Challenge Accepted: Helping Power Producers Solve Their Most Complex Problems Through Automation
Victor Eriksson recalls feeling a sense of awe as he entered the turbine hall of one of Enel’s hydropower plants in Valmalenco in the Italian Alps for the first time.
His team was automating the production planning and dispatch for all of Enel’s hydropower plants in the Valmalenco valley but Victor had never been inside any of them.
“We got into one of the power plants through a tunnel. We literally went straight into the mountain. This was the first time I got to observe the physical turbines and hardware that I had examined in the models thousands of times.”
Sitting in the control room in Valmalenco, Victor could see the value of automation first-hand.
“Through our software suite, the power producers were able to control the power plants automatically – to receive production plans from the market and to distribute and optimise the production automatically, all of it nearly in real-time.”
The dispatchers could also forecast inflows accurately and use their precious water resources optimally, increasing the value of flexibility. In turn, this increased revenue and reduced imbalance costs.
“In this part of Italy, they have glaciers high up in the mountains, so they are really dependent on the temperature at different elevations. Based on precipitation and temperature, we can calculate how much water will come down in the streams.”
Transforming power production
Victor’s background – a Master in Applied Physics from Uppsala University in his native Sweden and work experience in the control room in the Swedish TSO Svenska kraftnät – has helped him understand the real needs of power producers.
“Many power producers still use manual processes or have outdated systems that can not adapt to today’s fast market changes. When we come on board and replace those systems with our software, we see how the way of working in the control room is transformed.”
For Victor, the most telling sign is when the project manager on the client-side is really pushing for the project to go live.
“When you see that the chief of the control room or the head of dispatch burns for the project, you know that you are onto something very positive.”
From Valmalenco to automating Enel’s entire portfolio
Enel, one of the largest energy companies in the world, signed a strategic partnership with Volue for the provision of production planning optimisation software.
Working on a portfolio that consists of close to 1000 production units, including hydropower, thermal power and renewables, posed some challenges for the team.
“The scale and sheer size of Enel’s portfolio are staggering.”
Using Volue’s standard software, the team set out to configure and adapt it to Enel’s complex business processes.
“The primary goal is to give Enel a tool that automatically defines the optimal dispatch of their power plants. By unlocking all the flexibility in its portfolio, Enel can maximise revenues. In addition, the project models processes on top of a common platform between the production planning, trading and dispatch teams. Which power plants should they run, at what megawatts, and at what hours? The formula is complicated and the output is the most optimal way to run their production units.”
And what about renewables?
“Those are not controllable, but still part of the total portfolio. So we have to keep track of the forecast changes and update the renewable position to be offered into the market.”
Automation, automation, automation, and a lot of data
The end game for the Volue team is to minimise manual and repetitive work. The team has already modelled all production units and configured the user interface for all the main processes.
Managing so much data is always a big technical challenge.
“We have created a massive data structure with more than 44 000 objects in our data management software Mesh. The scalability and flexibility of Mesh were indispensable in solving the challenges, given the large amount of data we need to handle.”
The optimisation problem itself was also massive and solving it – very challenging.
“We optimise Enel’s entire Italian portfolio and Italy consists of seven different energy markets. Each region has different prices and many production units.”
The team solved the optimisation challenge by using the Lagrangian relaxation method to break the big optimisation problem down into smaller pieces.
“We solve the pieces individually and then we stitch it all together.”
In this final stage of the project, Victor’s team is focused on testing the results intensively and optimising performance.
"Working on these big projects is a true team effort and I am grateful that we have so many incredibly smart people in the project team."
In Victor's experience, one challenge of digitalising production planning processes is often overlooked and Volue software solves it.
“When we go live with our software suite, suddenly the different dispatch centres start collaborating with the trading department. These are people sitting in different locations, sometimes they even belong to different companies. One company might have responsibility for the power plants and another for power trading. Our software resolves the conflicts and enforces better collaboration and a coherent view.”