnel with early detection of incipient problems, precise tuning of process parameters, and proactive process control to support flexible operations.

Open architecture and standards-based communication will allow “plug and play” deployment of new devices, software, and services regardless of the developer or vendor, while interfaces will support interoperability and cyber security at various levels. As a unified “system of systems,” the digital portion of the plant will support dynamic optimization of the power plant and thus a greater connection to other generation sources and power consumers through an integrated grid.

I4Gen technologies and tools will elevate the efficiency of energy conversion processes, increase worker effectiveness, and optimize maintenance in which to minimize failures and reduce forced outages. Gains in operational readiness, reliability, availability, proactive planning, and overall productivity are expected to translate into increased revenues and improved performance across fleets.

AREAS OF FOCUS

The I4Gen concept is revolutionary, but some emerging technologies consistent with the longer-term vision are currently being explored through the 5-year Generation Sector program plans and being pursued under EPRI’s near- and mid-term research imperatives (RIs) related to Sensor Systems, the Integrated Grid Platform, and Flexible Operations.

This roadmap defines collaborative R&D pathways leading to new knowledge and innovative technology for implementing the I4Gen concept—both for existing plants and future capacity additions—over a timeframe 5 to 10 years out, and beyond. Generally, the objectives are to deliver real-time information and to apply distributed and adaptive intelligence for effective action and response.

Areas of focus are introduced below. Relevant R&D is under way or anticipated across the Generation Sector’s base programs. Also highlighted are ongoing and planned work through EPRI’s Technology Innovation (TI) program.

Quality Data Acquisition through Low-cost Sensor Technologies and New Measurement Capabilities

Robust, ubiquitous, and networked sensor systems are needed for real-time monitoring and management of critical components, processes, and parameters. Low-cost sensors will permit the expanded application of highly distributed sensing needed for more comprehensive monitoring of equipment condition. New measurement capabilities for harsh environments, trace level detection, and process control will permit greater insight in the operation and performance of systems leading to improved performance over a range of operating envelopes.

Ongoing and planned EPRI R&D activities address the following topics:

  • Embedded Sensing: Sensing elements integrated within components and subsystems to improve operational awareness and support early detection of issues before life-limiting damage occurs.
  • Virtual Sensing. Novel approaches for using other measurement parameters to estimate key quantities not currently observable and to provide actionable information for O&M applications.
  • Sensor Suites: Engineered monitoring networks combining diverse sensors and tracking different parameters for holistic health assessment and integrated control.
  • Ubiquitous Sensing: Large deployments in sensors for pervasive monitoring and distributed sensor networks relies on low cost sensor technology for a reasonable cost/benefit justification. Innovations in packaging, wireless communication, ambient monitoring, power harvesting, wireless power transfer, and other enabling technologies for distributed sensing networks are important features of easily deployable field devices.
  • Novel Measurement Techniques: Developments in laser-based techniques, fiber optic sensors, ceramic micro sensors, dynamic/”smart” coatings, thermography and advanced infrared techniques, imaging with advanced signal processing, advanced acoustics and ultrasonics, and novel wireless with self-powering capabilities are all options to support precise control of processes and advanced condition monitoring of systems and equipment.

Improved Information Management and Decision-Making through Data Analytics, Integration and Visualization

Systematic approaches and architectures are required to maximize the value of enterprise-wide data by enhancing its collection, processing, storage, integration, and use.  With limited development and adaptation of established data enterprise architectures many of the disparate systems, software and data repositories can be connected.  While additional work is needed to enable machine-to-machine communication and information generation, the platform and opportunity is there to utilize the vast amounts of existing data for the purpose of producing actionable information.

Data analytics is a key area for managing large sets and transforming the data into usable information for an intended purpose.  Many data analytic algorithms and approaches exist but few have been successfully adapted and applied to power generation applications.  Given the vast amount of plant data and the desire to understand in real time a number of key variable states and critical equipment condition; along with probabilistic risk, potential cost savings, and improved planning, data analytics will become one of the key technology areas for producing actionable information at individual plants and across fleets.

Ongoing and planned EPRI R&D activities address the following topics:

  • Interoperability & Cybersecurity: Open information models, architectures, protocols, and standards—with state-of-the-art protections—supporting secure data exchange and coordination across information technology serving sensors and instrumentation, plant components and systems, distributed and central controls, and business functions.
  • Communications & Information Technology: Innovations in wired, wireless, and powerline communications offering desired speed, quality, functionality, and security at reasonable cost.
  • Computation: High-performance computing and embedded and distributed computational networks for processing the data required to support operations and control functions and life assessment, health monitoring, and condition-based maintenance activities.
  • Aggregation: Advanced tools and practices for tagging data, standardizing formats, defining context, and establishing linkages to support integration, query, visualization, and other functions.
  • Integration: Approaches for mapping relationships and meeting the changing data and information requirements of individual users and the complex needs of analytic, diagnostic, and prognostic functions.
  • Query: Advanced search, retrieval, and mining capabilities—both automated and user-driven—to supply data and information where and when needed, provide direct insights, and enable analytic and prognostic applications.
  • Visualization: Novel approaches for displaying complex data and information to improve situation awareness, enhance monitoring and control, support diagnostics and prognostics, and prioritize tasks and responses.

Optimized Operation and Performance through Advanced Controls and Automation

Intelligent and autonomous control technologies and smart components and devices are needed to provide the precision and sensitivity required for optimizing energy and environmental performance and minimizing parasitic losses during startups, load changes, and steady-state operations while preventing damage to equipment.

Ongoing and planned EPRI R&D activities address the following topics:

  • Modern Advanced Controls: Introducing and embedding model-based and/or model predictive controls allow for better management and control of complex or tightly coupled systems/variables. Neural Networks and other adaptive approaches support optimization of systems or select operations. Updating control logic with one or more advanced control algorithms are important for flexible operation and lessens the mechanical damage caused by rigorous use under set point PID control.
  • Novel Advanced Controls: Next-generation control schemes using self-organization/aggregation approaches, biomimetic, and integration of optimization schemes, model predictive control, and other methods to better account for and manage dynamic and complex processes.
  • High Degrees and Deployment of Automation: Using a combination of established and emerging techniques, many manual functions can be automated with a combination of monitoring, coordinated automation control logic, and actuation. Many plants can adopt automated start up, shutdown, and turn down functions to reduce operator error, increase safety, and more effectively manage resources and staff. 
  • Integration: Approaches for mapping relationships and meeting the changing data and information requirements of individual users and the complex needs of analytic, diagnostic, and prognostic functions.
  • Query: Advanced search, retrieval, and mining capabilities—both automated and user-driven—to supply data and information where and when needed, provide direct insights, and enable analytic and prognostic applications.
  • Visualization: Novel approaches for displaying complex data and information to improve situation awareness, enhance monitoring and control, support diagnostics and prognostics, and prioritize tasks and responses.

Advanced Asset Management through Monitoring and Diagnostics

Advanced tools and technologies are needed for integrating disparate sources of data and information to enhance monitoring, trending, diagnostics, benchmarking, cross-functional analysis, and O&M decision-making.

Ongoing and planned EPRI R&D activities address the following topics:

  • Fault Signatures, Mapping, and Detection: Fundamentally, equipment degradation is expressed through faults. Mapping faults for equipment and subsequent ability to detect these faults are key to early detection, assessment, diagnosis, and determining the appropriate time and type of maintenance.
  • Embedded Diagnostics: Smart components and devices integrating condition monitoring and self-diagnostic capabilities for early-onset detection of faults, drift, and performance anomalies.
  • Integrated Prognostics: Advanced analytics linking fleet-wide online monitoring systems, equipment reliability and preventive maintenance databases, and other innovations to inform operational decision-making and guide condition-based maintenance.
  • Modeling & Simulation: Integrated materials degradation and aging, component, and process models for condition and remaining life assessment, forecasting, and prognostic applications.

Enhanced Operations and Maintenance through Digital Worker Technologies

To support O&M personnel as they make rounds and perform specific functions and tasks, innovations are needed to improve situational awareness, provide access to needed information and resources, ensure safety and procedural compliance, increase efficiency, avoid wasted or duplicative effort, and reduce errors and the need for rework. Digital devices in combination with access to the appropriate data will create digital workers and enable plant personnel to shift their focus from gathering data to planning and performing work.

The digital worker represents a combination of several technologies and the use of digital devices including mobile and augmented reality devices to access data while in the field.  Successful deployment of digital worker technologies requires an in-depth understanding of operations and maintenance functions, and appreciation for the necessary functionality of the mobile or augmented reality devices, and the requisite information that needs to be displayed or accessed via the devices while in the field. Because each of these areas require very different skill sets, collaboration is key to successful development and application.

Ongoing and planned EPRI R&D activities address the following topics:

  • Digital Worker: Handheld and wearable computing platforms integrating automated verification and reporting, information retrieval, augmented reality, and additional innovations to enhance inspection, diagnosis, calibration, repair, and other tasks.
  • Operations. Advanced tools, technologies, and strategies for monitoring real-time conditions, optimizing process control, increasing plant productivity, lowering costs, and balancing revenues against reliability impacts.
  • Maintenance. Advanced tools, technologies, and strategies for optimizing staffing, scheduling, inventory, and investment to reduce costs, maintain reliability, and ensure operational readiness when both online and offline.
  • Human Performance: Advanced tools and technologies for streamlining and automating work processes, capturing expert knowledge, training new staff, and delivering actionable information to plant personnel.