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Chinese operators are using AI to inspect their power plants

When your power plant is set to deliver renewable energy for fifty or a hundred years, keeping the equipment in running order is business critical. SPIC, one of the top ten hydropower companies in the world by installed capacity, has introduced a suite of innovative tools to help automatise and optimise inspection and maintenance routines at its power plants in China.

Twenty-nine patented innovations and four proprietary software solutions have been combined to form the Hydropower Smart Remote O&M System. Together, they give us a glimpse of what life at a power plant could look like tomorrow.

Every day at the Wuqiangxi hydropower plant in the Hunan province, a fleet of robots and drones equipped with image and sound recognition tools, infrared thermometer and other devices, patrol the machine floors to collect data. This information is then used by a remote platform to give a diagnosis of the station’s health in real time.

Artificial intelligence generates maintenance suggestions that allow upkeep to be based on equipment condition rather than scheduled operations. The system is also capable of recommending start-up and shut-down sequences to minimise disruptions during maintenance operations and maximise power output. The massive amount of data is analysed in real-time thanks to a unique architecture, based on an advanced edge-cloud model.  

A plant operator staff reviews operations and maintenance information at Wuqiangxi hydropower plant

With the use of inspection machines, processes and data can be standardised and compared more easily. Instead of relying on personal assessments from inspection staff, operators can now set a standard, specify routines, and ensure that nothing is missed during an inspection.

The system was deployed in the Wuqiangxi and Jinweizhou hydropower plants, owned by SPIC Wu Ling Electric Power Co., Ltd in 2020. It officially went online in November that year. By the end of 2021, it will be deployed to all 12 stations owned by Wu Ling.

Thus far, the Hydropower Smart Remote O&M System has already helped the company save 10% on maintenance cost, increase the time available for power production by 0.5% and improve power generation by 0.3%. Not bad for the oldest renewable energy technology.

Innovation overview

  • Hydropower Smart Remote O&M System
  • Remote inspection,based on advanced data capture and transmission technologies
  • Equipment diagnosis, including condition anomaly warning and equipment malfunction diagnosis modelling
  • Condition-based maintenance through intelligent equipment condition evaluation and lifetime prediction based on neural network modelling
  • Operation optimisation with automatic suggestions of start-up and shut-down sequences, operation modes etc.
  • Knowledge centre pooling all the data and enabling smart data retrieval

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