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GE Power

Future of Energy:
Digital for Coal-Fired Plants
A Global Perspective on Benefits of
Operations Optimization for Coal Power
Executive Summary World net electricity generation by fuel, 2012-2040
(trillion kilowatthours)
The global power system is in the early days of a massive
transformation, and coal is at the center of the change. 40
Availability and use of renewable energy generation, Petroleum
such as wind and solar power, is on the rise. But the Nuclear

fluctuating nature of these sources creates challenges 30

for power and utility companies that need to continue 25
Natural Gas
running coal plants for their economic advantages or
because of a lack of alternatives. 20

15 Coal
Renewable energy is not a passing trend. Since 2005, 870
gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity have been 10
added to the global electric power system. In 2014, 37
GW of hydropower, 51 GW of wind power, and 40 GW of 5 Renewables

solar power were installed.1 0

2012 2020 2025 2030 2035 2040
Globally, countries are in different stages of the
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)
renewable energy transformation and each face
individual challenges in balancing the role of coal power in their own political- and resource-driven ecosystems. Some coal
plant owners are facing immediate implications. Coal operators in other regions are just beginning to strategize shifts to their
energy usage in an effort to make good on 2030 Paris commitments. Still other regions are envisioning an energy future not
heavily tied to fuel imports, a future that may be decades in the making.
This white paper will detail current state of coal in the energy mix for:

North America European Union China India

Japan Southeast Asia Australia South Africa

Regardless of each region’s unique balance, the conclusion is that coal will remain part of the energy mix well into the next
century for some countries. It isn’t really a question of if coal will be leveraged, rather how to best use it to meet power needs
in a mix with renewables while minimizing environmental impact in the face of growing emission regulations.

Over the next decade, there will be $1.3 trillion of value to be captured in the digital transformation of electricity. With
software and data analytics, combined with advanced hardware, new digitally-enhanced power generation will deliver greater
reliability, affordability and sustainability, helping lower costs, improve efficiencies, create growth opportunities and lower
emissions for coal fired operations.2

Those coal power organizations that embrace the power of digital to operate their plants with greater efficiencies while
driving down emissions will be well positioned to thrive in the changing environment of the energy sector. For early adopter
coal plants owners with an eye towards future viability, the promise of digitization and flexibility is great — often meaning
the difference between obsolescence and commercial success.

2 Future of Energy: Digital for Coal-Fired Plants

Potential 2030 renewable energy usage

European Union
Ukraine (1%) as a whole (14%)
Canada (2%) Poland (1%) Russian Federation (2%)
Sweden (1%)
Kazakhstan (<1%)
Denmark (<1%)
UK (1%)
Germany (2%)
US (15%) 14%
Belgium (<1%)
15% Republic of Korea (1%)
France (2%)
20% Japan (2%)
Italy (1%)
Morocco (<1%) Turkey (1%) China (20%)
Cyprus (<1%) 9%
Mexico (1%) Dominican Egypt (<1%)
Republic (<1%)

Colombia(<1%) Indonesia (2%)

Brazil (7%) India (9%)
Ecuador (<1%) Nigeria(2%) Iran (<1%)
7% UAE (<1%)
Kuwait (<1%)
Saudi Arabia (<1%)
Note: Percentage Ethiopia (1%)
indicates how much Kenya (<1%) Tonga (<1%)
renewable energy each Uruguay (<1%) Malaysia (<1%)
country consumes Argentina (1%) South Africa (1%)
Australia (1%)
in 2030 if the REmap
Options are deployed.

Source: “Roadmap for a Renewable Energy Future,” International Renewable Energy Agency, 2016

© 2016 General Electric Company. All rights reserved. 3

Global Coal — Current Market
North America
In 2014–2015 there were shifts in
energy usage in North America that U.S. electricity generation by sources 1950–2016
were indicative of longer-term trends.
As the availability of natural gas
increased, the use of coal declined.
Coal, used primarily for electricity
generation, reached its lowest level 40% 2016 Forecast
since 1997. Petroleum and renewable Natural Gas (33%)
energy saw associated growth. Wind 30% Coal (32%)

grew by 31% and solar by 5%.

20% Nuclear (19%)
The United States electricity generation
share from renewables and nuclear is 10% Renewables (8%)
expected to grow from 33% in 2015 Hydro (6%)
to 41% in 2025 while the total North 0% Other (1%)

American share of electricity generation 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010

from renewables and nuclear is Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review, March 2016
projected to increase from 38% to 45%
in 2025.3
The global share of renewable energy
Changing North American electricity generation mix in total final energy consumption is
2015 2025 Reference case set to increase by approximately 40%
projection from 335 EJ1 in 2010 to 445 EJ by
2030. Based on existing technologies,
29% Renewables renewable energy use can reach
Trillion killowatt hours

4 23% a total of 132 EJ in 2030. With the

18% 16% Nuclear right conditions, the global share of
20% 18%
3 renewable energy in TFEC could rise
from 18% in 2010 to as much as 36%
62% 55% Fossil Fuels
in 2030. This rise could be even greater
67% 59%
with electrification in transport and
heating, early retirement of power
0 plants and off-shoring of industrial
United States Canada Mexico North America production.4
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2016

4 Future of Energy: Digital for Coal-Fired Plants

North American Challenges
As North American markets saw greater availability of renewable energy sources, coal plant operators faced expectations to
flexibly partner with renewables and other power sources to generate energy during periods when renewables cannot meet
electricity demands. This, in combination with the increase of regulatory requirements and emissions standards, has created a
variety of challenges for North American coal plant owners. Many plants are facing reduced operational hours, variable loads,
decommissioning or moth balling.
Since 2012 generators have retired or announced retirements of 42 GW of coal-fired capacity — roughly 13% of the nation’s
coal-fired fleet. Between 2% and 12% for coal plant retirements have been predicted by 2025. The GAO stated that between
January 2012 and May 2014, 15 GW of summer coal-fired capacity had been retired.5 Some estimates have coal plant
retirements even higher — 60 GW by 2020.6 Digitization and optimization can extend the operating profile of coal-plants in
North America and aide in preparations for either conversions to other energy sources like gas or help with decommission
plans with less impact on demand or environmental concerns.

In North America, between 2% and

12% for coal plant retirements have
been predicted by 2025.

© 2016 General Electric Company. All rights reserved. 5

European Union
European energy use and reduction targets
The trend within the European Union (EU) is a continued
push towards energy reduction. Its energy use has reversed
through a combination of energy efficiency, structural 1800
changes in the economy and rising prices. In addition there
has been an increased availability of renewables. As a 1700

11.9% 20%
result, coal plants are being impacted.
EU energy use is now nearly 10% below a 2006 peak
and has returned to levels last seen in the early 1990s.7
The European Commission’s 2030 Climate and Energy 1400
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Framework has a goal of 27% energy savings for 2030.
ItP(t) EU-28: Primary Energy Consumption (Mtoe) 2020 Target
Not only is energy usage in the EU declining but sources of
Source: “Statistical Review of World Energy,” BP, 2014
energy, as in North America, are shifting as well. There is
continued growth in renewable energies. Oil and coal are
on the decline. There has also been a decline in nuclear Power mix in the EU
power which is expected to continue into 2030 as plants
face closure due to age and lack of popularity as an 35%
energy source.8
While indicators clearly show the decline in the use of 25%
coal for energy in the EU overall (declines by two-fifths
since 1990), usage by specific member states can vary
widely — some remain heavily dependent on coal. There
is a concentration of coal reliance in Eastern Europe, with
Poland deriving more than half of its energy from coal. 5%

The UK, Germany and Greece all have above-average coal 0%

Coal Gas Oil Nuclear RES*
shares in their energy mixes. France and Spain have the
2000 2010 2014 2015
lowest shares at around 5%.
Source: “Global Energy Trends,” Enerdata, 2016
Countries planning to continue and even expand coal usage *Renewable Energy Source.
are doing so for its current availability to support near
term energy demands. Going into 2030, thermal power is
Varied energy sources in gross EU energy
expected to continue to provide between 34–44% of all
electricity in Europe. Europe will need around 200 GW of
new thermal capacity to support demand.9 Gas Renewable Gas Renewable
18% 4.3% 23.4% 11.9%
12.4% Nuclear
Oil 1990 Coal Oil 2013 Coal
38% 27.4% 33.7% 17.3%

Source: Eurostat

6 Future of Energy: Digital for Coal-Fired Plants

“Thermal is a fundamental part of the
energy mix and there is an industry-wide Coal as a share of the energy mix in EU member states
understanding that power plants need to be
as flexible as possible,” said European Power
Plant Suppliers Association (EPPSA) President
Emmanouil Kakaras at the association’s 2016
Annual Technology Evening.10
Poland especially continues to plan for coal
expansion even though it had the EU’s second-
highest number of wind-power installations in
2015, with developers installing 1.26 gigawatts
of new capacity. The country now has 5.1
gigawatts of installed wind capacity, equivalent
to about 9% of the installed base in Germany. In
2015, investments in the wind sector were 26.4
billion Euros, a 40% increase on 2014.11
The age and efficiency of coal plants in the
EU varies. Many new plants coming online are
supercritical, and after 2020 more integrated
Darker colors represent a higher share for coal. The range runs from 54% in Poland down to
gasification combined cycle (IGCC) and ultra- 5% in France and Sweden.
supercritical technology will be deployed.12 Source: Eurostat

European Union Challenges

A challenge for the European Union is to find Varied energy mix of selected EU countries, with the EU
balance between its member states — those average shown for comparison
more reliant on coal and those driving for more 100%
renewables. For the coal plants, as in North
America, the challenge lies in being able to meet
the needs of that energy mix and build efficiencies.
Old EU coal plants can find renewed life through
optimization strategies. Modern plants have
the opportunity to build efficiencies in from the
beginning. And digitization and optimization within
plants and across the power grid can make the
balance work not just regionally but for the benefit
of all of the EU member states combined.
Poland Germany UK Denmark EU Spain France

Other Renewables Nuclear Gas Oil Coal

Source: Eurostat

© 2016 General Electric Company. All rights reserved. 7

China’s energy source mix is changing faster than expected. Some even believe China’s CO2 emissions have peaked —
15 years before the 2030 target.
In 2015 China installed a world record 32.5 gigawatts (GW) of wind power last year, and a record 18.3 GW of solar power. Coal
consumption fell 3.7%, nuclear power grew 30% and natural gas 3.3%. These trends mark a rapid diversification of China’s
electricity generation capacity with reduced dominance of coal.13
China may now be facing the realities of their shifting energy landscape, as well as addressing a growing coal sector
overcapacity. Plans for new coal-fired power stations in many parts of the country have been halted and construction of some
approved plants will be postponed until at least 2018. The decision impacts 200 planned coal plants.14
Even with the shift, coal is tied to the future of China until 2030. This expectation was set in the U.S.–China climate agreement
when China indicated 2030 as the year that coal use would peak, allowing plenty of time for the continued use of coal.
Coal consumption still accounted for 64.0% of total energy consumption.15
Even with this diversity and growing emissions concerns, there will not be an immediate shift away from coal. Demand for it as
an energy source is considered too significant.16

China Challenges
As China continues to deliver on its China’s electricity generation capacity (GW) by energy source
commitment to diversify power sources,
coal plants will face the same challenges Year End Dec. 2014 2015 %Chg GW added
that those in developed countries are
facing now. And as recent changes in
Thermal 918.6 990.2 7.8% 71.6
China’s coal plant construction priorities
may show, China could be facing these
challenges sooner than the expected. Nuclear 20.1 26.1 29.9% 6.0
Not only will the nation’s older plants
need to adapt, but even more importantly
for China, new coal plants will need be Hydro 304.5 319.4 4.9% 14.9
planned thoughtfully — not just growth
for growth’s sake — and be able to
Wind 96.9 129.3 33.5% 32.5
integrate into a system of energy sources
both seamlessly and efficiently. There are
opportunities for China power producers
Solar 24.9 43.2 73.7% 18.3
to embrace digitization and analytics
to enable coal plants to become more
flexible in the face of increasing renewable Total capacity 1,365.0 1,508.3 10.5% 143.3
energy. This can be accomplished while
reducing emissions to more rapidly meet
Source: China’s National Bureau of Statistics Data, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial
their clean air goals. Analysis (IEEFA) Calculations

8 Future of Energy: Digital for Coal-Fired Plants

Power generation outlook by source
In India, coal has been and will remain vital to the

country’s energy infrastructure and economic historical projected
development. Coal accounts for roughly 68% 4,000
of electricity generation in India. Coal’s use in
power generation will likely have to expand to 2 3,000
billion tonnes by 2031–2032 in order to meet the
country’s growing electricity needs.17 2,000

Growth in industrial activities, population,

economy prosperity and urbanization along with
per-capita energy consumption are leading to the
continued growth of power demand for years to 2000 2010 2020 2030 2040
come. The demand for energy is expected to grow Other renewables Bioenergy Wind Solar PV

from current level of 1163 TWh to 1900 TWh by Hydro Nuclear Gas Oil Coal

2020 and 3300 TWh by 2040.18 Source: “India Energy Outlook”, International Energy Agency (2015), World Energy
Outlook 2015, OECD Publishing, Paris
To meet future demands and with a bid to push
clean energy projects, renewables will grow at
7% to reach from 79 GW to 462 GW by 2040. In 2015 India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced a target of 175 GW of
renewable energy capacity by 2022, which includes 100 GW solar power, 60 GW of wind power, 10 GW of biomass-fired power
and 5 GW of small hydropower.
Coal will remain the backbone of the India power sector and is expected to grow to 438 GW by 2040 with 41% share in total
installed capacity. Today 85% of the coal plants are based on sub-critical technology. By 2040 India will have 50% super-critical
coal plants that will boost average coal plant efficiency
from 34% to 38%.19 Coal-fired power outlook 2040
Coal energy will continue to be needed to provide continuity
500 39%
of energy supply. The India markets are very sensitive
to cost and include evening peaking requirements.
400 36%
Despite abundant sunshine, solar photovoltaic displaces
conventional sources during the daytime to save fuel costs, 300 33%

but will not help to meet peak demand needs in the evening.

200 30%
India Challenges
As India is grappling with challenges around coal supply 100 27%
and potentially stricter emissions regulations, there is a
likelihood that use of renewables will increase by 2030.
2010 2015 2020 2025 2030 2035 2040
Those that anticipate these changes will be able to remain
competitive by modernizing and optimizing their coal Ultra-supercritical Supercritical Subcritical Average
and IGCC efficiency
plants with digital as a priority. Digitization can help the of coal fleet
(right axis)
coal fleet remain flexible without compromising efficiency
Source: “India Energy Outlook”, International Energy Agency (2015),
or emissions during variable demand periods. World Energy Outlook 2015, OECD Publishing, Paris

© 2016 General Electric Company. All rights reserved. 9

Japan, South Korea, and other countries in Asia with few
indigenous energy sources are naturally reliant on energy
Nuclear power amounted for 27%
imports. Even more so now for Japan as nuclear power is of power generation before 2011.
no longer used.
After the Fukishima earthquake all of
Nuclear power amounted for 27% of power generation
before 2011. After the Fukishima earthquake all of the
the countries nuclear reactors were
countries nuclear reactors were eventually shut down. As eventually shut down.
a result, Japan spent about $270 billion, or around 58%
more, for fossil fuel imports in the three years following the
Fukushima accident.20
For Japan, coal has traditionally been the most affordable and abundant resource for energy generation, as liquid gas has
in the past been too costly. While Japan will have a continued reliance on coal, through imports and with coal development
projects of their own, it is projected that Japan’s coal consumption will continue to decline through 2040. Japan’s Federation
of Power Companies, a group of 29 power firms, set its own target in July 2015 to cut emissions per kilowatt of power sold
from 2013 levels by 35% by 2030 to 0.37kg/kWh.21
Current figures show a 2.7% decline in electricity demand
over 2015. Total electricity demand declined 8.7% year Japan’s share of total electricity production
on year for the month of January 2016, triple the rate of
Natural Gas Petroleum
decline evident over 2015. January 2016 coal imports 44% 8%
declined 13%.22
Wind 1%
As oil prices have declined, natural liquid gas has become Solar 3%
Geothermal 0%
a more affordable and plentiful option. Renewable energy Bioenergy 1%
916 Renewables
source usage is also on the rise as well. Japan has a goal of TWh 15%
doubling its renewable energy use to between 22 and 24% Hydropower 10%
by 2030. Industrial sector use of coal is expected to decline
after 2020, primarily as a result of reductions in steel
output as Japan’s population and domestic demand Coal Nuclear
decline.23 32% 1%
Source:, Monthly Report on Electricity Statistics,” Japan Ministry of Economy
Japan Challenges Trade and Industry 2016
With a current aversion to nuclear power and limited
indigenous energy resources, Japan is faced with coal and liquid gas import dependence as they look to supporting energy
demand cost-effectively. With declining energy usage overall and a variety of new options to choose from, their challenge is to
build efficiencies into their fossil-fuel usage and integrate renewables where they can. Coal plants in the country, built to work
in conjunction with nuclear, now need to adjust to the mix of renewables and gas. Digital solutions and analytics can assist
with managing fossil fuel consumption and anticipate consumption rates for purchase and transportation of fuel.

10 Future of Energy: Digital for Coal-Fired Plants

Southeast Asia
ASEAN electricty generation
As with Japan, Southeast Asian countries have typically 1,800
been dependent on coal as an affordable and abundant 1,600
imported energy source. And while they have contemplated 1,400
developing nuclear power to displace some of this reliance 1,200
on imported coal, the reality of their situation is that they 1,000

are starting from scratch with power plant development, 800
something that can sometimes takes decades in the 600
planning and development. 400
There are plans to scale up renewable energy in Southeast 200
Asia countries including Indonesia to provide a quarter 0
2000 2013 2020 2025 2030
of its energy mix by 2025 — up from about 6% last year.
Other Renewables Hydro Nuclear Gas Oil Coal
Indonesia, along with Thailand and Vietnam are among the
Source: IEA, Southeast Asia Energy Outlook 2015, New Policy Scenario
Southeast Asian players that have their eye on becoming
major growth markets.24
The first step in this growth agenda is to bring energy Energy mix: Southeast Asian countries
to the 615 million people in Asia Pacific with currently
no electricity today. Energy demand in Southeast Asia is Myanmar Vietnam
Generation capacity: 4.6 GW Generation capacity: 37.6 GW
expected to double by 2030. Coal is expected to be the Coal-based: 0.1 GW
Electrification rate: 34%
Coal-based: 12.8 GW
Electrification rate: 98%
dominant energy source that will help meet that demand.25
Thailand Philippines
Renewables are growing in availability and usage as well. Generation capacity: 37.6 GW
Coal-based: 7.5 GW
Generation capacity: 17.9 GW
Coal-based: 5.7 GW
Governments are currently revising their energy plans to Electrification rate: 99% Electrification rate: 88%

include more renewables and energy efficient technologies. Malaysia Indonesia

Generation capacity: 30.9 GW Generation capacity: 53.1 GW
But given the scope of growth, fossil fuel dependence will Coal-based: 7.7 GW Coal-based: 25.1 GW
Electrification rate: 99% Electrification rate: 88%
continue into the near future.26
Singapore Other Nations
Southeast Asia Challenges Generation capacity: 12.1 GW (Brunei, Cambodia, Lao PDR)
Coal-based: 0 GW Generation capacity: 6 GW
To fuel growth and energy demand in Southeast Asia, Electrification rate: 100% Coal-based: 0.7 GW
Electrification rate: 31%–76%
energy suppliers are expected to act quickly to meet the
Source: “Southeast Asia Coal Demand and Imports Presentation,” SCG
expected demand. Renewable energy will be a part of the Consulting, U.S. Energy Information Administration Conference, 2016
mix and there will be growth opportunities for coal power
plants in countries throughout Southeast Asia as well.
New plants and old will be expected to meet growing environmental scrutiny and be able to adjust as renewable energy grows
in usage. The challenge, as this growth rolls out, is for utilities to leverage coal intelligently and in a way that would balance
environmental concerns and profitability.

© 2016 General Electric Company. All rights reserved. 11

Australia’s coal production outpaces demand, fueling exports
Australia has an abundance of coal. It is
used to supply its own power as well as 500
exported to less resource-rich countries 450
such as Japan. But energy consumption
in Australia has been flat and the Production
expectation is that it will remain so. In
Million Short Tons

addition, Australia wants to fulfill on 300

its Paris commitment made to reduce 250
greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
Consumption of grid-supplied 150
electricity is forecast to remain flat for Consumption
the next 20 years, despite projected
30% growth in population and average 50

growth in the Australian economy, 0

increasing from an estimated 183,258 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010
gigawatt hours (GWh) 2015–2016 to
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Internation Energy Statistics
184,467 GWh in 2035–2036.27
Energy efficient appliances and strong growth in rooftop solar is fueling this flat demand situation. Solar electricity is
projected to increase by 350% from current levels by 2035–2036. This forecast increase is equivalent to 11% of current
operational consumption. Rooftop PV is changing patterns of demand. Summer maximum demand for electricity is forecast
to occur later in the day and not grow over the next 20 years. Winter maximum demand is forecast to grow faster and become
comparable to summer maximum demand from around 2030.28
The Australian Government’s extension of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) scheme provides for an increase of energy from
renewables from 9,500 GWh by 2010 under the old act to 45,000 GWh by 2020.
With the expectation that power demand will remain flat and the increase in solar power, plans for early closure of coal-fired
power stations are in progress.29

Australia Challenges
The constant cheap supply of coal power with a reduced need nationally has created an oversupply of electricity in Australia.30
Australian coal plant operators need to understand the best balance between exporting their abundant resource and
determining what is needed to support their own changeable mix of renewable energy. Australian coal power plants that
make the best decisions around how to meet these national challenges while supporting their own livelihoods with be in a
better position to thrive.

12 Future of Energy: Digital for Coal-Fired Plants

South Africa
More than 85% of South Africa’s installed electric generating capacity is powered by coal. Although the government prefers a
diversified generation portfolio with more renewable power — especially in the face of severe drought conditions — chronic
power shortages combined with the economic advantage of coal-fired generation suggest that coal will continue growing as a
primary source of energy supply for South Africa.31
50-plus billion tons of coal reserves fuel 90% of the country’s electrical generating capacity and provide a third of its liquid
fuels. Total coal consumption in Africa will increase from just under 5 quadrillion Btu in 2012 to 7 quadrillion Btu in 2040,
mainly as a result of demand in the electric power sector and metallurgical industries.32
On the renewables front, South Africa is in the nascent stages of the transformation. However, it does have a target of 6,000
new megawatts of renewable generating capacity by 2020 and 18,000 by 2030. There are 13 wind power plants and 31 solar
generating stations operating in South Africa and $6 billion has been invested in renewable energy installations. About 45
wind and solar projects are either in construction, financing or permitting stages.33

South Africa Challenges

Drought in South Africa is creating challenges for a country with a preference for coal as an energy source. If drought becomes
the norm in the region, coal plants will be faced with an extreme need to run more efficiently. Water scarcity is just another
element for South Africa to balance as they look towards the future and make decisions now that will serve South Africa’s
future energy needs. As energy sources become more diversified they will benefit from using digital tools to help better
understand how coal plants can play best in a new energy mix.

South Africa continues to rely on coal into 2040 but

targets 6,000 new megawatts of renewable generating
capacity by 2020 and 18,000 by 2030.

© 2016 General Electric Company. All rights reserved. 13

Global Challenges
Regardless of where a nation falls on the
transformation spectrum, power generators and Simulated dispatch of generation over one week in a high
utilities that rely on coal-fired power plants must renewable energy scenario
adapt to support the new energy mix.
As fossil fuels including coal work to meet energy
demand in conjunction with fossil, nuclear 75

Generation (GW)
and renewables, dispatch varies. This National
Renewable Energy Laboratory simulation shows 50
what this mix might look like across a week’s time
frame. 25
The expectation that coal plants ramp up and cycle
on and off to complement growing usage of natural 0
gas and the availability of renewable energy sources Mar 25 Mar 26 Mar 27 Mar 28 Mar 29 Mar 30 Mar 31 Apr 01
is putting a strain on their infrastructure and creating Curtailment Wind PV CSP Storage Other
inefficiency that are impacting profitability. Gas CT Gas CC Hydro Geothermal Coal Nuclear

Cycling can damage a plant and impact its life (annual load served by 25% wind, 8% solar photovoltaic). Notes: PV = solar
expectancy compared to base load operations. But photovoltaic; CSP = concentrated solar power; CT = combustion turbine;
CC = combined cycle
strategic modifications, software and analytics and
Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
operational changes can minimize the impact and
cost of cycling.34
Coal plants are challenged to balance the tradeoffs
between meeting demand and taking advantage of
favorable market pricing. All coal plants grapple with Trade-offs for coal plant operation
finding a balance with these tradeoffs. Analytics Optimize Dispatch
and optimization solutions can automate this
process, allowing plant owners to set their business
Reduce Improve Efficiency
strategies, constraints and desired outcomes.
Production Costs (Heat rate)
Challenges for global power generators and utilities
revolve around four areas:
• First, they must improve the operating
efficiencies within the installed fleet by bringing Improve Reduce
them up to current industry standards; Reliability Emissions

• Second, they must reduce unplanned downtime

and improve reliability;
• Third, they must address increasing pressures to Reduce Enhance Flexibility
dramatically reduce emissions; Maintenance Costs

• And finally, they must plan for the impact of Coal power plant tradeoffs demand balancing by analytics
increasing renewables and become more flexible
over time, while remaining profitable.

14 Future of Energy: Digital for Coal-Fired Plants

Digital is Redefining the Future of Coal
Coal-fired power plants play a critical role in supplying
global energy and will remain a major contributor into the GE’s Expanded Digital Portfolio
future. But inefficiencies, high emissions, low reliability, low
plant load factors and the expansion of renewables and
solar will continue to be major challenges. By leveraging Profitability
Business Insights
new digital solutions and analytics, power generators can Optimization
successfully address these challenges.

In fact, GE digital solutions can add 1–2% improvement Better,

in heat rate for a typical power plant and even higher Operations Faster Decisions
values for older, less efficient plants. Improvements in fuel Optimization
consumption improve heat rates, lower emissions, and
lower power consumption in auxiliary equipment, thereby Real-Time
lowering production costs. The environmental impact of Reliability
Asset Performance Actions
thermal improvement for an average plant could result in a Management
reduction of CO2 by 21 Mt per year.
Edge to Cloud
GE Operations Optimization
A vital digital technology for improving coal-fired power plants is Operations Optimization. GE Operations Optimization
improves plant productivity by pushing the operations envelope to be more flexible when markets demand while minimizing
emissions, outage and maintenance costs. It improves the ability to cycle when needed with greater efficiency using visibility,
insights, recommendations, and actions through powerful digital solutions. GE Operations Optimization is comprised of
Operations Evaluation and Plant Optimization.


Plant Optimization


Efficiency Flexibility Availability Capacity Emissions

Drives improvement Helps Improves Improves start Improves the Improves MV Effectively
in thermal overall MW & HR time, start fuel, company’s return & HR forecasts manages and
performance, across the plant ramp rate and on assets with vs. ambient lowers emission
operational against baseline minimum load more accurate conditions by rates for NOX,
flexibility, system by helping central by providing dispatch determining the SOX and CO2 by
availability, capacity operations insights that help offerings at recommended determining
and emissions increase Plant Managers lower operating configuration to the operating
by providing a production, identify optimal costs including achieve dispatch thresholds
consistent, accurate improve heat configuration, cycle efficiency, targets including during start up,
and easy-to- rate and manage process, or uptime, flexibility start up, ramp, turndown, full
understand view operating operational and start costs operating costs load or part load
of operations, margins across settings of especially when and margin goals. in compliance
performance metrics the fleet. each major participating with regulatory
and decision support component in capacity guidelines and
across the fleet. within the plant. markets. emission goals.

© 2016 General Electric Company. All rights reserved. 15

GE Operations Optimization in Action: Plant Optimization
Modern coal power plants rely on a complex network of
sensors, actuators, digital controllers and supervisory BENEFITS OF
computers to operate and coordinate each of the plant BOILER OPTIMIZATION
subsystems. Hundreds of feedback control loops serve
to monitor plant processes and perform appropriate Reduces heat rate 0.75%–1%
control actions, aiming to maintain optimum operating
Reduces soot blowing
conditions regardless of system disturbances such
as changes in coal quality or load demand. But the
complex, highly interrelated nature of power plant Reduces NOX 10%–15%
parameters means that close control is highly
challenging, and the plant is often not operated to the Maintains “sweet-spot”
limit of its potential capabilities. for operations engineer

As an example, GE’s boiler optimization module,

only one component of Operations Optimization, is
designed to improve boiler efficiency by working with CASE STUDY
existing DCS control systems.
“GE’s boiler optimization solution can
The air-fuel mix component provides real-time anticipate, predict and evaluate which makes
optimization by manipulating controls related to
it a very power tool for the operators to utilize.”
fuel and air mixing to improve heat rate, reduce NOX
John Allen, Operations Manager
and better control CO. It uses neural network based Owensboro Municipal Utilities, Owensboro Kentucky
optimization and model predictive control (MPC)
to extract insights about the combustion process, Challenge: OMU needed to reduce emissions and
determines the optimal balance of fuel and air flows improve flexibility.
in the furnace and responds to changing conditions in Solution: Early adopter of Operations Optimization.
the boiler. It can adjust your control system biases for
Results: Reduced emissions with NOX benefits of
consistent positioning of dampers, burner tilts, over-
10–17%, improved heat rate by 0.5% and significantly
fire air and other control parameters to minimize NOX reduced outages.*
and CO and reduce dry gas heat loss.
*Representative customer outcomes are not guarantees of results.
The soot-cleaning component provides real-time
optimization to determine when each soot-cleaning
device should be activated in order to improve heat rate Plant Optimization — Soot Blowing Analysis
and reduce unnecessary wear and tear on the boiler.
This can prevent unplanned downtime by not blowing
on already clean surfaces, thus causing tube ruptures.

The technology has been deployed at over 100 sites

across the globe. Fundamental to the improvement
is the ability to build mathematical relationships
that model the process behavior. With accurate
predictive model of the boiler processes, fast, optimal
adjustments can be made. Plant Optimization provides
the inputs and decision making analysis that can
improve production, reduce heat rate and increase
operating margin.
Improve availability and efficiency by managing soot cleaning at the right time.

16 Future of Energy: Digital for Coal-Fired Plants

The Numbers Add Up
If GE’s Digital Power Plant were installed on compatible power plants globally and it improved efficiency by 1.5%, then
annually carbon dioxide emissions from thermal power plants would fall from 11,226 million Mt to 10,757 million Mt. That
is a CO2 reduction of 469 million Mt or 4.2% globally simply by adding digitalization to existing coal-fired power plants around
the world!


CO2 reduction of
million Mt 469
million Mt million Mt
CO2 before CO2 after
Digital Power Plant Digital Power Plant

Removing 469 million Mt is equivalent to: 35

Removing Eliminating electrical use of Adding

~250 Million ~70 Million ~118,442
cars globally36 homes annually new wind generators

Burning Burning
~1.1 Billion fewer 500 Billion Pounds less
barrels of oil annually coal annually

© 2016 General Electric Company. All rights reserved. 17

With nearly 900 billion tons of coal reserves in the world today, coal will continue to be a viable, low-cost means for power
production globally and it is imperative that we use these resources as efficiently as possible. Operations Optimization is
designed to help power generators tackle increasingly complex and challenging operational issues, meet business demand,
align people and systems, and reach “true” plant capacity while still reducing cost, downtime and emissions.
Operations Optimization isn’t just about expanding current plant capacity — it’s about redefining the future in a world
increasingly dedicated to efficiency and the reduction of CO2 emissions. Operations Optimization provides the insight to act
towards increased operational excellence in compliance with standard regulations and emissions goals.
Now power generation leaders can align operation priorities to business strategy at scale across their fleet, regardless of
generation source. Whether the fleet has a portfolio of steam plants like coal, biomass, nuclear or plants that run gas, liquid
fuel or renewable sources such as wind or hydro, Operations Optimization is capable of delivering results regardless of OEM.

Why GE?
GE Power is a world leader in power generation with deep domain expertise to help customers deliver electricity from a wide
spectrum of fuel sources. We are transforming the electricity industry with the digital power plant, the world’s largest and
most efficient gas turbine, full balance of plant, upgrade and service solutions as well as our data-leveraging software. Our
innovative technologies and digital offerings help make power more affordable, reliable, accessible and sustainable.

18 Future of Energy: Digital for Coal-Fired Plants

1. “Roadmap for a Renewable Energy Future,” International 19. “International Energy Outlook,” U.S. Energy Information
Renewable Energy Agency, 2016 Administration, 2016
2. “Digital Transformation of Industries,” World Economic 20. “FY2013 Annual Report on Energy (Energy White Paper
Forum, 2016 2014),” Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry,
3. “Annual Energy Outlook,” United States Energy 2014
Information Administration, 2016 21. “Electricity Generated and Purchased Bulletin,”
4. “Roadmap for a Renewable Energy Future,” International Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, 2015
Renewable Energy Agency, 2016 22. “Japan’s Energy Transformation 2016, Japan Briefing,”
5. “EPA Regulations and Electricity, Update on Agencies Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis,
Monitoring Efforts and Coal Fueled Generting Unites 2016
Retirements,” United States Government Accountability 23. “International Energy Outlook,” U.S. Energy Information
Office, 2014 Administration, 2016
6. “Annual Energy Outlook,” United States Energy 24. “Hot Growth Markets in the Spotlight,” EY, 2016
Information Administration, 2016 25. “South East Asia Coal Demand and Imports
7. “Statistical Review of World Energy,” BP, 2014 Presentation,” SCG Consulting, U.S. Energy Information
8. “Global Energy Trends,” Enerdata, 2016 Administration Conference, 2016

9. “International Energy Outlook,” United States Energy 26. “South East Asia Coal Demand and Imports
Information Administration, 2016 Presentation,” SCG Consulting, U.S. Energy Information
Administration Conference, 2016
10. “What future in Europe for ‘vilified’ coal and gas power
plants?” PowerEngineering International, 2016 27. “National Energy Forecasting Report,” Australian Energy
Market Operator (AEMO) 2016
11. “Wind in Power,” European Wind Energy Association,
2016 28. “National Energy Forecasting Report,” Australian Energy
Market Operator (AEMO) 2016
12. “Technology Roadmap High-Efficiency, Low-Emissions
Coal-Fired Power Generation,” Internal Energy Agency, 29. “National Energy Forecasting Report,” Australian Energy
2013 Market Operator (AEMO) 2016

13. “China Delivers Global Record Wind and Solar Installs 30. “State of the Energy Market,” Australian Energy
While National Coal Consumption Drops,” Institute for Regulator, 2016
Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, 2016 31. “International Energy Outlook,” U.S. Energy Information
14. “On Promoting the Orderly Development of China’s Coal,” Administration, 2016
Chinese Government National Development and Reform 32. “International Energy Outlook,” U.S. Energy Information
Commission and the National Energy Administration, Administration, 2016
2016 33. “State of Renewable Energy in South Africa,” South Africa
15. “Statistical Communiqué of the People’s Republic Department of Energy, 2015
of China on the 2015 National Economic and Social 34. “Power Plant Cycling Costs,” National Renewable Energy
Development,” National Bureau of Statistics of China, Laboratory, 2012
35. Estimates based on the EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalents
16. “Coal Markets in Motion,” Brookings Institution, 2015
17. “Coal Markets in Motion,” Brookings Institution, 2015
36. Estimate based on the global average for vehicle
18. “International Energy Outlook,” U.S. Energy Information emissions.
Administration, 2016

© 2016 General Electric Company. All rights reserved. 19

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