The world is at a crucial juncture in its history as it tries to find a sustainable solution for its every growing hunger for energy. While the final solution must include switching over the majority of energy production to renewable methods, the importance of improving efficiencies of conventional sources of energy cannot be understated.

This is exactly what GE is promising through a suite of technologies designed to change the way coal plants run. Coal is an extremely popular method of providing energy, particularly in lesser-developed nations. Some of those nations, like India and China, are also the most populous nations on earth and are only just beginning to see widescale urbanization.

Coal is forecast to remain as the second most popular method of providing power. What GE is proposing is to equip Coal plants with close to 10,000 sensors and bring them in the IoT age. This would be a huge leap for a technology that has changed little over the last few decades. The life of most coal plants is in excess of 50 years and not much would have changed in them from then to now.

The sensors that GE plans to install at these plants will collect precise information and collectively be able to increase the efficiency across all operations. According to GE, the increase in efficiency could be as much as 1.5% leading to a decrease in carbon emissions by almost 3%. This is a huge payoff for a technology that is not very expensive to implement when compared to the size of the energy industry.

A better watch on the functioning of all machinery at the plant is also expected to conservatively to reduce unplanned downtime by around 5%, thus increasing the total output of the plant. The most impressive statistic that GE’s analytical models have thrown up is a decrease of fuel consumption by 67,000 tons of coal per year while maintaining the same megawatt output of the plant.

For a technology that is about 40% of the global energy mix at the current moment, this is an unbelievable amount of possible gains.

GE’s Power Plant software applications will run on its Predix platform and would be able to continuously monitor the plant machinery for any signs of malfunction and intervene before the problem gets out of hand. It would also be able to provide a model of the impact all operational decisions have on the efficiency, CO2 emissions, cost and capacity of the plant.

The Boiler is perhaps the most important component of a Coal plant and GE claims that it can help integrate the combustion and soot cleaning process to drive higher efficiencies and reduce CO2 emissions by 2%, NOx emissions by 15% and improve the reliability of the machine.

The ability to analyze the quality of coal will help fine tune the combustion and exhaust management process reducing the amount of coal required to produce the same amount of power as earlier. GE’s software also keeps a track of the fuel and power price, the requirement of the plant and the demand of the plant to better guide customers trading in energy.

All of these gains are direct cost saving methods that will increase the viability of plants, so there is a huge economic incentive to adopt the technology aside from its environmental benefits. According to GE, this technology can help reduce greenhouse emissions by 0.58 gigatons. That is the same as removing 120 million cars from the roads, adding 550 square miles of forest area and converting 20 million incandescent bulbs to LED.

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