Bentley Systems, Inc.

At its core, Bentley Systems is a software development company that supports the professional needs of those responsible for creating and managing the world’s infrastructure, including industrial and power plants as well as utility networks.


In an Era of Distributed Energy Resources, Utilities Increasingly Leverage Analytical Solutions | Part 2

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The rapid adoption of distributed energy resources (DER) are changing the ways that utilities do business with customers, manage their electric distribution network, and plan for infrastructure investments. Whereas energy production and delivery once constituted a one-way transaction from the utility to its customers, DER makes it possible for consumers to generate electricity through solar photovoltaic systems and make that energy available to the grid. Bi-directional energy flows are becoming more common. Indeed, for some large electric utilities, DER interconnection requests can approach 10,000 a month. That sort of scale introduces new challenges all across the utility organization, from customer service specialists to network design engineers to infrastructure investment planners.

Bentley Systems has introduced a portfolio of utility solutions to help utilities better manage DER interconnection requests, assess potential impacts to the distribution grid and plan for needed upgrades to accommodate growing numbers of customers whose DERs allow them to both consume and produce energy (turning those customers into “prosumers”).

Energy Central sat down with Vonnie Smith, vice president with Bentley Systems, to explore some of the challenges facing distribution utilities and how Bentley’s OpenUtilities offers a powerful tool to address those challenges.

Energy Central: Bentley recently announced the OpenUtilities solutions for DER. Can you tell us something about it?

Vonnie Smith: I’d be happy to! Our new DER-focused solutions provide decision-support and cost-based models and simulations for DER integration. They help to empower electric utilities, electricity suppliers, and distribution network operators (DSO) with software applications to plan and design with integrated DER and to fast-track DER interconnection requests through cloud-based services to support reliability and resilience of network operations. The solutions are powered by Siemens’ PSS®SINCAL and include: OpenUtilities DER Optioneering, OpenUtilities Analysis, and OpenUtilities Design Optioneering.

 Energy Central: What aspects of a utility’s operations are they designed to support?

Vonnie Smith: The complete solution manages an electrical digital twin of the entire power system for electric utilities – a digital twin that enables owner-operators to more efficiently model the grid for decentralized energy without compromising safety and reliability. Some of the major challenges utilities encounter with DER integration are system complexity, changing regulatory requirements, variable customer demand, and cost management. Digital twins can provide huge efficiencies in grid operations by streamlining DER interconnection applications with optimized workflows to better assess operational impacts, long-term strategic scenarios, and investment decisions.

 OpenUtilities DER Optioneering offers a cloud-based decision support initial screening and supplemental screening mechanism to evaluate DER interconnection requests using validation checkpoints and hosting capacity analysis to fast-track customer DER interconnection application submissions and to quickly identify submissions that require more detailed impact studies. Where detailed system impact studies are needed to ensure viability of a DER interconnection, OpenUtilities Analysis gives power system engineers a streamlined environment to perform basic studies that support non-wire alternatives. When advanced power analysis or long-term cost analysis is required, the users switch to Siemens’ PSS®SINCAL to leverage advanced analysis and return on investment modules.

OpenUtilities Design Optioneering advances OpenUtilities Analysis one step further with cost-based decision support for planning and designing complex utility networks with integrated DER. The application provides the ability to analyze both planned and existing infrastructure, optimize equipment sizing, and estimate current materials and labor costs for projects with integrated DER.

Energy Central: How does OpenUtilities complement existing solutions from Bentley and its partners?

Vonnie Smith: Bentley, working with partners like Siemens, provides electric utility solutions in an open, connected data environment to help drive grid modernization and digitization initiatives with intelligent and data-driven planning through performance across the enterprise and with EPCs – facilitating delivery on the promise of safe, reliable, and resilient power. 

Bentley solutions help drive efficient multidiscipline workflows across generation, transmission, and distribution design projects – improving productivity, fostering collaboration, and helping teams meet project deliveries to local and national standards.

Additionally, Bentley solutions help to improve the life of assets with proactive strategies for long-term asset reliability and performance, to optimize grid performance with proactive digital workflows and DER integrations, and to minimize time and cost for equipment, component inspections, and maintenance with immersive digital operations.

Energy Central: Does the OpenUtilities suite operate in concert with other Bentley software and management solutions?

Vonnie Smith: Yes. OpenUtilities provides decision-support and cost-based models and simulations for distributed energy resources (DER) integration based upon an on-time, on-demand electrical digital twin of the entire power system. This enables continuous model building by integrating data sources into one master data management system through AssetWise. 

Across all our software and management solutions, OpenUtilities ensures data quality with integrated preprocessing that incorporates business rule validations, load flow validations, and short circuit validations of the network model information and streamlines data cleansing with quality control workflows initiated by the automated validation handers. 

A very important outcome comes from enabling non-engineers and managers to effectively manage DER-related workflows while adhering to standardized regulatory requirements.  Realizing cost optimization throughout the life of infrastructur\e assets is also a valuable outcome, derived in concert with Bentley products and solutions such as MicroStation, ProjectWise, AssetWise, and ContextCapture.

Energy Central: The solution suite relies on the concept of a digital twin. Could you put that in context for us, so we can better understand the digital twin concept and how it works?

Vonnie SmithThe combination of the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution and the huge amounts of dark data that has been collected but has largely gone unused has driven the utility sector to be much more focused on the digital twin.

A recent industry analyst report stated that about 13% of organizations worldwide are already using digital twins. Another 62% of those organizations are either in the process of establishing digital twins or plan to do so. Those are big numbers and certainly relevant to the kinds of problems involving DER that are changing the business model for the electric industry.

From a Bentley perspective, the concept of a digital twin means a digital representation of a physical asset, process, or system, as well as the information that allows us to understand and model its performance. And digital twins are rapidly advancing beyond BIM to enable asset-centric organizations to converge engineering, operational, and information technologies for immersive visualization and analytics. This federated environment has multiple contributors and geometries, and add to this data from continuous surveys, photogrammetry, LiDAR and sensors to further improve inspection, asset performance, and construction monitoring.

When the digital twin is continuously synchronized from multiple sources, including sensors and continuous surveying, it provides near real-time status, working conditions, or position.

For electric utilities, a digital twin is an IT-centric platform where utilities can build an exact replica of their physical assets in the cloud from design and development to the end of the asset lifecycle. The digital twin will enable utilities to gain efficiency in terms of manpower optimization, streamlined operations, improved safety, and faster response time to market. Connected sensors on the physical asset collect data that can be mapped onto the digital model. Anyone looking at the digital twin can see crucial information about how the physical asset is performing in the real world. For electric utilities, this means moving beyond traditional manual and discrete operational processes.

Bentley is leading the digital twin era with the creation of iTwin Services that enable organizations to create, visualize, and analyze digital twins. With an open, connected data environment, utilities can bring dark data to light – making it accessible.  This open, connected data environment is a federation from multiple contributors and geometries – including GIS, engineering, and operations and maintenance data. This means utilities can enable digital twins at every lifecycle stage, creating information for one purpose and using it elsewhere.

iTwin Services takes dark data and makes it accessible and queryable information. Data created in native formats is imported and transformed by the application bridge into a single federated, cloud-based repository that can be viewed as if created by a single application and from any perspective. Users can query, interrogate, and visualize engineering data. Bentley’s iTwin Services shed light on dark data by combining and aligning information from many sources and provide the information you need for better decision making, which leads to reduced risk and better project efficiency, schedule, and cost management.

Energy Central: When it comes to digital twins, are utilities leaders or followers?

Vonnie Smith: Due largely to the rate of change and disruption in the utility industry, they have become leaders in the charge toward digital transformation with aggressive plans to move beyond smart meters toward electrical digital twins.

The digital movement represents an opportunity for utilities to continue to change how they work, find ways to collaborate, and share data more effectively to optimize both workflows and the lifecycle of assets. Digital twins have the potential to offer huge benefits to the utility industry. The challenge is defining where to start, what are the next steps, and how can users accelerate the digitalization journey. Most utilities have good document management systems supporting regulatory processes and often have good enterprise asset management systems supporting maintenance. A lot of this data is inaccessible to those who need it, and it is often not as up-to-date as it should be. Opening this information using a federated approach using platforms, such as Bentley’s connected data environment, for example, will bring initial benefits in terms of finding information. With existing assets, use reality modeling as a starter for digital twins to capture as-is conditions and link that data to sensor information to better understand the context of operations and maintenance. Finally, adding simple workflows to the digital twins to record changes in the field will keep information evergreen and up-to-date and provide a sound basis for the next steps. The next steps might be to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve maintenance and operations processes, enabling digital twins to truly drive the utility business. Bentley is partnering with project delivery firms, consultants, contractors, and owner-operators to help them get the most value out of data in a connected data environment and to help make better decisions, gain insights, improve asset performance, and achieve better business outcomes. Assessing current business practices against an advancement framework can help and that starts with a digital assessment.

Energy Central:  Underlying the OpenUtilities suite are GIS-based systems from several vendors. How does GIS become an integral part of the solution?

Vonnie Smith: In almost every deployment, organizations must rely on distinct, separate data, including legacy GIS-based solutions.  OpenUtilities brings GIS and other disparate data together in a federated connected data environment – without loss of geospatial integrity.

Click here to view the other parts in this series.

Vonnie Smith's picture

Thank Vonnie for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 23, 2019 5:34 pm GMT

Thanks for sharing, Vonnie!

The combination of the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution and the huge amounts of dark data that has been collected but has largely gone unused has driven the utility sector to be much more focused on the digital twin

This seems to be part of a recurring shortcuming in the utility industry, that data being collected is all well and good, but we need to use it properly to really make change! 

Another issue sometimes comes with quality and accuracy of data-- do these solutions provide any sort of ability to clean up and validate the mass troves of data?

Vonnie Smith's picture
Vonnie Smith on Aug 26, 2019 4:20 pm GMT

Engaging with our customers, we realize data quality is an issue with user data – “dark” or not.  As you are likely aware, GIS data is often a critical component of the digital twin.  Even when GIS can successfully claim to have pristine and precise data within the context of the Enterprise GIS system, we often find that the combination of data sources that constitute a digital twin exposes what were previously unknown data quality issues.  Data quality issues are not new to IT departments.  In the past, IT has focused on Extract Transform Load and Data Quality services solutions for data warehousing and business intelligence workflows.  These solutions mostly lack spatial context support and fall short of what’s required to manage a living breathing digital twin and that has proven a barrier to most large users.

Where initially the Siemens-Bentley solution relied on Microsoft SSIS and Data Quality Services, we are now leveraging Bentley’s iTwin Services and iModelHUB technologies to enable a data quality product for the digital twin that is spatial and network topology aware, knowledge-driven and supplemented by AI and machine learning technologies.  This iTwin Service performs a variety of data quality tasks, including correction, enrichment, standardization, visualization, and corrective actions.  Unlike more traditional data quality services, users can review data scorecards and visualize spatial heatmaps of where data is good enough or not trust worthy.  This allows users to identify where data is usefully immediately and where they should focus on corrective actions.

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