10.09.2019 | First digital hydropower plant in Switzerland

Hydro 4.0

Fewer routine tasks, less administration, fewer errors. These are the benefits of the digital hydropower plant, Kraftwerken Sarganserland, where Axpo has launched a pilot project. Plant operation and maintenance are more efficient thanks to digital technologies. The digital hydropower plant is unique in Switzerland and one of the very few in Europe.  

"The digital power plant uses a 360-degree approach," says Emil Bieri, manager of the pilot project in Sarganserland. "360 degrees because we look at all aspects and operational activities and integrate them in the digital process. In other words, we are uniting our operational know-how with the digital world." Using this approach, project staff can collect information to use internally at Axpo and to offer new services to external customers. An integrated approach like this did not exist in Switzerland before and in Europe there only very few examples that go in this direction.

In the pilot project a total of 20 different scenarios, so-called use cases, are carefully analysed and digitally implemented in the power plant. Below three use cases in detail:

The digital ear

Switzerland has very stringent safety requirements for dams. These include regular inspections and measurements (Inside a dam). During power plant inspections, irregularities can frequently be detected by listening. When a machine has a malfunction, it often sounds different than in normal operation. These types of anomalies can now be measured with a "digital ear": Microphones have been installed at seven locations at the Sarganserland power plant and they monitor the sound of the plant around the clock. When even the slightest sound deviations are detected, the measuring station sends the information including sound snippets to the control center where employees analyse the data and, if necessary, implement measures. 

«Digitalisation has become increasingly common in all areas of personal and business life in recent years. For Axpo, as the largest hydropower producer, the comprehensive digital transformation of the power plants is the next evolutionary step following plant automation.»
Emil Bieri, Project Manager of Hydro 4.0
The aerial in the air

Drones are often used when photo material is required from a location that is difficult to access (Aerial inspections with drones). However, the autonomous use of drones indoors and without GPS tracking is new. In the pilot project, these drones are used in locations that are dangerous for employees or very difficult to access, e.g. surge tanks or tunnels. By means of an orientation guide the drone moves around the plant to specified locations and takes photos. It is important that all the photos are taken at the same, exact location in order to guarantee comparability. In addition to the safety advantage, drones are available around the clock.

Sensors that act as a digital ear are used in the digital hydropower plant.

Indoor drones help take photos of locations that are difficult to access.

An autonomous boat takes measurements of underwater structures in order to detect deposit accumulation on the dam wall early on.

The autonomous boat

Like a drone, the boat can move around autonomously. Here orientation takes place by means of GPS tracking. The boat has the task of documenting underwater structures and changes. Water catchments in alpine regions often get clogged with material from the environment (Nature knows no mercy). This can cause the plant to malfunction and also decreases reservoir volume, which is key for forecasts in energy trading. Based on measurement point density and the type of measurement sensor, the boat collects data for a 3D image of the underwater structure at the bottom of the reservoir. Thanks to the data supplied by the boat, information regarding deposits can be recorded more efficiently, dredging tasks can be planned regularly, and energy trading can calculate the precise water turbining volume.

Summary of the Hydro 4.0 pilot project

Over the past two years, Axpo has launched various initiatives to digitalise power plant processes. These activities are now bundled in the Hydro 4.0 project. The kick-off for the first Swiss digital hydropower plant in Sarganserland took place in April 2019. The pilot team will implement 20 different use cases over the next 12 months. The use cases will be tested under real conditions at the plant and analysed for their potential. The process with use cases will continue until mid-2020 at which time the next steps will be determined.

20 use cases in the 360-degree approach

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