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Digital Twins Fuel the Transformation of Utility Asset Management

April 9, 2020
From monitoring of equipment health to providing timely support and services to product development, the digital-twin industry has boomed into a promising investment avenue.

The concept of digital twins isn’t entirely new. It was introduced years ago in conventional forms for production and product lifecycle management. This era of Industry 4.0, with advanced sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) adoption, has now refined digital twinning and expanded its applications.

Fundamentally, a digital twin is a virtual representation of equipment, processes, information, and numerous physical assets. Data from many sources, such as sensors, is synchronized to offer real-time status. The technology helps to optimize operations, lower costs, and implement predictive maintenance capabilities.  

Manufacturing, retail, and automotive sectors have rapidly deployed digital monitoring and control solutions over the years. But the systems are proving beneficial for healthcare providers and utilities as well. For example, the concept is being explored to create a virtual replica of the brain and heart to speed up diagnosis and treatment.

Two of the most promising digital-twin application areas are the energy and infrastructure industries. Utility providers consistently look for ways to reduce operational costs, enhance efficiencies, and detect problem areas. Digital platforms and connected solutions can allow energy firms to manage physical assets remotely and save on human work hours and expenses.

Annual valuation of the global digital twin market is expected to reach US$20 billion by 2025. Buildings and energy applications could account for a notable share of these revenues. Undoubtedly, mounting power consumption every year and rapid urbanization will fuel the technology demand.

Driving Innovations and Efficiency in Energy, Utility Apps

Decarbonization trends have led to developments in clean technologies while highlighting the importance of connected assets. Physical asset performance and transmission efficiencies are key advantages of digital twinning. Leading technology providers are teaming up with utilities to drive digital transformation.

Microsoft confirmed that Norway's electricity supplier Agder Energi uses Azure Digital Twins. The utility wanted to find out how it can increase its grid and operational efficiencies. Prominent tools enabling the transformation are device controls, distributed energy resources, and predictive forecasting. This would allow the firm to cut down on costs and unnecessary energy upgrades.

Digital twins represent the integration of sensor technology, IoT, and smart platforms. Operators are able to map physical assets with accuracy into a digital version. Virtual reality is also a fast-growing segment, fueling innovations in utility management.

Renewable energy generation will rake in large prospects for virtual twin service providers, owing to the need to operate a vast array of physical equipment. Assets could include wind turbines, energy transmission and distribution (T&D) lines, and energy storage.

Digital Twin of a Wind Turbine

It’s imperative that wind turbines last for decades. Ensuring consistent performance in the harshest of conditions requires continuous monitoring, which will also avoid unexpected failures. Power generation from wind farms accounted for more than 17% of the U.K.’s total generated capacity in 2018. The statistic indicates massive potential from the renewables sector for digital-twin industry players.

GE had previously unveiled a digital wind-farm concept for recording the configuration of turbines, before procurement and construction. Each wind turbine can feed its virtual twin to allow for software-based performance optimization.

A turbine's digital twin equips operators to detect possible dysfunction or when it’s not performing optimally. This renders the on-site presence of an engineer unnecessary.

Besides, utilities will be able to predict the increase and decrease in wind speeds through simulations. Energy output can be predicted to help meet market demand and adjust the power mix, since most grids comprise multiple sources.

Asset Visualization and Analytics

Utility assets including power plants, T&D networks, and substations require effective and accurate management, with low cost to operator-owners. Digital-twin solutions can better enhance the reliability of energy infrastructure and operations.

Bentley Systems developed a suite of services catering to the need for physical asset and network management. These include a solution to offer immersive 4D visualization and advanced analytics using digital information to support utilities’ decision-making processes, while improving infrastructure performance. The company is also providing a service that will deploy virtual twin technologies to consolidate, validate, and align geographic information system (GIS) performance as well as other forms of enterprise data.

The expansive deployment of IoT devices helps feed data for analytics. Records on inspection and surveys, and failure and work histories, can also be input into analytics software. Utilities could utilize this information to gain insights into existing conditions, anticipate breakdowns, or optimize for future performance.

Eliminating Barriers in Data Sharing

Data is the cornerstone of utility management, driving the efficiency of operations and grids and impacting future strategies. The traditional structure of energy management involves data silos across different grid models, which makes it difficult to connect platforms and share resources. Silos also lead to higher costs in terms of unwarranted labor use, blackouts, and lower performance.

Controlling costs and mitigating operational errors, T&D losses, and system failures will become more important as renewables constitute a greater portion of global energy consumption. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), this share is expected to reach over 15% by 2030, implying the significant need for modernizing power generation and T&D infrastructure.

The Electrical Digital Twin offered by Siemens that powers utilities brings together the physical and virtual assets in a common network model. It removes data silos across all IT systems of a utility, to facilitate accurate electrical system planning, efficient operations, and predictive maintenance.

Emerging factors like IoT, renewable power generation and storage, micro-grids, and rapid digitization have accelerated the increase in connected endpoints and data gathered. This data is deemed important to optimize system performance and can be utilized effectively via digital twinning.

Pankaj Singh is Senior Content Developer at Global Market Insights.


About the Author

Pankaj Singh | Content Developer

Pankaj Singh, an accomplished writer, currently develops content for a variety of portals pertaining to market research. Endowed with a post graduate degree in management, Pankaj worked as a content contributor for websites adhering to the UK insurance industry.

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