IT: the key to competitiveness

5 October 2002

The transformation of Innogy from state-owned utility into integrated energy company has had a significant impact on IT systems, in particular the extent to which they are integrated for use across the corporate centre and the power plant. Paul Cooper, Innogy, Swindon, UK

A combination of technological improvements and the pressures of the competitive market have meant that the IT systems now used by Innogy are unrecognisable from the primitive systems in operation in the early 1990s, with greater productivity from both plant and people.

IT as a catalyst for change

Although many systems used in power plants have been facilitated by improved technology, it is questionable whether the extensive changes that have been experienced would have been implemented without the liberalisation of the electricity markets.

Ever-tightening environmental emissions limits during the 1990s and the commissioning of large numbers of low emission, high efficiency combined cycle gas turbine plants have led to the displacement of older coal and oil fired stations. Many closed and others had to adapt to survive. All but the most modern coal fired stations moved away from baseload operation and were forced to adopt regimes with one or even two starts per day, known in the UK as two-shifting.

The number of starts annually has increased dramatically and many 500 MW units are now expected to start up to 200 times a year. To achieve this, significant metallurgical and engineering expertise has been built into 'expert systems' developed to provide operators with 'real time' guidance enabling them to optimise the balance between engineering risk and reward when cycling plant and during start-up and shutdown sequences.

Markets reward high availability and efficiency in baseload plant, but as markets evolve generators who run flexibly and predictably and who understand the costs, risks and value of reliability are the ones who reap the rewards.

In the UK market, the significant evolution was the introduction of the New Electricity Trading Arrangements (NETA) in March 2001, in which generators are heavily penalised for failing to meet contractual commitments due to plant failure.

Innogy's predecessor, National Power, acknowledged early that information technology was central to any performance improvement plan required to enable the company to succeed in a competitive market. In 1990 its Chief Executive said, "The winning organisations of the 1990s will be those which harness the opportunities offered by information technology".

Since then, conventional hard-wired control desks have given way to workstation-based soft desks, paper-based systems have all but disappeared and the PC has entered every area of business. The IT revolution has been paralleled with a cultural revolution amongst staff, who have become comfortable with and have adopted the new systems.

These IT systems have acted as catalysts for change, being used as the vehicle for change management and allowing commercial decision-making to be delegated to the point where the right decisions can be made quickly for maximum commercial benefit to the organisation.

The five essential building blocks

Since the introduction of the competitive electricity market in the UK, electricity generators, including Innogy, have developed, adopted and adapted numerous IT systems on their power plants. Innogy found that there were five systems on which all the others build and which are considered to be the five essential building blocks for modern power plant operation. These five are illustrated in the diagram below and indicate how they span the business from plant, to operator, to corporate systems.

Operational information

A key objective of a modern IT strategy is to give all members of staff the potential to access all business information - subject to the necessary security controls - from any standard desktop PC anywhere within a company, regardless of location. It is important that all staff, from plant operators to energy traders, use and exchange in real time the same information to support their business decisions.

Historically, the collection and dissemination of plant performance information was based on manual log sheets, chart recorders, printed reports and stand-alone computer systems. Recognising that reliable plant performance information, available to a broad range of staff, is the key to optimising plant information, Innogy developed its Operational Information System (OIS), an operational data historian. This is now regarded as the 'hub' of all operational and related commercial data for the operational sites.

The system has led to the development of a wide range of tailored added-value applications. Over the years, these applications have been implemented to suit the market as it has evolved. In the early 1990s the key focus was efficiency, especially for baseload plant. Alongside thermal efficiency applications, further applications for operational performance monitoring and analysis were developed, to identify the immediate commercial implications for the plant operations staff. These have been further refined and improved over the intervening years to provide an important tool for performance engineers and plant operators.

As pressure increased on plant to start-up and shutdown more frequently, plant life and damage assessment tools were developed to monitor the effects of these practices and address the concerns about plant damage from thermal cycling. In addition to this, start-up/shutdown analysis and management were developed to meet commercial pressures, retain efficient operation and minimise plant damage.

Another important area where OIS is exploited is for emission monitoring, recognising the need for modern power plant to be environmentally aware and to enable emissions trading.

Distributed control system

The implementation of OIS in power stations during the early 1990s provided an analysis platform, which identified numerous potential plant improvements. However, the realisation of the full benefits of some of these improvements is only possible if plant control and instrumentation systems are improved.

A standard approach has been adopted for the replacement of the distributed control systems in Innogy's major thermal power stations. No 'off-the-shelf' package could deliver the integration the company required with existing and future control systems, a suitable platform for installation of its strategic commercial packages or the flexibility of management using a 'soft' control desk, so Innogy, in conjunction with Thales, developed the Advanced Plant Management System (APMS). The first installation, at the 2000 MW West Burton power plant in the UK, in 1995, has been followed by installation on a further 24 units totalling 14000 MW. APMS now controls 20 per cent of the capacity in the UK.

APMS also allows a further link in the chain between the market and power plant to be put in place - an Integrated Load Control (ILC) system. ILC takes load dispatch instructions and allows these to be implemented at the power plant to maximise revenue. It accurately controls the generated load during periods when a frequency response service is being supplied and matches performance to contract requirements.

Dispatch and logging

Ensuring effective communication between traders and operators is essential to exploit market potential, and the most efficient way of facilitating this is through the use of IT.

Innogy took the decision that for such a business critical application it was necessary to develop its own system rather than rely on an adapted off-the-shelf product. This led to the development of the company's Electronic Dispatch and Logging (EDL) and Integrated Load Management (ILM) systems.

Dispatch instructions and plant capability/availability form the "contract" between dispatcher, commercial traders and the plant. To ensure efficient plant operation, trading and settlement activities, it is essential that relevant information is communicated and recorded accurately throughout the process and information cycle. Plant operations need to be responsive to changes in this information and performance will be measured in terms of compliance with any operation and production instructions.

Innogy developed its Electronic Dispatch and Logging system to improve the accuracy of the "dispatch and declaration" process, previously comprising telephone and fax calls and paper records of communications between the dispatcher, trader and the plant. EDL formats this digital information flow, validates instructions and declarations against plant capabilities, communicates with the appropriate plant operator/trader/dispatcher and records all "contract" data at this interface. In addition it makes this information available to other commercial and control systems.

As the market matured and changed with time, EDL needed the flexibility to adapt to reflect the various market pressures and requirements. It now provides the fundamental interface between plant operators and the market.

Integrated load management

One aspect of market deregulation or the operation of a power plant against a power purchase agreement, is the requirement to produce accurate and timely measurement of compliance against contracts.

Innogy recognised the importance of this for UK and international business interests and developed ILM. Dispatch instructions are received and accepted at a plant and are transferred to ILM for input as the new load control set point. By creating algorithms that reflect the compliance rules, ILM then monitors the production output against these instructions. Through the use of visual aids, graphical displays, performance scoring systems and operator prompts, the production process is managed to ensure contractual commitments are met. The success of such an application is in the simple display to the plant operator, the fundamental driver being the efficient operation of the production process with an at-a-glance status indicator and guide.

The integration of the dispatch and operation activities ensures contractual compliance and an unambiguous record of the dispatch and production.

Work management

The fifth essential building block for modern power plant operators comes from the integration of maintenance applications. In a liberalised market there is inevitably a downward pressure on costs. The introduction of a sophisticated maintenance management system can enable the targeting of the maintenance budget and therefore save time and money.

Innogy wanted to include safety and contract management in its maintenance package and therefore developed its own package, known as PRISM.

PRISM provides a fully integrated work management system covering the maintenance life cycle of fault and preventative maintenance, including the management of plant safety, tools, analysis, budgets and contract maintenance, ensuring a unified maintenance approach. The integration of this with operational events/running data and procurement activities has delivered an efficient and effective maintenance management tool.

The next five years

One of the messages from the experience of the last decade is the increasing pace of change. Advances in technology enable ever more innovative uses of information and control of plant. Rapid evolution of markets requires more information, more rapidly and will continue to stretch the boundaries of possibility. Therefore all IT systems need to be adaptable to suit new operating regimes and to take account of new trading and regulatory frameworks.

Currently, especially for large complex power plants, IT systems are perhaps best seen as tools to be used by operators and technical specialists, which enable them to run the plant to the commercial optimum. The companies that will flourish in a liberalised market are those companies that understand that successful exploitation of the market is best facilitated by innovative IT systems.

Innogy has already seen how IT systems have fostered innovation among its employees and is now actively developing these applications further to enhance the company's capabilities.

Linkedin Linkedin   
Privacy Policy
We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.