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Power generators are projected to spend $9 billion this year for automation systems, field devices and other information technology instrumentation and software. The largest purchaser will be the U.S. followed by China and Japan. The U.S. is straining to maximize the output of its aging fleet of coal-fired power generators. More than $1.3 billion will be spent this year to bring the latest information technology tools to bear on the difficult task of increasing output while minimizing air emissions. These are conclusions reached in the McIlvaine report "Information Technology for Electricity Generation".
The operation of power plants has become so complicated that automation is now essential. Smart sensors are replacing the old technologies. Process optimization software is improving efficiency. The old control panels are replaced with computer screens. Distributed control system (DCS) technology based on proprietary configurations is being replaced with personal computer (pc) based controls and programmable logic control (PLC) technology.
In California reserve margins have dropped so low that plant reliability has become a critical issue. Thus the new predictive maintenance tools which contribute to higher reliability are more important than they were in the days before deregulation when systems operated with a comfortable 20% reserve margin.
This year more than $1.2 billion will be spent on information technology hardware and software for gas turbine power plants. Hundreds of these plants are being built in the U.S. and many more are being constructed in Europe and Asia. However, the investment in information technology for a simple cycle gas turbine is far less than for a coal-fired plant. Even the combined cycle gas turbine expenditure for IT is less per megawatt than for coal.
Even though few nuclear plants are being built throughout the world there is a significant investment in information technology for existing plants. Most of this investment is to achieve safer operation. The U.S. will be the largest market followed by France and Japan.