IIoT in 2017: 3 Reasons to Make the Leap

Heidi Vella

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is poised to enhance the way power plants and utility companies operate—but only if the industry lets it.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is poised to enhance the way power plants and utility companies operate—but only if the industry lets it.

Slowly but surely, technology innovation in the power sector, led by some forward thinking companies, is creeping toward creating a connected and integrated ecosystem that offers ample opportunity to improve routine operations. From streamlining costs and reducing risk to tackling compliance complexity and actively managing aging assets using big data, IIoT in 2017 has lots to offer.

Yet, it is often said that the power-generation sector is not excited about IIoT. Could it be that taking the leap is still too overwhelming? Managing connections, working with a third party, dealing with an industrial quantity of data, adopting machine-to-machine communication, and implementing cyber security are all major concerns for managers.

Despite how daunting it seems, IIoT can be more of a help than a hindrance. Here are three reasons to consider the benefits of IIoT in 2017.

1. Connect the Entire Operation

In power generation, IIoT is about connecting the operational plant to the organization that owns it. The integration of information technology and operational systems to collect plant data makes important information available to all functions within the company.

IIoT can unite the plant, the headquarters, and the organization's trading arm so they can each see the same data and insights and understand the plant's needs, constraints, and where there is an opportunity for improvement. It is powerful when everyone is similarly informed. For example, headquarters, who may not always feel that they are completely in the loop, can get clearer insights into what is happening inside the plant to better collaborate with the local plant team.

The energy trading and marketing arm of the company can better connect to the supply side by also having easy access to relevant information about the power-generation assets, such as heat rate, capacity, etc. This information is normally acquired via a phone call to the plant manager. With IIoT, however, the trader can access more detail on the power-generation side independently, enabling them to do their job better and find better ways to get more economic value out of the existing plant capabilities, while managing and sharing risk.

2. Unburden the Plant Manager

Staff safety, regulatory compliance, and equipment reliability are just some of the things plant managers worry about daily. Culturally, in power-generation management, transitioning from doing things one way to another can be seen as cumbersome. Most plants still do reactive maintenance, while very few have moved to cloud-based or predictive maintenance.

Yet, IIoT managed by third-party systems can provide real value—especially to the plant manager. IIoT helps ensure that there are no surprises when the plant comes down for maintenance, as equipment can be prepared prior to maintenance, reducing downtime. The condition of the equipment is always known, so there is no need for lengthy inspection processes.

Far from being a burden, data, when managed and analyzed, can be used to reduce the plant manager's daily strain. Sensor data can monitor and report on the risk of failure and non-compliance, as well as health and safety, only raising an alarm when action needs to be taken. This action is often preventative rather than reactive.

Therefore, IIoT allows the power plant to run to the best combination of its objectives every hour of the day. Constantly considering reliability and maintenance intervals and enhancing efficiency and flexibility for a plant ultimately increases returns for its owners.

Fixing today's problems, while positioning the plant to be ready for tomorrow's, will reduce the burden on the plant manager and result in better operations.

3. Prepare the Plant for the Future

The power industry, compared to other energy-related industries like upstream oil and gas, has been slow to adopt IIoT. However, if large utilities are to be competitive in the future, they need to be modern and agile enough to adapt to change. Currently, most are not.

As the landscape of the power-generation community continues to evolve, with more renewables, disruptive technologies, distributed generation, and so on, history shows that those who have embraced technology are in the best position to adapt to industry-wide change.

Major challenges facing the industry, such as cyber security, can be better managed through IIoT. All power plants currently have digital elements, so keeping your asset a data island isn't necessarily the path to safety. Why not, instead, proactively monitor and use analytics to detect network security devices, manage network flow, provide alerts, and enforce protocol if network traffic is suspicious?

Going from an analogue world to a digital world is inevitable and already happening. It is better to establish the cultural change in your organization now rather than later. The sooner you get involved, the more advanced and better equipped your assets will be to handle any bumps in the road. So, ask yourself: If not now, when?


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