The diving robot can be steered with centimetre precision to the impeller of the turbine. The anomaly detectors had previously responded based on the sensor data from the one hundred tonne machine set. The “digital twin” revealed a massive reduction in the service life of important machine parts. And while the plant engineers shut down the turbine for a quick inspection, the inlet area of the machines is also checked for deposits under water with the real-time 3D sonar in case the system needs draining.
A glimpse into the working world of the future has already become a reality at the Mur power plant in Rabenstein, Styria: VERBUND presented the “Digital Hydropower Plant 4.0” at an international workshop of the European power plant association VGB PowerTech and the Graz University of Technology.
Hydropower goes digital: Europe’s first exhibition in the pilot power plant
What was groundbreaking just a few decades ago – such as the central remote control of entire groups of hydropower plants – is now a technically proven standard. Digitalisation now covers all areas of everyday life. The generation of electricity from hydropower, which has proven its worth for over 100 years, also faces the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution.
Two years ago, with its innovation program “Hydropower 4.0 - Digital Hydropower Plant”, VERBUND launched development modules to equip the hydropower industry for the requirements of the energy revolution: “Our goal is to evaluate all conceivable possibilities of digital applications for hydropower and to put the most promising technologies to the test in a pilot power plant,” said Karl Heinz Gruber, Managing Director of VERBUND Hydro Power GmbH, during today’s first live demonstration of the digital hydropower plant 4.0.
“VERBUND was able to count on the close collaboration with numerous Austrian and international research and technology partners right from the start,” said Gruber. This approach is unique in the hydropower industry and is therefore attracting a great deal of international attention.
Digital innovations have been tested and further developed at the Mur power plant in Rabenstein
Highly promising digital test systems have been designed and tested at the pilot power plant in Rabenstein for over a year. The practical suitability of these technologies was then tested in daily operation around the clock and, where necessary, developed further for optimum use in the hydropower sector. “The Hydropower 4.0 programme achieves all dimensions for a successful digital path: agility, cooperation across all areas, speed in the implementation of innovative concepts, based on a flexible IoT platform,” says Thomas Zapf, manager of the holding division for digitalisation at VERBUND AG.
The requirements placed on the respective systems are extremely challenging, not least because the already high level of efficiency and reliability of hydropower has to be increased further. According to Bernd Hollauf, VERBUND project manager for “Digital Hydropower Plant 4.0”, “The range of digital technologies tested in the Rabenstein pilot power plant is extremely diverse and ranges from intelligent sensor concepts, anomaly detection and forecasting models, digital twins, mobile assistance systems, virtual power plant models, innovative autonomous surveying and inspection concepts to networked platform solutions.”
Intelligent sensor concepts, such as acoustic monitoring systems, combined with artificial intelligence form the basis of the data for anomaly detection and forecasting models. Such models enable a malfunction or machine failure to be predicted in good time.
The term Digital Twins refers to specially developed forecasting models in the pilot power plant. Using the sensor data, they calculate the remaining service life of important machine components. In addition, the effects of different operating modes can be investigated.
If a malfunction cannot be avoided despite the digital monitoring systems, mobile assistance systems promptly provide all the information required for troubleshooting via mobile terminals (e.g. tablet, smartphone, data glasses) at any location inside the power plant. A virtual power plant model offers promising new possibilities, for example for training purposes, for preparations for crisis situations, for conversion projects or, in defined cases, for the operation and maintenance of hydropower plants.
New concepts can be developed for the prescribed comprehensive inspection and surveying of the facilities and the subsoil thanks to modern technologies, most of which originate from the offshore sector. So-called Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) and Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASV) are already in use at individual power plants, and autonomous surveying and inspection could soon become a reality in all plants.
Last but not least, the aim is for networked platform solutions in hydropower plants to combine previously isolated data and information systems. Data should be available locally and centrally at the push of a button across all areas and enable rapid analyses.
“Digital technologies will not displace our employees in the power plants but rather support them in their day-to-day work in the form of a reliable assistance system,” says VERBUND Hydro Power Managing Director Karl Heinz Gruber.
Digitalisation barometer – world premiere of a status assessment system
An evaluation tool tailored to the specific characteristics of hydropower is intended to support hydropower companies in implementing the digital transformation: The “digitalisation barometer” enables the evaluation of both the actual state and the target state three years from now compared to the industry average. More than 30 areas of action for digital measures will be assessed and evaluated.
The digitalisation barometer enables each hydropower company to independently compare its current status on the way to the digital future with its own targets and the overall market environment.
High-level exchange of experts: European hydropower specialists in Styria
VGB PowerTech is the international trade association of power plant operators and, together with VERBUND and the Institute for Electricity Economics and Energy Innovation of Graz University of Technology, organised the 2nd international workshop “Digitalisation in Hydropower” in Graz in order to promote the pan-European exchange of experience among hydropower experts.
For one day, 170 experts from 90 companies and institutions from 14 countries came together for a workshop chaired by VERBUND to discuss digital developments in the energy sector. The focus was also on data protection and cyber security.