The digital transformation of the power plant: It’s a twin-twin situation

“Digital platforms are worthless without content,” the prizewinning columnist Maureen Dowd once wrote. 

That’s truth to power in the media world, and yet Ms. Dowd likely doesn’t know a predictive maintenance algorithm from a digital twin. So let’s flip her well-founded notion around so that it is relevant to a power plant manager: Machinery operations and decision making in the power generation sector would be incomplete without the knowledge, vision and control afforded by the ones and zeroes.

The power grid can be fueled by coal, gas, solar, wind, nuclear, hydro or stored energy resources, but ever increasingly the flow of electrons is routed, balanced and contextualized with data at the helm.

At the same time, against all these windows of digital opportunity comes the threats from those who would enter them malicously. Our power plants and grids are ever connected, and they require guardians at the cyber gate.

The Digital Transformation of the Power Plant track at the POWERGEN International conference and exhibition–happening November 19-21 in New Orleans–focuses on all those opportunities and vulnerabilities.  

“Digital transformation impacts all aspects of the power industry: Supply (generation and operations); Network (transmission and distribution) and Retail (customers),” said Scott Affelt, president of XLMPR Energy and chair of the POWERGEN International Digital Transformation track. “In the PGI Digital Track, we will focus on how digitalization and analytics can help generators lower operating and maintenance costs and improve availability and reliability. Digitalization initiatives like these may be the key to keeping many generators profitable and creating growth through new products and services for customers.”

The first session on Tuesday, November 19 is “Practical Applications of Digital Analytics,” offering utility-scale case studies on predictive maintenance, advanced gas turbine combined cycle plant monitoring and early warning systems for power plants. Presenters include representatives from Cogentrix, Korea South-East Power Co. and Enel.

The Digital Transformation of the Power Plant track will continue with a second session focused on putting the technology to work improving operator and plant performance. Experts from AES, Siemens, Emerson and Korea South-East Power will highlight lessons learned on simulator training, virtual reality and the concept and applications withing digital twinning, or creating a virtual copy of a power plant’s operational data.

Finally, the third session on Wednesday, November 20 will be a high-level panel exploring cybersecurity challenges, hurdles and successes. Leaders from Mercer Thompson, Emerson and Louisiana utility Cleco Corp.’s Chief Digital Officer, Mark Madsen, will supply a data-driven conversation moderated by Tom McDonnell, Rockwell Automation’s manager of power industry sales for North America and a member of POWERGEN’s industry advisory committee.

The utility guidance and participation in the Digital Transformation track is strong, lest anyone think the info is coming purely from outside the power plants. Those utilities with people who are either speaking or helped author the papers selected by POWERGEN include Duke Energy, Cleco, Enel, AES, Korea South-East and Southern Co.

(Rod Walton is content director for Power Engineering and POWERGEN International. He can be reached at 918-831-9177 and




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