Apply These 6 Techniques To Create a Digital Twin

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Robert Schultz's picture
Electric Utility Industry Specialist Locusview

As an Electric Utility Industry Specialist at Locusview, Bob implements and supports the company’s strategic expansion into the electric utility market. An engineer with a background spanning...

  • Member since 2021
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  • Oct 27, 2021

This item is part of the Advances in Utility Digitalization - October 2021 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

What are the most critical issues facing the utilities industry? From rising consumer demand to cost reductions, from compliance pressures to digital transformation, energy leaders are faced with burgeoning challenges.

At the heart of the matter is the critical need for utilities to improve their operations with more advanced tools which modernize the grid, meet shifting energy demands, and prepare for the future of smart energy systems. One of the most effective ways to achieve these goals is with a Digital Twin.

Here are 6 techniques utility leaders can apply in order to fully realize the value of a Digital Twin:

1. Utilize Intelligent Design

Effective design provides the foundation for all utility construction projects. Utilities must improve their design process and deeply consider the impact of design decisions and changes which occur throughout the workflow, from planning to execution and close-out. The detailed design process begins with a careful evaluation of the pre-existing field conditions which may not be present in the digital mapping source. This best practice ensures the design developed reflects the “as-is” starting point and takes into account the “constructability” of the design package. 

2. Improve Infrastructure Data Accuracy

Even with well-planned, intelligent design, utilities must ensure that they capture accurate as-built asset data. Many downstream utility systems (ie. GIS, EAM, ADMS) utilize as-built asset data to perform subsequent engineering analysis, plan maintenance activities, operate their grid, and post these records to the Asset Repositories. 

Too often, utilities are faced with inaccurate, incomplete or delayed as-built data, which can impact project completion, hinder emergency repair work, impede future construction projects and affect their Fixed Assets Repositories and other corporate systems (ie. OMS, ADMS, etc).

3. Transform Paper Processes Into a Digital Workflow

Despite the rise in digital transformation and advanced technologies, the use of paper based Job Folders in construction as-builting is still prevalent. This paper-burdened legacy workflow is inefficient, wrought with data quality and completeness issues, and results in massive mapping backlogs. Only by transforming manual field data collection into a fully digital workflow can utilities improve data accuracy, integrity, and reliability, an ideal condition for incorporating a Digital Twin. 

The introduction of automation in the field data capture process also relieves construction staff of the burden of documenting asset-related data from newly installed equipment / facilities.

4. Invest in Grid Modernization

Increasing demand for DERs, OMS, and ADMS is pushing utility leaders to adopt more sophisticated technologies. These advanced systems require a Digital Twin, which relies on high fidelity data that must be transferred into their system of record faster and with greater accuracy. Much of the data required for these advanced systems is far more detailed and will require construction organizations to focus increased training and quality control to enable construction crews to document them effectively.  

Utilities are increasingly turning to digital construction companies to provide them with the ability to feed these network-hungry operational systems and ultimately, modernize the grid.

5. Think Broadly About Complex Challenges

To effectively utilize a Digital Twin, it’s critical to think broadly about long-term goals. Demand for 5G networks, rural broadband development, electric vehicles, and cloud computing requires maintaining high-integrity grid data. Regulatory and socio-economic challenges will continue to shift over time, something that utility leaders must continue to consider. The loss of highly skilled utility workers will also impact the ability of utilities to ensure the effective installation of new assets and subsequent as-built data capture. 

6. Search for an End-To-End Solution

While some utilities attempt to incorporate existing technology into their workflows, they often discover capability limitations or incomplete solutions tied to specific systems. Utilities must use multiple applications to enter redundant data into disparate systems, resulting in a disconnected workflow. Creating a Digital Twin becomes more cumbersome without a comprehensive solution.

Before choosing a digital construction platform, make sure it offers a truly end-to-end solution and is designed for field crews and contractors. This allows all stakeholders to access the same information for greater transparency and better decision-making. Utilities can then build the foundation to create a high fidelity Digital Twin, achieve a completely digital and optimized workflow, gain full operational excellence, and scale their network. 

Technologies which combine intelligent network design with digital construction and accurate grid model data can improve safety and data quality, speed project close-out, prepare utilities for regulatory requirements, and provide a Digital Twin. 

By ensuring better design and digital workflows, the opportunity to incorporate more advanced systems which require a Digital Twin can improve utilities’ operations now and in the future.

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Ann Marie O'Connell's picture
Ann Marie O'Connell on Nov 15, 2021

Accurate "digital twin" models enable all kinds of improvements in engineering, operations, and repair of electric power systems.

Tim Ryan's picture
Tim Ryan on Nov 15, 2021

The biggest problem imho is the lack of accurate real time granular data from the grid edge - digital twins are all about good data as inputs or it’s just GIGO!

Paul Korzeniowski's picture
Paul Korzeniowski on Nov 30, 2021

Good point about the asset data accuracy. Companies nowadays collect more information than ever before, but it was created in silos that were supposed to be limited to only specific departments. Consequently, collecting and consolidating that information can be challenging. 

Robert Schultz's picture
Thank Robert for the Post!
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