Opinion: Creating the perfect hue for a bright energy future



Photo credit: GE Power Conversion.


By Francesco Falco

Red, yellow and blue are the three primary colours. They are the building blocks of every other colour. Individually, each is bold and bright, but by combining all three, we can create so much more.

The same principle, interestingly, could be applied in the industrial space as well. Today, there are three key trends that resonate across the industry ecosystem—innovation, collaboration and the embracement of digital platforms. Just like creating colours, individually, each is critical and significantly contributes to the market growth, but when combined, these building blocks give us the potential to create something even brighter.

Innovation that works

In its simplest term, innovation is defined as a new method, idea or product. Innovation responds to an industrial challenge and may sometimes result in disruptive changes.

We have seen innovation come to life as hybrid solutions, which are an effective way to kerb unpredictable renewable energy generation. It combines two renewable sources, or more, on one site so that they can consolidate and complement each other. Hybrid energy’s future will lead us to a consistent baseload, without the top up of fossil fuel, no matter what the weather condition is. Pumped hydro storage can further serve as a natural battery to store energy when there’s excessive power and then release it when needed.

While people often think of ”innovation” as something completely new, sometimes it can also refer to incremental changes such as an adjustment of the materials used, which leads to significant increases in efficiency.

For example, when using Silicon Carbide—a diamond-like substance—instead of traditional silicon chips in a solar inverter, its high power density feature can reduce power losses by up to 50 percent. There are other huge potential gains to be made through such a “small” change. If a 100-megawatt (MW) solar plant was to be just 1 percent more efficient, it could result in more than $2.5 million worth of additional energy being produced over the plant’s lifetime.

Innovation goes further across various industries as we see. In the oil and gas industry through the use of Integrated Compressor Line (ICL), a fully integrated compression system enables cleaner gas. It uses a high-speed electric motor and centrifugal compressor in a single sealed casing, replacing the need for a typical combustion engine. This leads to a cleaner operation, higher performance and increased reliability. In 2016, nine ICLs, some of which with a power capacity of 14 MW, one of the largest in the market, have been sold worldwide, signalling clean technology is leading the way.

A joined-up approach

To maximise the effectiveness of innovation, companies need to ensure their efforts aren’t siloed. This means collaboration is essential both internally and externally.

Externally, through long-term partnerships, industry-wide collaboration can leverage collaborators’ commercial and industrial expertise to create synergies and help spur the industry forward. Such as the development renewable energy products and hybrid solutions around the world. This could include onshore and offshore wind farms, solar plants and hybrid gas-renewable projects. The focus will be on energy efficiency, including both new ventures and the conversion of existing mature or decommissioned assets.

Elsewhere, a recent partnership between my organisation and shipbuilding companies to design the next generation of podded propulsion systems with applications that include the cruise market. The collaboration is set to unlock the next generation of marine pods with greater fuel efficiency and improved manoeuvrability.

Working with governments also plays a crucial part. In Nigeria, an agreement with Northern States Governors’ Forum to deliver five solar plants which will supply 500 MW of electricity across five states in Northern Nigeria.

Embracing a digital future

The world is approaching a tipping point in the development of energy technologies, as the physical and digital worlds integrate, changing how we work. We see different energy sectors at different stages of digital readiness, but the ambitions are huge across the board.

Big data has become a crucial tool for all organisations, allowing them to gain holistic insights into things such as inefficiencies, areas where costs can be saved and where productivity can be improved. As the Industrial Internet continues to grow, vast data sets can be collected and analysed as more and more, machines are connected and come online. As this happens, operators can use these insights to run their plants more efficiently, spotting failures and problems sooner, saving time and money while maximising output.

Moving the needle in the marine industry, the recent collaboration between Maersk Drilling and my organisation is trying to achieve just that. The two companies aim to increase productivity through Big Data and targets to reduce maintenance costs (thanks to a shift to predictive maintenance) up to 20 percent.

We have also seen steps being made in the solar industry. Digital solar solution, a suite of software and service solutions, can help operators detect early failures of components such as inverters and can help monitor assets across multiple farms from a single point. It uses data and analytics to reduce unplanned downtime, improve reliability, minimise the total cost of ownership and reduce operational risks through providing operators with the real-time operational data to enable better and faster decision-making.

Three colours to create a perfect hue

It may only take two colors—blue and yellow—to make green, but by adding a third, we can create so much more. Similarly, we could just use two of our building blocks to create something good, but by integrating all three, we can create something greater: a bright energy future.

Francesco Falco, chief commercial officer, GE’s Power Conversion


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