Beyond assets, to a better world
As utility leaders thread technology through all aspects of the business, the valuable troves of data generated are being used to build massive networks of intelligent digital twins. The mirrored world these next-generation twins create is fueling change by unlocking the currently trapped value of data and allowing utilities to simulate, predict, and automate by seamlessly bridging the divide between digital and physical.
In the Mirrored World, utilities use massive, intelligent, digital twins to represent the entire energy system, extending digital twin use cases far beyond utility asset management. It creates a network of multiple existing twins to create a living model of entire processes, all energy users, the supply chain, and much more.
In the short term, it helps redefine post-pandemic strategies for the energy transition. In the long term, it facilitates an agile and intelligent future for the industry. It becomes the energy system’s system of record. An essential strategic planning tool for asset managers, regulators, policy makers, and transport system owners. A shared analytics platform to perform scenario planning from large-scale generation through to customer modelling.
Look at Ericsson and Vodafone, which are working with e.GO, an electric vehicle company, to develop a factory of the future.1 The factory is powered by connected machines and a private 5G network, and each machine gathers and processes data to send to the company’s “brain” – its network operations center. This data powers a digital twin of the entire e.GO factory: it knows every component, when that component arrived, and the instructions for how to assemble and disassemble it. New parts can be timed to arrive exactly when they’re needed. And the tools used by human workers are connected and smart, automatically adjusting to provide the right torque needed for a particular task based on current data and specifications.
The Mirrored World promises visibility of the entire energy value chain. To maximize its benefit, leading utilities will collaborate with stakeholders from across the energy ecosystem. Customers, equipment manufacturers, power generators, communities, city planners, transport infrastructure, all these stakeholders and more contribute to create an overarching model of the energy system.
The Mirrored World enables highly sophisticated simulations of real-world systems, and extends existing capabilities far beyond analysis of simple process KPIs. The many layers of a digital twin create opportunities to gain insights that have not previously been possible. Some power plants are already using digital twins on a limited basis to help with complex capital improvements and maintenance programs. However, their use will become increasingly sophisticated.
For example, the digital twin of a single wind turbine combined with other twins creates a mirror of the entire wind farm. All wind-farm twins combine to mirror an entire wind portfolio. The wind portfolio twin is merged with other generation types to provide an overarching view of all generation. Adding real-time data from SCADA systems creates system-wide situational awareness. In other words, the insights rapidly escalate from standalone to ubiquitous.2
But use cases don’t end with big picture visibility. Mirrored World simulations give enterprises the freedom to explore new ideas and ask limitless “what-if” questions in a risk-free, digital environment. The combination of digital twin and AI and machine learning enables advanced network planning and scenario building. For example, US utility Peninsula Light used a digital twin of its electric network to digitize the rollout of 33,000 smart meters in 2020.3 Planners can stress-test different parts of the network. They can see what it takes to break the grid. What-if scenarios can detect weaknesses and bottlenecks, across many different scenarios: what if a tree falls here? What if I build an electric vehicle (EV charge) station there? How to I optimize a microgrid? How do I incorporate hydrogen into the energy mix?
Enel is also a good example of the new possibilities that come with a strategic shift. It made the tactical switch to change from a DNO (Distribution Network Operator) to a DSO (Distribution System Operator). To support this move, it created a network digital twin to better serve Vila Olímpia, one of São Paulo’s most modern districts.4
The Mirrored World is much more than an asset planning tool. It simulates operational processes. It optimizes the operational steps for a nuclear power plant maintenance program. And it creates call-center scenarios to optimize processes during a system-wide outage. The value of the Mirrored World increases with each new layer of content added. A wider and deeper view of the energy system is created when multiple digital twins are merged. New insights into system optimization and planning will be derived by adding AI and machine learning.
The energy ecosystem does not stop at energy infrastructure. Nor does the Mirrored World
Almost 70% of the global economy has committed to net zero. And the utility industry plays a central role in delivering on this commitment. The Mirrored World will be a critical tool to plan this delivery. But planning cannot be restricted to utility assets. Why? Because net zero needs an integrated approach with energy users. Given the importance of industrial energy use, industrial clusters are one of the most important user groups.
Accenture expects industrial clusters will become important future energy users.5 They are a great example of how energy data can be shared across an ecosystem. Industrial clusters are co-located companies—from different industries—in the same geographic area. The close proximity of multiple industrial energy consumers creates opportunities to scale low-carbon technologies by aggregating demand and forming a captive market. Industrial clusters share risk and resources among partners. They also share data. And this data contributes to the Mirrored World.
System planning skills, based on digital twin technology, can take this kind of collaboration to the next level. The circular economy is vital to industrial clusters, but needs a digital twin to manage it. Digital twins will help identify how to balance different power sources, share renewable generation, share by-products, or decide when to store power for later use.
Each data point adds to a new vision for the future.
By bringing together data and intelligence to represent the physical world in a digital space, utility leaders unlock new opportunities to operate, collaborate, and innovate. Each new connected device brings the Mirrored World future closer. Each new piece of data is an opportunity to innovate and to adapt business strategies. Each new deployment of edge computing makes it easier to analyze.
The value of digital twins grows exponentially by bringing together new data and combining with other digital twins. Every utility starts small. But ambition is the only restriction on how large the digital twin can grow. This cannot be done alone. Stakeholder collaboration delivers the most valuable digital twin. It also creates the framework to deliver a better future for all.
The utilities that start building intelligent twins of their assets and piecing together their first mirrored environments today, will be the ones that push the industry, and all energy users, toward an agile, intelligent and sustainable future.
1 “Factory of the future shows mobile model for small manufacturers” Vodafone, 26 June 2019
2 “Advanced Nuclear Reactor Designs to Get Digital Twins” Power, 14 May 2020
3 “Washington utility creates digital twin of electricity network,” Smart Energy International, Mar 4, 2020
4 “Vila Olímpia, the future of cities is in São Paulo,” Enel, Oct 9, 2019