July 03, 2018
Digitizing hydro: Making value flow
By: Cristian Corbetti

Hydro is the oldest and largest source of renewable power. In terms of global capacity, large and small (river flow) hydro accounts for 1,152 GW—53 percent of global renewables generation installed capacity. Many of the large hydro assets are very mature, and so there is a clear need to invest in their renewal and modernization, with as much as half of all hydropower plants estimated to require upgrade by 2050.

But hydro is also having a renaissance in terms of its ability to play an important role in balancing other forms of renewables generation. Pumped storage is currently the single largest form of storage available at a competitive cost. And there are also new combinations of technologies in which hydro plays a key role. These include “flotovoltaics” with PV solar panels floating on hydropower reservoirs, geothermal and hydropower hybrids as well as the combined use of wind and hydropower.

Accenture’s work with hydropower producers around the world indicates that there are some key areas of improvement and innovation in particularly strong demand. The first of these is what might be thought of as the “classic” areas, using data and information to improve operations and maintenance performance. These classic areas revolve around the need to increase workforce and asset productivity within distributed plants, helping achieve, for example, more streamlined, secure asset maintenance processes.

But we’re also seeing greater demand for a more transformational development—the move to the digitalization of hydro and, in particular, the implementation of big data and analytics. We have been working closely with one hydro company to help them create new data-driven capabilities derived from the collection and analysis of a broad range of data from plant performance, O&M activities, as well as energy management that’s internal and external to the organization. By connecting data from multiple signals—including water levels, intake and outflows, turbine and vibrations, electrical and temperatures as well as events and alarms—a big data analytics solution is helping achieve unprecedented insight and control. Pulling all this information together in a cloud-based data lake is creating new possibilities for value, including greater efficiency and higher profitability and also supports the growth of hydro technology in the energy mix.

Powerful advanced analytics, alongside data visualization, are delivering new real-time monitoring and management capabilities to operational and commercial teams. These capabilities, in turn, are helping to achieve multiple benefits across a number of key operational and commercial fronts. These include optimizing production to increase recoverable revenues. End-to-end visibility and control of operations is increasing efficiency and lowering costs. Predictive maintenance not only improves workforce productivity, but also decreases faults and outages that would otherwise result in lost production. Real-time analytics enhance both operational and commercial decision making. And workers are safer as potential hazards can now be more accurately predicted.

Collectively, these new capabilities are delivering real bottom-line impacts. We are seeing efficiency gains deliver 0.5 to 1 percent revenue increases and between 5 and 15 percent reduction in lost production. In addition, maintenance CAPEX has fallen between 2 to 5 percent.

So how should hydro operators move forward to gain benefits like these? There’s no question digital technologies can deliver real value. However, without grounding implementation in a detailed business case, based on the specific context and operational situation of each unique business, technology alone is not enough. Hydro operators must think carefully about their own requirements and new business-user experiences before rushing to embrace digitalization. But those that take those necessary first steps should be able to unlock significant gains.

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