Since the mid to late 2000s, the volume and complexity of data used to manage the electric grid has continued to grow, reaching volumes that a generation ago were unthinkable. One simple example of this is the growth of data from smart meters. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Scientific and Technology Information estimates that the amount of data generated from one million smart meters in one year is nearly three terabytes (Source: OSIT.) Now add in data from traditional systems like SCADA and newer data sources like synchro-phasers and other devices, and one can see why the grid truly is “big data.”
It is against this backdrop of massive growth in data that utility leaders are looking for ways to put these technology investments to use to transform and modernize the grid. Indeed, leveraging this infrastructure intelligence by unlocking the data it generates for improved business performance and a return on these huge investments is a critical success factor for utilities in the 21st century.
Utility Data & The Building Blocks of Building Value
As the volume of utility data has grown over the last 15+ years, so has the utility industry’s sophistication in managing and using this data on a range of use cases that improve grid reliability and resiliency, engage customers in new ways, and produce more accurate energy forecasts. Figure 1, below, captures this journey from basic data management to business intelligence and reporting to advanced analytics and artificial intelligence.
Figure 1. The Analytics Value Curve. (Source: Utility Analytics Institute.)
Looking at how data from infrastructure intelligence has been used historically in managing the grid, one can see, in many cases this was used very transactionally, typically in the repair and replacement of grid assets. Now consider, if this infrastructure intelligence is used to build a digital twin of the grid to enable more strategic management of the grid.
What is a digital twin? A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical infrastructure, including equipment, systems, and processes, contextualized in an exact digital replica. Digital twins are used in many different vertical industries for modeling and predictive operations. For utilities, the digital twin represents an opportunity to model and plan for the sweeping changes that are hitting the grid today and over the next decade. For example, consider the impacts of the growth in electric vehicles on the grid, or the broader movement to electrification of residential conveniences and industrial processes. These changes in the grid will present challenges for utilities that are in the business of providing reliable, affordable, and safe energy services.
New Data Serving New Use Cases
As noted above, utilities are becoming more sophisticated in how they are managing and using data generated from their infrastructure intelligence investments. This is resulting in utilities being able to develop and execute new use cases that might be using “old data” along with “new data.” In many of these use cases, the digital twin is at the core of the solution. Table 1, below, includes a few examples of how a digital twin is on point for utilities as they address use cases with old and new data, and plan for and execute on their way to a new energy future.
Table 1. The role of the digital twin in the new energy landscape.
Table 1 provides a good snapshot of the types of challenges that will be facing utilities in the very near future, and how a digital twin can unlock value in the data sets needed to meet these challenges.
The value of a digital twin in the new energy landscape is demonstrated with a closer look at electric vehicle charging networks as noted in Table 1. The explosive growth of EVs, of course, screams for charging networks to power all of the EV’s hitting the road, thirsty for electrons.
The digital twin will be a key piece of the EV puzzle in answering questions like: Considering traffic patterns and demographic data, where should the charging stations be placed? How many should be placed at these “smart” locations? What is the best way to maintain, perhaps preventively, all of this charging infrastructure? And what about different models for how to bill for these EV-specific electrons? A digital twin will help identify the answers to these critical questions as the transportation side of the energy transition ramps up.
As utilities continue to build out their infrastructure intelligence, look to digital twins to ensure that the utility’s solutions are aligned with customer need and expect grid requirements to continue to meet the utility industry’s mission of providing reliable, affordable, safe, and now sustainable energy services. For more information on how your utility can make digital twins part of your future, go here.