Aug 27, 2019

Ep 179: Mona Badie - Chief Digital Officer, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy

Chief Digital Officer
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy
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Show notes

Aligning values with career growth (0:08)
0:08-7:33 (Mona explains how she came to the US from Egypt and her role in GE.)

Q. You are from Egypt, correct? When did you come to the US?
A. Mona Badie is from Egypt and worked as a technical consultant in Abu Dhabi. She visited the US in 1990, but stayed permanently when the Gulf War broke out. Mona then got a masters degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University where she first became interested in computer science. After graduation, she worked as a software developer for Poloroid and Fitch before joining GE Capital (the financial arm of GE). Her role there was to develop touchless software, which helped customers obtain loans or leases in a secure and seamless way.

After about 10 years at GE Capital, Mona saw an available position in the nuclear wing of GE. At the time, she was looking to move from capital into industry and her passion for the environment pushed her to apply for the position. Mona is able to align her values with her intellectual curiosity and is now the Chief Information Officer and Chief Digital Officer of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.

Using data to decrease cost (7:34)
7:34-17:41 (Mona explains the challenges she focuses on and how she leverages data to reduce operation and maintenance costs.)

Q. What are some of the projects you are working on?
A. Mona focuses on the challenges that the nuclear industry faces and finds solutions from a data analytics and software perspective. Mona has identified cost as the biggest challenge for nuclear. On average, nuclear power costs the industry $33 per megawatt hour. The cost to the gas industry, however, is $25 per megawatt hour. The major cost for gas is fuel while the majority of the nuclear cost stems from operations and maintenance. Mona therefore focuses on reducing the cost of plant operation and maintenance to help make nuclear more competitive.

To reduce costs, the nuclear industry must first understand that there is a problem. Mona entered the industry 4 years ago with fresh eyes and was easily able to see that the cost of operation and maintenance was an issue that needed to be addressed. She notes that the nuclear industry has a wealth of data but, compared to the consumer industry, nuclear is not leveraging data to benefit business. Building equipment profiles based on data can create a more efficient, plant-specific maintenance plan. Currently, equipment maintenance is based on time, meaning a piece of equipment may undergo maintenance every 3 months whether or not is needs it. Mona hopes to change this by moving to a condition-based maintenance system. For example, each plant will have a profile based on the design and the data that pertains to its specific equipment. Data collected from manual inspection rounds, work orders and sensors can be pulled together to understand how the equipment is performing. This can be used to determine when maintenance needs to occur, saving time and cost.

Leveraging the cloud for more efficient operation (17:42)
17:42-21:08 (Mona explains that predicted maintenance software has already been deployed in some plants. She also notes the strategy for dealing with the NRC and how this software will be used in the future).

Q. How do we test that condition-based maintenance works?
A. This software has already been deployed in some plants. The biggest challenge is understanding how to bring the data from different systems together so it can be analyzed in one place. Mona’s solution involves using cloud storage to store all data in a single platform. This software reduces the labor costs associated with manually collected operation and maintenance data. Additionally, this predicted maintenance brings great value to the nuclear industry.

It is notoriously difficult to get approval from the NRC when making changes like this. Mona’s strategy is therefore to avoid changing maintenance schedules to safety equipment, which is highly regulated. Additionally, Mona points out that this software only makes recommendations and does not automate or enforce change. The plant operator is still able to decide whether or not to adopt condition-based maintenance.

Mona is also looking to new reactor developers who have yet to set up fully integrated sensors in their systems. This holds the biggest opportunity for the nuclear industry, enabling engineers to think ahead about not just how to design a plant, but how to operate it. Predictive maintenance software will enable plants to be operated in a more efficient and intelligent way.

Making nuclear cool (22:08)
22:08-29:50 (Mona discusses her passion for change advocacy and why she focuses on moving away from the safety discussion and towards one on innovation and how to make the industry cool.)

Q. Tell me about your passion for change advocacy.
A. Nuclear change advocacy involves talking to both the public and to those within the nuclear industry itself. The culture within the industry has not yet embraced innovation. Focusing on safety is important, but innovation can occur while still being compliant with safety regulations. Mona stresses the importance of rethinking why the industry does certain things to find simplified solutions that are more productive.

Changing the culture within the industry starts with a conversation. Mona also has the data to support why change will improve processes and reduce cost. Talking to a wide range of people is key, including utility executives and conference attendees. Moving away from discussions focusing only on safety will also spur change as leading with a safety perspective tends to scare people. Mona finds that many are open to embracing innovation while others are more resistant to moving away from the safety conversation.

Making nuclear cool to the public can also help grow the industry. Small modular reactor (SMR) investment from companies and the likes of Bill Gates is beginning to make the nuclear industry seem cool. Understanding how to make atom splitting more popular than mobile app development is also key to securing the future of nuclear power.

Mona is optimistic about the future of nuclear energy. The industry may be in a dip currently, but Mona is sure the industry will recover, especially as more SMRs are built. Software and data analytics will help push the industry forward, gaining more insights into how to run efficient plants. Reducing cost is key to ensuring a future powered by nuclear energy.

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