While Automation World often covers the many digital transformation initiatives occurring throughout the manufacturing industries, application of the same technologies in power plants and other critical electric infrastructure are taking place at a similar pace, sometimes exceeding those in manufacturing. The utilities industry has long been an adopter of Internet of Things (IoT) enabled devices and other cutting edge technologies to improve their operations, whether it’s by using digital twin simulations to remotely analyze an asset’s health, maintenance needs, and lifetime performance expectations, deploying smart meters and other edge devices throughout across the electrical grid, or even relying on artificial intelligence (AI) based analytics to improve readiness for storms and other crises.
Following from this trend, the United States’ largest public power provider, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which supplies electricity to companies that serve 10 million people throughout its seven-state region, recently selected Emerson to assist in modernizing its operations. The project is a part of TVA’s five year, $110 million investment to digitally transform its power generating fleet through advanced operations, enhanced cybersecurity, and digital twin-enabled training.
Emerson’s focus will be on the 980-megawatt Magnolia Combined Cycle Power Plant in Mississippi, which uses steam generators to repurpose waste heat from burning natural gas, increasing electricity production by up to 50%. The upgrades will include replacing existing systems with Emerson’s Ovation Automation software that features a control system, simulation technology, and cybersecurity safeguards. In addition, digital twin simulations will be used to provide advanced training to operators. Finally, cybersecurity measures will be enhanced—a pressing concern in light of numerous hacking attacks on utilities and electric infrastructure in recent years.
Emerson and TVA also point out the issues with face-to-face interaction that have emerged in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis have made now the ideal time to move forward with the expansion of their virtual capabilities.
“TVA is committed to digitally transforming its fleet so it can provide more reliable and cleaner electricity to its customers,” said Bob Yeager, president of Emerson’s power and water business. “Our technologies have allowed us to keep this critical project on schedule and prioritize the safety of communities and operations.”
Currently, the Magnolia project is scheduled to be completed by 2022.