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News Article

Grid Digitalization: Cost, Environmental Impact Saving Solution

By Andrea Villar | Thu, 08/26/2021 - 17:32

Data is at the heart of any automation process. In the mining industry, analyzing and mining data along the path towards this transformation can mean huge savings in operational costs, including one of the biggest expenses in the sector today: grid digitalization

“The most valuable asset we have in the market today is data,” said Israel Garcia Palacios, Market Manager of Grid Automation at Hitachi ABB Power Grids Mexico. “It helps us to make decisions on a day-to-day basis based on what is happening and to be able to predict the future outlook of the operations.” These actions are made possible by digitization, which is basically transforming analog processes and physical devices into digital ones. The merging of information technologies and operations technologies is a key enabler of the digital transformation journey.

Through machine learning, mining companies can collect, analyze and mine their data to get greater visibility of their operations, understand in detail the potholes within them and take action. As the process repeats itself and the system stores more information, it can begin to react autonomously and at best predict failures.

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According to Palacios, it all starts with the ability to provide visibility into the condition of each asset remotely and in real-time. Industries such as mining, which are digitally transforming their operations to reduce their environmental footprint while increasing their competitiveness, are no exception. Companies in the sector aim to become more agile and make data-driven decisions. “Digitalization creates new business value for industrial companies,” said Palacios. The benefits of digital transformation range from increased revenue, reduced operating costs, improved safety for people, sustainable operations and leveraging existing IoT infrastructure. 

One of these positive impacts involves increasing revenue, which is done in a number of ways, including maximizing production. "This is achieved by making the network more intelligent". For example, Palacios said that a company can monitor devices on-site to know how each asset and system is doing in a holistic way. To achieve revenue growth, it is also necessary to optimize the workforce through efficient and safe management of operational and supervisory staff. In addition, agility in decision-making is key. "If we have a better understanding of the market and how the players are behaving in it, we can have a better forecast of what is to come,” said Palacios. 

Coupled with increased profits, there is also a reduction in costs. According to Palacios, the most significant operating costs mining companies spend on are energy, labor and asset management. Optimizing some or all production lines has a significant impact on the company's bottom line. Digitalization can play a key role in reducing these costs and risks. For instance, better planning of the predictive maintenance of core assets is a great help in lowering operating expenses, he said. Optimizing the field workforce and reducing energy costs are also benefits of digitalization. 

Safety, an issue of paramount importance to the mining sector, also benefits from automation, especially by reducing the risk of electrical shock in substations, and by reducing the need for on-site staff through remote operations. “Basically, you reduce downtime due to incidents,” Palacios explained. Equally relevant for the industry, sustainability is also driven by going digital. Industrial sites can contribute to sustainability by reducing greenhouse gas emissions through better energy management and reducing truck rolls for maintenance through resource efficiency by using less land and copper cabling for substations. 

Palacios explained digitalization is enabled by industrial IoT infrastructure including sensing, secure communications and data integration. Meanwhile, significant commercial and environmental value is delivered by transforming data into information that is transformed into operational intelligence. 

A concept that has gained prominence in recent years is the so-called 'digital substations', as they reduce all copper wiring in an electrical substation and replace it with fiber optics, bringing great benefits to the environment. “This approach uses half the space of a traditional substation and reduces copper usage by up to 80 percent. By making the substation smaller, less material is used for construction, as well.”

The mining industry's energy consumption represents between 15 and 40 percent of a mine's total operating budget, reports Hitachi ABB Power Grids. Most mines, particularly those located in remote regions with no connection to the state grid, rely heavily on diesel generators.

“Mines are now under severe scrutiny to comply with environmental regulations and becoming self-sufficient and generating green power is the solution to address this challenge,” said Palacios.

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Andrea Villar Andrea Villar Journalist and Industry Analyst