on January 7th, 2019

With the proliferation of renewable energy, industrial automation and electrical engineers are banding together to create the power grids of the future. The latest automated mechanisms making factories more efficient are also making their way into the electricity distribution industry - for smarter power grids.

Future-proof energy grids which use intelligent, automated technologies are being targeted by governments around the world. They are, however, expected to improve on coal-powered electricity generation.

Source: Pixabay

In South Africa, poorly designed power stations have led to rolling blackouts in the country. According to City Press, at one of the more important power stations, Medupi Power Station, design flaws resulted in its failure ‘to control the heat of superheated steam circulating between the boiler and the turbine that produces electricity’.

This is something the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and new cutting edge automation technologies could prevent. With IIoT in the design phase, automation engineers could have avoided these design blunders and rolling blackouts.

Power plants can be run more efficiently - generating more data for engineers to peruse – to ensure there is continuous monitoring of the health of the plant, and much more. Analog will have to give way to digital means of control in the electricity sector.

The IIoT-World’s checklist of functions (or qualities) that a IIoT-connected power plant should embody is an incredibly comprehensive summary of what is expected from the power plant of the future. The plants need to be: 


  • Continuously learns from the past to improve efficiency
  • Has a technology foundation that evolves, never becoming obsolete
  • Allows continuous and flexible DCS upgrades


  • Is aware of its operating status, all the time
  • Knows its operating limits and capabilities
  • Asks for maintenance at the correct time
  • Does more with less - in operations and maintenance


  • Knows how much energy it needs to produce to meet market commitments
  • Manages resources optimally in relation to operating status, weather and market constraints
  • Know when equipment has developed a fault and when it requires repair


  • Safe for people, the local community and the environment
  • Conscious of its environmental impact, always minimizes emissions
  • Safe for employees
  • Cyber secure


  • Flexible in relation to market requests
  • Anticipates market requests by forecasting external conditions
  • Open and responsive to owner and grid requirements
  • Can operate within a virtual power pool of renewable and conventional plants 

Introducing industrial automation into the electrical engineering industry will help keep the lights on across the world.

Creating smarter networks of electricity distribution at a utility level is all good and well - but decentralizing it will also be advantageous. In South Africa’s case Eskom has the monopoly on distribution. It has stifled progress and many believe privatization of the industry will provide a solution.

Mark Feasel, vice president of Schneider Electric, talking to Automation World said:

“Being able to accommodate energy created in a more decentralized fashion is the story of a more complex grid. Automation is key to unlocking the ability to operate in this world of more complexity.”

Automation World contributing writer, Beth Stackpole, points out that centralized utilities are not able to keep up with galloping innovation: from the varied and unstable sources of electricity through to the many new uses for it. She writes:

“The legacy grid, based on a central generation, transmission and distribution model, was not architected to support modern-day electricity needs--whether accommodating peak demands for unpredictable renewable energy sources like wind and solar, or driving the burgeoning market for electric vehicles (EVs).”

Increasingly engineers are finding they are obliged to broaden their engineering knowledge, and so it is here: industrial automation has begun to play a substantial role in electricity distribution methodologies. The industrial technologies and their automated functions are being implemented in this multidisciplinary way to ensure that efficiency is upheld across all industries.


Works Cited

“Automating the Grid in a Modern Age of Electrification.” The Wireless Revolution: Transforming Industrial Networking | Automation World, www.automationworld.com/article/topics/industrial-internet-things/automating-grid-modern-age-electrification.

“Five Main Qualities of Industrial IoT in the Digital Power Plants.” Create a Culture of Innovation with IIoT World!, 29 Sept. 2017, iiot-world.com/connected-industry/five-main-qualities-of-industrial-iot-in-the-digital-power-plants/.

Rensburg, Dewald van, and Aldi Schoeman. “Inside the Eskom Crisis: Why the Lights Keep on Going Out.” CityPress, 10 Dec. 2018, city-press.news24.com/News/inside-the-eskom-crisis-why-the-lights-keep-on-going-out-20181210.

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