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Special Edition: How Digital Twins Can Overcome Utility Challenges with Brent Jensen, Bentley Systems [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast]

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The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. Each two weeks we’ll connect with an Energy Central Power Industry Network...

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  • Jun 22, 2021 10:45 am GMT
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This week, the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast turns back to the world of Digital Twins as we welcome back a return guest to the podcast: Brent Jensen, a sales engagement director with Bentley Systems. Bent and his team at Bentley have been hard at work transforming the digital sphere of the utility industry, specifically focused on the grid modernization implications of digital twins and the data-focused opportunities they unlock. After first introducing host Jason Price and producer Matt Chester to the possibilities of digital twin on the grid in his appearance on the podcast last year, Brent picks up where he left off to inform listners about how electric utilities can get started and the cascading benefits that come for forward-looking utilities to integrate these grid software solutions.

A special thanks to Bentley Systems for supporting this edition of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast.

Prefer to Read vs. Listening? Scroll Down to Read Transcript.

 

Key Links

Brent Jensen’s Energy Central Profile: https://energycentral.com/member/profile/brent-jensen

Bentley’s Energy Central Company Page: https://energycentral.com/o/bentley

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

Jason Price: 

Hello, and welcome to a special edition of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast. This is the show where we bring in thought leaders and innovators across the utility sector, and grill them about the future of the industry and learn about how they're making that utility of tomorrow a reality today. My name is Jason Price of West Monroe, and I'm coming to you from New York City. Joining me, as always, is Energy Central's Community Manager and Podcast Producer, Matt Chester. Matt, today we're going into the digital sphere to look at how the future of the utility industry is being shaped. Are you ready for the discussion?

 

Matt Chester: 

Absolutely, Jason, I'm excited to get this one going.

 

Jason Price: 

Fantastic. Our guest today, Brent Jensen, should be familiar to members of Energy Central. Brent is the Sales Engagement Director at Bentley Systems, and he was on the podcast last year, along with a colleague from Siemens to discuss grid modernization, and the trend of utilities becoming more data-driven, forward-looking, and embracing of the digital twins concept. Since then, the evolution of the grid has not only continued, but in fact, that transition's pace has undoubtedly picked up.

Jason Price: 
Amid this rapidly moving landscape, digital twins are going to be an increasingly critical topic at all corners of the utility business, with an eye towards these processes, Brent will pick up where he left off in that previous episode and discuss with us how electric utilities can get started on building a digital twin. But before we welcome Brent back into the podcast booth, let's give a quick thanks to Bentley Systems for making today's episode possible.

Jason Price: 
Bentley Systems, a software development company that supports the professional needs of those responsible for creating and managing the world's infrastructure projects. So with that said, let's reintroduce Brent. Brent Jensen works on the integrated grid software solutions for energy utilities. He helped show utilities the value of digital twins, and how to overcome some of the major challenges utilities face in creating them, and keep them current in a dynamic information environment, and we're excited to have him share this wisdom with us today. Brent Jensen, welcome to today's episode of Energy Central's Power Perspectives Podcast.

Brent Jensen: 
It's great to be back, Jason. Nice to be chatting with you again and Matt.

Jason Price: 
Fantastic. Brent, last year you discuss what a digital twin is, and why utilities need digital twins as part of their digitalization strategy. I'd like to go deeper into the actual elements of a digital twin and how utilities should approach this new era of digital twinning. But since it's been some time since you were last on to discuss the digital twin, give us a quick summary, a 101 if you will, on what are they and why are they important to the utility professionals listening?

Brent Jensen: 
So digital twins are kind of just what they sound . They're a digital representation of your grid, and I know it sounds daunting. How would you create that? But tools today are getting very sophisticated in the ability to use the data that a utility has already. So you'll see utilities walking around, taking pictures. They've got design data in various different systems, and they're siloed, and don't talk to each other. So Bentley has formulated a way to bring all this information into a digital twin that it gives you two things. One is the ability to view what you have, so you can overlay it with vegetation data, or maps, or you see your wires and transformers and all that sort of stuff.

Brent Jensen: 
And so visualizing it with goggles, or walking through a particular model and looking at what may be going on with the grid for repairs. But also around mechanics so that these tools talk to each other more efficiently, so work order management systems, financial systems, financial data, SCADA data, simulation data. You can update these systems across each other as data is coming in. So if there's a repair done, that data can automatically be fed in and it will update your digital twin model that you have so you can see in real time what's going on. So it really has two functions that are very powerful.

Jason Price: 
Thanks for that. Brent, what's the maturity of this in the industry? Are stakeholders uniformly behind the curve, or are you really focused on groups that are falling behind that need help catching up to pack on digital twin implementation?

Brent Jensen: 
Yeah, that's a good question. And really, depending on the utility, you see a variety of digital twin stages. Some bigger utilities have a bigger footprint that they're trying to incorporate, but have different systems that they're trying to integrate. So again, still they'll have packets that look good, but then outside of that sphere, either through acquisition or by other means, there's data that's not incorporated into that. So they're looking for ways, how can I take the various different data sources I have and continue to add on to this model that I've started. And then there are other utilities you talk with where they're still using paper, like maintenance records are still being done with paper, and they're not getting a critical component into the digital sphere that could really help benefit their operations. So you really see a big spectrum, I'll say, of advancements in digital twins as utilities catch onto this.

Jason Price: 
Got it. So to dive in, how exactly should a utility go about building a digital twin or building into an existing digital twin?

Brent Jensen: 
Yeah. That's a good question, and many utilities ask the same thing. They're like, "How do we get started? So what we do is we have a working group that can come in and discuss with the utility, "What's your biggest pain point?" And we see it across a variety of different areas within the utility. It can be just around file management for instance. They may have simulation files, either transmission models, distribution models, the distribution files themselves. And they don't know where the latest one is, who manipulated it, or what simulation was run against it at what power levels. And this can be a nightmare for the utilities. And it's amazing that something so critical like that is just so hard for them to manage. So that could be one area where you could start and say, "Look, we have the basic mechanics behind how we can help you manage those files."

Brent Jensen: 
So just file management could be something very simple to start with, and that could be the start of your digital twin, where we're just managing these enormous files, showing you who touched what when, and what was done to it so that you can keep moving forward instead of struggling to figure out where everything's at. That's one area. Another area could be around picture management. Some utilities have a ton of pictures everywhere for substations, power lines, vegetation data, and they're not sure how to manage that or how to tie that into their GIS system, or other forms of data. And we have some very fun solutions that can help them do that. And that could be a start of a digital twin. So it really depends on what the biggest pain point a utility is experiencing, but there's a variety of ways to get started that are easy to build on, going forward

Matt Chester: 
Brent, you bring up these pain points from the utilities, and I'm curious, can you break them down in terms of, are there some of the pain points that utilities are typically aware of before they start and that's why they're bringing you in? And is there a separate category that's really only uncovered once you dive into the project, and you kind of point out some issues that they didn't even realize were there?

Brent Jensen: 
Yeah. That's a great question. The biggest area we see right out of the shoot when we come in and talk to the utilities is the various data silos that they have. They're just astounded by how many different data sources they have within the utility. And it's something that's grown as the utility has grown, either again through acquisition of other utilities or the acquisition of tools. As some good tools come along, they would deploy those. But these tools and the data that they have don't talk to each other. They're in different data formats and different usages. And when you come in and say, "Look, we could help integrate those into a digital twin, either to help you visualize better the data that you have around these various different, again, substations, or transformers, or power lines, or whatever you have, neighborhoods. Or we can better utilize that data from a mechanic standpoint, where you update financial systems or various different systems."

Brent Jensen: 
So these are key things that the utility knows, the problems they have, and they're anxious to figure out, "Well, where do I start? It's such a giant mess that we have with all these various different data sources. What's the best place to start?" And that's usually typically one of the issues that the utility has. One of the fun places we suggest is around GIS. What if we could help you guys get your GIS data corrected and start there? Because that's one of the base forms of information that your utility uses. Many different groups use Downstream. Simulation teams, plannings teams, maintenance teams, if you can get that data solid and correct, and tie it into other systems, the Downstream effects are tremendous, so that's one area that we suggest where we could start.

Jason Price: 
Brent, I'm interested in the term, twins. Where does it come from? And what are we twinning here? And more importantly, how does managing files relate to digital twins? Is it just one data warehouse, or is it multiple?

Brent Jensen: 
No. It's a good point. So a digital twin is just kind of how it sounds. So you've got the physical real world, your network, your power lines, your substations, your electrical network, and what a digital twin implies is an electric model, a computer model, that identically represents what's in the field. And that's a hard thing to do because what's in the field is constantly changing either through storms, or equipment failure, or new neighborhoods, growth. You see some of these co-ops for instance, here in Texas, that are growing tremendously as the state grows. So their grid is changing so fast and the data is coming in so fast. How do you keep that up to date, and in your digital twin? So what we suggest is when you build this digital twin, we're utilizing data that you already have. We're not trying to reinvent any tool solution.

Brent Jensen: 
So as your data changes in the existing tool sources that you have, we've got plugins that bring that over to our digital twin, and it's not a giant database. It's actually layers. So for instance, your GIS data is one source. And then we can layer on a map, Google maps, and then we can layer on SCADA data. And then we can layer on monitoring data. We could layer on maintenance data, manuals, documentation. So it's not one giant database. It's a way to layer information to do two things again. One visualize what you have and see what's going on with that environment and two, to make your systems more efficient, have them talk to each other and share data as it's changing. It's a very powerful effect.

Jason Price: 
You mentioned GIS earlier. Does GIS come into the mix when looking at digital twins for utilities? After all, doesn't the GIS system essentially have all the information a utility needs for a digital twin?

Brent Jensen: 
That's a great point. We hear that from utilities. They're like, "Well, our GIS is our digital twin." And then we ask, "Well, does it have your maintenance data in there? Is there a maintenance warehouse affiliated with that?" And the answer is no, typically. They'll have some minor information, but it won't have everything they need. It won't have documentation about specific equipment. It won't have vegetation data. It won't have real-time monitoring data. We've seen here in Austin, and it's happening all over the US, are these new meters that are smart meters. And now me as a homeowner, you can log in to your address and see how much power your house is using every 15 minutes. You can layer that data on top of your GIS data, on top of a map. And then you could have a real-time view of what's going on with the grid, and you could see maybe a low voltage area, or a high voltage area in real-time, and see what's going on.

Brent Jensen: 
Maybe start to get ahead of some of the problems that may be going on with the grid. And that's the other thing a digital twin can do with all this additional data, is allow you to predict, look out in time and say, "Hey, there's equipment out there that has been stressed because of high usage, maybe high current, high voltage. And that reduces the real time life of some of those transformers and other pieces of equipment. We need to either get out and the maintenance that device, or maybe replace it and get out ahead of outages and problems that can occur." We've seen some utilities just run equipment to failure, and that's becoming a bigger and bigger issue for them. Fires start, oil spills out of these transformers and create some mess that they have to clean up, and the costs of coming in after something fails are a lot more than if you get out ahead of it and fix it before it fails. The utilities are seeing that.

Brent Jensen: 
So it's just another way you can get ahead of the curve with a digital twin by incorporating all these different sources together with your GIS data and say, "Look. We need to get out and look at these specific areas. They haven't been out and looked at for years, and in some cases decades." So it's a great way for these utilities to get a preview of where they have to do their work. The other one is around data security. So depending on where you put this information, and we can either put it in the cloud, or we can do it on Prem as well.

Brent Jensen: 
We can help you secure that data, and there are powerful organizations that share data around security threats. The IBM, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, US government, [inaudible 00:14:12], all these places share information about attacks and how to secure your data and being able to leverage these powerful tech companies is a big advantage for some utilities, because it's not an area where they have expertise and know the latest tricks that hackers may have and want to employ. So there's kind of a two-pronged area in creating a digital twin. It can help you not only with efficiencies around everyday work, but it can help you around security as well.

Jason Price: 
I feel you're alluding to some of my next questions, which is along the lines of DER. So is a digital implementation even more critical in this environment with increasing distributed energy resources?

Brent Jensen: 
Yeah, it is. Talking to utilities all over the country, DER resources, distributed energy resources, solar, wind, electric cars, batteries, big batteries are becoming more and more prevalent. And you see some of these utilities struggle with thousands of interconnection requests a day. So for instance, out in California, we'll see... Because they're big on solar out there, and they're actually a big here in Texas on it as well. But you have to get permission from the utility to do a study. If I want to put 10K of solar, or 20K of solar on my home, what are the implications to the grid on that? Somebody's got to study that, and in many cases, it can be very quick, just a 10, 15 minute exercise, maybe 20 minutes. But if you're doing thousands of those a day, that's a huge amount of time.

Brent Jensen: 
And one of the things that a digital twin can help you do, and the solutions that Bentley has, can help you automate that. So we have a way that when you get your digital twin in place and it could be very quick GIS data, you click on a home, a menu pops up, you put in the amount of power that you want to run on that home, and you hit go and it completes the study in seconds, and it gives you a yes or no. We keep track of every study we run. We keep track of the model that was run on it, how much power was analyzed. So you can go back and look and see what the implications are to the grid as a neighborhood grows in solar deployments, or a neighborhood wants to put out a big solar farm or a wind turbine, or battery or something.

Brent Jensen: 
And these utilities are starting to see the advantages of that, not only from money savings to the customer, but they can utilize those resources to help balance the grid. So it helps the utility as well. Digital twin can help you reshape what you think about your business model about a utility, because that's coming at these utilities in spades. You look, especially in Texas, hurricanes hit the Houston area, and there are businesses down there that have their own power and they will disconnect from the grid, and save their grocery store chains, the gas station chains, so they can stay in business and keep operating.

Brent Jensen: 
And this actually helped a lot of people three years ago when Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area. And what the utilities are doing down there is then utilizing those power sources in super hot times of the year when the grid is under huge stress with air conditioning, and other demands, asking those businesses to disconnect from the grid. Turn on your power source and disconnect and offload from the grid, and we'll pay you for that. Or help us power the grid and help us balance the grid in that area, and we'll pay you for that. So it's interesting how a digital twin can help a utility kind of Terraform their business model and how they operate and run.

Jason Price: 
Yes. And given that you're from Texas, you know firsthand about reliability, especially during a serious weather event. Can you talk a little bit about that? Can you tell us how can a digital twin help mitigate the risks to the grid by severe weather?

Brent Jensen: 
Yeah, we're already starting to see that. We've seen a couple of major events here. Recently the winter storm that just about shut down the entire Texas grid, and in the Houston area again, where a hurricane will hit and the last one, they were without power for a couple of weeks because transformers were just drowned. They had 40 to 60 inches of rain, so it just flooded everything down there. So what a digital twin can help you do, and we're seeing this actually in the Midwest as well in the Ohio Valley area where they'll create microgrids. And during extreme events... And this is what California is looking at as well from a wildfire standpoint. If we can create micro grids, what is it that we can put in certain areas, and disconnect small communities so that we can cut off the major power sources and reduce the chance of damage, either from high winds, or hurricane events or extreme cold, extreme heat.

Brent Jensen: 
What could we do to supply some of this? And so if you have a digital twin of that environment, you can do these what if scenarios and say, "Okay, if we took this small area and cut it out, and maybe put a solar farm in with batteries, what would that cost benefit be? Maybe a wind turbine would be more beneficial. Maybe a big battery would be more beneficial." But you can try certain things and see what the cost analysis, cost effect could be in breaking up these certain sections of the grid.

Brent Jensen: 
The other interesting thing about building a digital twin and being able to do this is being able to analyze huge geographic areas. You can look at 20, 30 years worth of data and see how the area has grown and look back in time and see where there were problems. And then go mitigate those with very simple fixes. Maybe put a big pasture in a certain area, that's a very cost-effective way to mitigate some low voltage, high voltage areas. And again, break up and micro grid certain sections with cheap technologies that are coming along. The cost savings could be tremendous. If you could break up your high voltage areas, shut off power to the high voltage lines, and save them during extreme weather events, then the savings could be tremendous.

Jason Price: 
Yep. Yep. So let's bring it all together. How does Bentley's digital twin solution help address all these pain points you mentioned earlier? And what does Bentley's digital twin services provide to utilities?

Brent Jensen: 
The biggest thing that Bentley is invested in is a common data model. It's open source. You're not locked in to any data format. You keep the data sources that you have. Bentley has a lot of different connectors that allows you to bring in these data sources to this common data model. The beauty behind that is that Bentley's catching up, because IBM, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, all the major players are putting Opensource software out there that's free, that people can use, and build on. And if you built a Bentley's common data model, as tools evolve, new tools come along, suddenly you can then incorporate that data into your digital twin very easily, and very effectively, and very efficiently. Bentley's got over 350 different connectors right now and growing. If we don't have a connector, it's easy for us to build one. And this is what allows us to build a digital twin very efficiently.

Brent Jensen: 
Again, we're utilizing your existing data sources and laying these in like layers on a bed, blankets, sheets, pillows. Depending on the data source that you have and what you want to see and view, you can strip these layers off to get to the data that you want to see. So it's a very powerful way to help utilities, again, A, visualize what they have and what's going on within their grid, and B, make the existing systems that have worked much more efficiently with each other sharing data.

Brent Jensen: 
One of the fun things that I think... I just saw this new Ford truck. You could actually power your house with it. So what if people have electric cars that in the case of an extreme weather event like we had in Texas, where it just gets too cold for too long, or too hot for too long, or something, and you could power your house as your car or truck for a few days while the grid recovers, or until that extreme weather event goes away. So it's a pretty interesting dynamic that's coming with these new, big, powerful electric vehicles.

Jason Price: 
I'd love to see that advertisement. Powering a state. Now Brent, we have to put you through a different kind of ringer. It's time for our lightning round, that will allow our listeners to get to know you and get to know who you are bit better outside of the digital twin talk. So your responses will be just one word or phrase, are you ready?

Brent Jensen: 
Sure. Let's go.

Jason Price: 
Okay. Dream vacation spot?

Brent Jensen: 
I'd have to say Hawaii. We've gone there a couple of times, and we really enjoyed that.

Jason Price: 
Favorite holiday.

Brent Jensen: 
Christmas, because we take a lot of time then, and family comes in. So I think it's our favorite holiday.

Jason Price: 
What recipe would you cook up in the kitchen to impress a guest?

Brent Jensen: 
Pizza. I make pretty good pizzas. We make our own dough and we have our own fun little recipes, so yeah, pizza.

Jason Price: 
That's impressive. What movie, book, or TV show can you watch over and over without getting tired of?

Brent Jensen: 
It's a program that I like. It's called "Nova" on PBS. They're scientific programs, but they have such amazing content. So yeah, "Nova" series.

Jason Price: 
Is there an app on your phone you couldn't live without?

Brent Jensen: 
I'd have to say mail, because on the road, you're never really too far from work, so probably mail.

Jason Price: 
And what are you most optimistic about?

Brent Jensen: 
Electric cars again. It's fascinating. We've had one for a while, and the possibilities of what we're going to be able to do with those things going forward, I think is tremendous. So electric cars.

Jason Price: 
Fantastic. Brent, we love your passion. We love your insight. You've made it through the lightning round with complete success. And for that, we're going to give you the final word of the episode. If you could share one simple final piece of advice with the utility leaders who are listening in today, what would it be?

Brent Jensen: 
I would say looking at your business, what is your biggest struggle pain point with? The term digital twin sounds daunting and like, "Oh, it's going to be really expensive and time-consuming and hard to build," but it's really not. It's very simple. And when you look at one area of your business and the utility that you're struggling with, that's how you can get started. That's the easiest place to get going.

Brent Jensen: 
And then from there, you can just add on. Add on the next pain point, and continue going forward, and pretty soon you see great efficiencies within the utility. The utility gets more flexible, more dynamic, easier to manage, and going forward with all of the new sources of electricity that are coming. Yet again electric cars, solar, wind, solar panels are going to get tremendously more efficient. Wind turbines are getting to be huge. GE is building a 13 megawatt one, so it's going to continue to grow and to be able to handle all that change efficiently, it's going to be a bigger, bigger chore for these utilities. So start simple, start with your biggest pain point, and grow from there.

Jason Price: 
That's great, Brent. So I want to thank you for a great, informative, and entertaining conversation. I hope our listeners learned as much as we have today, so thanks for coming back to the podcast. Perhaps we'll have to make this an annual tradition.

Brent Jensen: 
Yeah. Thanks for having me. It's great talking with you again, Jason, Matt. It was great fun. Thank you very much.

Jason Price: 
You can always reach Brent Jensen through the Energy Central platform, where he welcomes your questions and comments. Once again, I'm your host Jason Price. Plug in and stay fully charged in the discussion by hopping into the community at energycentral.com. And we'll see you next time at the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast. (Music).

 


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