by Robert Schultz
How can utilities improve data accuracy, modernize the grid, and prepare for the future of smart energy systems?
With increasing consumer demand, rising costs, and regulatory and environmental pressures, the need for advanced technological solutions is more critical than ever. One of the most effective methods to achieve these goals is with a Digital Twin.
What is a Digital Twin?
A Digital Twin is generally defined as a digital representation of a physical asset. Companies in nearly every sector use it to simulate a real environment and test new features, apply predictive analytics, and assess risk.
Car manufacturers use a Digital Twin to simulate the driving experience, test performance under various weather conditions, help reduce accidents and recalls, and enhance functionalities.
Medical professionals use a Digital Twin to create an advanced model of human anatomy to personalize individual treatment, predict response to stimuli, test drug efficacy, and practice surgical procedures without risk to the patient.
Retailers rely on a Digital Twin to create digital models of warehouses, stores, and supply chain operations. They can replicate consumer behaviour digitally to identify bottlenecks in sales and delivery, spot inventory deficiencies, and improve in-store experiences.
In the utilities sector, a Digital Twin does more than test features and analyze risk. Applying a Digital Twin can increase energy reliability and efficiency, improve emergency response time, incorporate sustainability and clean energy initiatives, and help build the future of smart cities.
According to Deloitte, the Digital Twin market will be worth $38.5 billion by 2025. Recognizing this growth, utility leaders are increasingly relying on this technology to support today’s biggest challenges. Global leaders are pushing for renewable energy solutions, giving energy leaders the task to apply technology to support hydrogen power and distributed energy resources (DERs), which require high fidelity data.
So how can utilities make a Digital Twin a reality? Here are six steps utility leaders can implement throughout their organization to benefit from a Digital Twin:
6 Steps to Implement a Digital Twin for Utilities
1. Apply Intelligent Design
Design is the foundation for all utility construction projects. Any changes to the design - even minor ones - can impact the entire workflow. Utilities need to consider this from the planning stage, during execution of the project, all the way through to close-out. A detailed analysis of field conditions is essential, as this may not necessarily be visible in the digital mapping source.
Only by utilizing intelligent design from the beginning of the project can utility leaders ensure that the “constructability” of the design authentically matches the starting point.
2. Enhance Accuracy of Infrastructure Data
Once utilities are confident in the construction project’s design, they must shift their focus to improving data accuracy. It’s imperative to capture accurate as-built data since many utility systems such as GIS, EAM, and ADMS rely heavily on as-built asset data for maintenance work, grid operations, engineering analysis, and related activities.
Using incomplete or inaccurate as-built data can negatively impact emergency response, cause project delays, or prevent future construction projects. Other corporate systems like OMS and ADMS need high accuracy data; feeding missing or low quality data into them hinders the application of sophisticated technologies onto utility networks.
3. Implement Digital Transformation
Nearly every industry has transformed its operations with digital platforms and the utilities sector is no exception. Despite this reality, paper-based as-builting remains the prevailing method for utilities. This manual method is fraught with data quality issues and inefficiencies, causing significant backlogs and project delays.
When utilities transform manual as-builting into a digital workflow, the result is better data accuracy and integrity. Automating tasks that are part of the field data collection process alleviates manual documentation of asset information when completing new installations or upgrades.
A fully digitized process expedites and standardizes field data collection, reducing the time and effort typically required of construction crews and creating the ideal conditions to incorporate a Digital Twin.
4. Modernize the Grid
As the push for more advanced technologies gains ground, utility leaders are realizing that the current, aging infrastructure cannot support them. Instead, they are turning to data-heavy systems such as DERs, OMS, and ADMS. However, these systems rely on a Digital Twin, which in turn, requires high fidelity data.
It’s not enough to ensure that data collected in the field is accurate; it must be transferred into the system of record quickly. Typically, many utilities find that it takes weeks or months for data for that to happen. A comprehensive digital solution can achieve this in days or even hours.
Digital construction companies have the ability to feed high quality data into network-hungry operational systems quickly and accurately, leading to an updated and more modernized grid.
5. Consider Complex Challenges
What are your organization’s most important long-term goals? How can high integrity grid data help achieve those goals?
Electric vehicles are hitting the road with increasing regularity. Rural communities are driving the need for broadband. Demand for 5G connectivity is growing. Cloud computing is replacing traditional server storage. As the utilities workforce ages, organizations will need to attract the next generation of talent, the majority of whom were raised with technology in their everyday lives and expect to use it in their professions in the same way. If utilities continue using paper-based, manual work processes, it will negatively impact their labor force.
All of these present complex challenges for utility leaders to meet.
6. Search for a Comprehensive Solution
Another important element necessary for creating a Digital Twin is finding a single, end-to-end solution.
Some utilities use multiple platforms or incomplete solutions which are tied to specific systems. This typically results in a disconnected process and a lack of standardization for Project Managers, Supervisors, Field Crews, Contractors, and Executive Leadership teams. Without a comprehensive solution - a single platform that acts as a single digital thread connecting everything together - creating a Digital Twin becomes more difficult.
When considering a digital construction platform, check if it’s simple enough for field crews and contractors to use daily on the job site. Make sure it offers near real-time data capture so that back office users can enjoy real-time visibility, as well as automated material reconciliation and reporting to improve efficiency and accelerate close-outs. These benefits will ensure that utilities will have the foundation they need to digitize their workflow, create a high fidelity Digital Twin, and scale their construction projects.
Whether your organization needs to improve safety, tracking and traceability, or data or material quality, following these techniques can help them achieve a Digital Twin and prepare for the future of smart utility operations.