The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan (CPP) was filed with the Federal Register October 23, marking the first time in history U.S. power plants are legally required to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Welcome to the age of big data. The power sector has been slow to take advantage of the explosion of new data spawned by more sensors and new software, but the industry is beginning to get in cadence with the march toward quantification. A typical gas-fired power plant is equipped with more than 10,000 sensors. They measure and communicate movement, vibration, temperature, humidity and chemical changes in the air and water. But only a fraction of that data is analyzed and quantified for the day-to-day operation and maintenance of a power plant. The opportunities to exploit that data and make sense of the information to trim costs, increase sales and boost efficiency are growing at breakneck speed thanks to new analytical software solutions and services. Opportunity is knocking for power generators in desperate pursuit of increased efficiency amid flat or declining demand for electricity. Perhaps the most notable opportunity is GE Power’s Predix, a software platform that enables power producers to create a virtual power plant that runs in the cloud. The technology, unveiled in September, allows power producers to create a digital twin of an existing power plant. The “Digital Power Plant” offers power plant managers a real-time simulation of conditions inside the actual power plant, allowing operators to make quick adjustments and fixes to keep the plant running as efficiently as possible. It can be used to manage any asset in a power plant, GE said. For a typical gas-fired plant, a digital twin can save up to $50 million over the remaining life of the plant, GE said. For a new gas plant, the savings could be as much as $230 million. For a new wind farm, up to $100 million in savings could be realized. The benefits include lower fuel costs, lower emissions, increased performance and reduced downtime. The digital twin can be used to run simulations to determine the optimum operating conditions and become better at predicting and preventing a failure. GE’s software solution is being applied to the gas-fired units of New Jersey’s Public Service Enterprise Group, while Exelon is using it to boost the efficiency of its nuclear, gas and wind power assets. More power producers are expected to sign up for GE’s eye-opening innovation. “Our industry is on the precipice of a digital revolution,” said Michael Pacilio, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Exelon Generation. "For merchant generators, every bit of efficiency and productivity matters to our bottom line," said Rich Lopriore, president of PSEG Fossil.  "Having the best power generation technology -- both physical and digital -- is critical to our competitiveness.” Increased use of renewables, resiliency issues and sustainability concerns are just a few drivers behind the industry’s need to transform, and “digitization is the single biggest enabler of that change,” said Steve Bolze, CEO of GE Power.      But GE’s software solution is one of many examples of asset management tools being developed by the power sector to improve efficiency and performance. A major digital transformation of centralized power is underway. The Digital Power Plant and technologies like it will ultimately become a working tool for every power plant manager in the world. Flexibility is perhaps the greatest challenge facing power producers struggling to integrate growing supplies of intermittent wind and solar power into the grid. The Digital Power Plant and technologies like it will help the industry meet that challenge. That is why POWER-GEN International is developing a new conference track entitled “The Digital Power Plant,” which will center on issues surrounding advanced analytics, sensors, motion and control innovations, software solutions, and the Internet of Things. We’re recruiting committee members for this very important track now. To nominate someone, contact me at [email protected] Follow me on Twitter @RussellRay1.