The global power industry is undergoing fundamental changes of decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitalisation, which pose significant challenges to energy systems and the coal sector, especially coal‑fired power generation. The power sector has begun a digitalisation process that is transforming the way electricity is generated, transmitted and distributed, and will help it meet the challenges.
A suite of digital technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Big data, Analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), Digital Twins, the Cloud, and Mobility have been developed and are finding applications in power generation processes. Digitalising coal power plants with these innovative technologies will increase their efficiency, affordability, reliability, and sustainability. Digitalisation of power plants will be based on five key functions: connection, monitoring, analysis, prediction and optimisation. Today, the ever faster and ubiquitous connectivity provides the foundation to a digital plant by enabling the connection of sensors, devices, assets and people. The IIoT provides the building blocks of a digital plant, allowing for collection, transmission, analysis and management of operations, processes and assets data. AI-enabled analytics is the core technology for the next generation of coal power production. Advanced analytics, in conjunction with Big data, provides tools to identify or predict any issues and determines the appropriate actions with real-time responses to resolve or prevent the problems, and help power producers make informed decisions to maximise the performance and profitability potential of assets, plants and fleets to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Digital technologies can also be applied to coal mining, helping to automate and optimise coal production, improve operational efficiency, environmental performance, workers’ safety and production workflow at reduced costs.
This report studies the digital transformation of the coal sector with a focus on coal-based power generation. The latest developments in digital technologies that can be applied in coal power plants are reviewed, and how they affect power systems and coal power generation, their potential benefits and risks are discussed.
Digital transformation of the coal sector
Dr Qian Zhu