What’s GE’s silver bullet for the energy sector? | #GuestOfTheWeek

ge minds ganesh bell

General Electric Co. is not your grandfather’s power company any longer. The 124-year-old company is now an innovator in the digital transformation, developing software-defined machines and connected, responsive and predictive solutions. To that end, GE Power & Water hired its first Chief Digital Officer Ganesh Bell to be the architect of this digital transformation and drive business growth. Since he began back in February 2014, Bell’s team has grown to approximately 1,800 people who are reinventing the way the world is powered.

To understand the explosive growth of how large an impact the digital transformation is having on the industrial sector, look to the increased attendance at the GE Minds + Machines event. While at the event in San Francisco, Bell sat down with Jeff Frick, host of theCUBE from the SiliconANGLE Media team, to elaborate on GE digital initiatives and the Electricity Value Network. This week, theCUBE features Ganesh Bell as our Guest of the Week.

One of the reasons the show is more popular and becoming more mainstream is due to the decrease in productivity in the industrial sector over the last few years. According to Bell, it is only 25 percent of what it used to be and that is the motivating factor for industry to seek efficiency and extracting new value through digital transformation. “It’s not just automation, it’s about creating new value, new revenue from digital assets and that’s why you see the excitement across all the industries here,” noted Bell.

Software: eating or transforming the world?

Bell spent most of his career in Silicon Alley working in information technology and has long held the belief that all industries would be reimagined with software, however, he now sees that software is transforming the world as well. GE creates the machines that generate power for more than one-third of the world, but they also generate more than two terabytes of data per day.

And for Bell, this data matters. “We can learn a lot from this data and make these machines efficient, more productive,” he stated. “The three sexiest words for industrialists are ‘no unplanned downtime.’ We can eliminate breakdowns which turn into massive productivity and value for our customers,” Bell added.

Although the science in producing machines continues to advance, the output in productivity and efficiency can be further improved by software.  By using edge applications across the power network, the machine can be duplicated into what GE calls a “digital twin” which is a virtual representation of the physical machine. This allows real-time simulation, provides operational data and applies algorithms that enhance the asset’s performance.

GE created the firs combined-cycle power plant outfitted with the company’s HA turbine in Bouchain, France. This plant, recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most efficient power plant.

The digital twin delivers new life

Additionally, the company is doing this at older power plants as well. Working with A2A Group, based in Chivasso, Italy, GE upgraded to respond quickly to the changing grid demands required to manage  a fluctuating renewable energy grid. Bell explained in order for the plant to be competitive in delivering ancillary services to the RE market it needed to quickly ramp up power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine and then shut down right away.

In this case, GE used its digital twin technology. “With the additional software, we were able to reopen a power plant that was mothballed, and jobs were reinstated and the power plant is flexible and competitive in the ancillary services market,” said Bell.

The GE Electricity Value Network provides visualization capabilities along with predictive analytics and optimization software to help customers integrate assets and operations to reduce costs for the business and customers.

Bell illustrated the way the mix of fuel changes over the world. “The beauty of software is we can help optimize the mix. In the past, we always talked about renewables being the silver bullet or gas is the silver bullet. Now we are saying software is your silver bullet, regardless of the mix of fuel, we can optimize the generation of electrons and we are seeing the entire industry of electricity being transformed around digital,” Bell remarked.

One customer, Exelon is a prime example of what happens when and entire utility goes digital. During the Minds + Machines event, both companies announced that there will be a collaboration using the GE Predix platform to provide enterprise-wide digital transformation.

“Leaders like Exelon have the opportunity to create that tipping point in history…this is the moment the digital transformation of the electricity industry went real,” declared Bell.

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE and theCUBE’s coverage of GE Minds + Machines.

Photo by SiliconANGLE