Drones, Data & Robots

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Seher Asaf investigates how CLP is embracing innovation trends in the energy industry

As disruptive forces such as changing consumer demands and a growing mandate for cleaner energy sources transform the power and utilities sector, energy companies around the world are taking steps to lay the groundwork for innovative technologies.

T K Chiang

With more than 10 years of experience in a number of senior management positions in CLP Power, one of Hong Kong’s main electric power generation companies, Managing Director TK Chiang is well positioned to offer insight into what innovation will look like in the energy industry.


Like many utility companies, CLP Power has embraced a slew of innovative technologies in the quest to improve safety, effectiveness and efficiency in an increasingly multifaceted and regulated sector.


“Embracing new technologies is not always easy because, firstly, the energy industry is a very traditional industry with a long history. Change in the industry used to come relatively slowly, but because of digital disruption the pace of change is faster now,” Chiang said.


Disruptive technologies are not only assisting in streamlining complex operational procedures, but they are also shifting consumer demands and expectations. As consumers move to more sustainable practices, utility companies are exploring various ways to meet consumer needs.


Drones are flying their way into the energy industry

CLP uses drones to carry out inspections to the roofs and outer walls of power station buildings to minimis the risks of working at height

Managing Director of CLP Power Mr T K Chiang visiting the Emergency Crew and frontline staff to check on the safety of their tools

Drones have made a big splash within many industries, and the energy sector is no exception. Utility companies rely greatly on inspections to maintain safety standards to effectively power cities, but these inspections can be timely, costly and sometimes dangerous for those carrying them out. Unmanned aerial vehicles are serving as enablers by allowing for new levels of performance within utility companies.


CLP Power introduced drones costing as much as HK$80,000 each to the Castle Peak Power Station where they scale 250-meter-tall chimneys and examine boilers of generation units as part of their expedition around the utility infrastructure.


In the past, helicopters would scour around power plants but they were not as effective and much more vulnerable in bad weather conditions. Scaffolding would also need to be constructed in boilers and people would be sent to carry out potentially perilous tasks. However, the introduction of drones has not only cut costs, but also increased safety and efficiency.


“Drones are much safer, much faster and much more flexible because they are capable of looking at different parts of the structure,” Chiang said.


Autonomous robots are also frequently used to carry out maintenance and repair tasks, thus transforming how utility companies carry out industrial procedures. CLP Power uses small robots to monitor and examine water pipes. These robots are capable of climbing up equipment and inside infrastructure, ultimately reducing the hazards involved in sending employees to carry out such tasks.


“Robots can stick onto boiler walls. Then the robot can climb along the tubes and do the inspection at the same time,” Chiang said.



Smart meters to help monitor usage

CLP will install smart meters for all customers by 2025 which provide timely electricity useage information and other related services to customers


Digital technologies are redefining the relationship between customers and their utility providers. In the new energy landscape, smart meters are serving customers looking to optimize their energy consumption and for more personalized services.


“When we try to adopt new technologies, we’re not just trying to think about our own operations, we’re also thinking about how to expand it to better use our energy and turn Hong Kong into a smart city,” Chiang said.


These smart meters started arriving in homes across Hong Kong last year. By 2025, CLP Power plans to arm all of its customers with these tech devices in an effort to support Hong Kong’s evolution into a smart city. They have replaced the conventional electro-mechanical meters and allow customers to track their usage continuously in near real-time and in turn adjust their consumption levels and patterns in an effort to cut bills and save energy.


“This is an important step to support Hong Kong’s transformation into a smart city,” Chiang said.



The move towards renewable energy sources



Changing consumer demands are encouraging utility companies worldwide to break away from traditional electricity products and offer customers renewable energy options instead. With the cost of producing, installing and managing solar panels having fallen exponentially in recent years, utility companies are looking to integrate technological advances with sustainable practices in an effort to better serve the modern energy consumer amid a strong customer-driven push for carbon energy alternatives.


“We’re an energy producer so we want support the fight against climate change,” Chiang said.


In an effort to encourage communities to embrace low carbon lifestyles, CLP in 2007 rolled out a number of initiatives as part of its CLP Power Climate vision 2050 in an effort to support the transition towards a sustainable, low carbon future. The main goal is to reduce carbon intensity to 0.15kg CO2/kWh by 2050.


“CLP energy vision is a very long term vision. It’s related to fighting climate change, so we have set a very aggressive carbon reduction target. Our carbon emission per unit of electricity generated would be reduced by 80 percent by 2050 from 2007,” Chiang said.


The company’s feed-in tariff scheme allows residents and business owners to install solar and/or wind power renewable energy systems such as rooftop solar or wind systems. They have received more than 2,500 applications so far from both residents and businesses, and approximately two-thirds are from small village houses in rural areas.


“If our customer installs a small RE installation in their home, for every unit of electricity from that installation we will use a higher price to buy from them.”


Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) scheme was first introduced to HK in October 2018 to encourage and support local RE development. The market response is encouraging. As of the end of March, over 2,500 applications have been submitted since the inception of the scheme and 83% of them have their applications approved


What’s next for the energy industry?


TK Chiang speaks at the annual staff briefing

As more consumers continue to prioritize clean energy, the need for energy companies to innovate will grow stronger. Moving forward, Chiang said investing in technologies that focus on decarbonization is a key priority as changing consumer demands in the face of pressing climate concerns continue to shape the future energy landscape.


“We are decarbonizing the source by 2020 so we will use 50 percent gas generation in our portfolio. The proportion of gas will continue to increase up to the medium term but towards the longer term, if we really want to have significant reduction in carbon, we need to consider zero-carbon sources which consist of renewable energy and nuclear energy,” Chiang said.


While renewable energy sources will continue to become more pervasive and important, Chiang pointed to the prospect of exploring nuclear energy in order to meet Hong Kong’s growing energy needs.


“Zero-carbon energy has to be considered over the longer term. Renewable energy being one, and nuclear energy is also another possible consideration. Renewable energy is not controllable, it’s intermittent. In order to ensure the power system is reliable, we need to have controllable generation sources,” Chiang said.