PLCs, DCSs & Controllers


DCS vs ACS: power utilities seek improved productivity

July 2008 PLCs, DCSs & Controllers

Power generation utilities in southern Africa are expected to increasingly adopt automation and control solutions (ACS) to counter the effects of the current power shortage. Automation will help them improve process efficiency and productivity through the elimination of redundant operations and the reduction of human error in some operations.

New analysis from growth consulting company Frost & Sullivan finds that distributed control systems (DCS) are the most widely used solution in power generation. However, DCS faces increasing competition from inexpensive solutions such as supervisory control and data acquisition (scada) and programmable logic controllers (PLCs), which are eating into DCS’ shares due to technological advances.

Utilities’ increased investments in both rehabilitation and green field projects have given a much-needed boost to the South African power generation ACS market. ACS suppliers will be looking to tap into the lucrative South African market, where an estimated investment of $43,0 billion for new power plants and rehabilitation projects is likely to throw up many opportunities.

Even though several utilities admitted to not employing remote access operations in their plants, the majority recognise that automating operations such as auto start up and shut down is vital.

“In the short term, retrofit projects are expected to be a major revenue driver, with new projects expected to boost revenues from 2010 onwards,” says Frost & Sullivan research analyst Litiya Matakala. “Services such as engineering, maintenance, programming, and upgrades are anticipated to account for the bulk of the sales revenue. This is because customers depend on their suppliers to fill the gap caused by the shortage of technical skills at the end-user level.”

To cater for the growing demand, ACS suppliers will have to develop robust and streamlined distribution channels as well as initiate direct sales efforts. Since direct sales appears to be the most influential factor shaping end users’ purchase decision, it is vital that suppliers ensure they have an effective sales team that can demonstrate the suitability of their solutions and the way they can meet end-user specifications.

Another important purchase factor is the system cost. Although numerous projects have been identified in several countries, projects do not always get underway due to funding constraints. As most power stations are government owned, they have limited opportunities to raise funds from the financial markets.

“Faced with funding constraints, end-users are more likely to place emphasis on the cost of ACS,” notes Matakala. “Suppliers that can come up with innovative pricing of products and services that will reduce the total cost of ownership of ACS systems will be in a position to gain significant market share.”

Although innovative pricing will open up opportunities for market entrants, particularly outside South Africa, ACS suppliers can neutralise the importance of pricing by offering efficient customer service.

For more information contact Patrick Cairns, Frost & Sullivan, +27 (0)21 680 3274, patrick.cairns@frost.com, www.frost.com





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