The utility industry has experienced more change over the past decade than it has in over a century of operation. A handful of data points illustrate the historic transformation that is underway and quickly accelerating. According to the IHS Markit Global Power Industry Outlook, just 1% of U.S. power generation came from wind and solar in 2008. By 2018, that number had risen to 9%. IHS projects says it will reach 18% by 2028.
Similar projections about the growth of distributed energy resources (DER) such as rooftop solar, energy efficiency, and battery storage are easy to find. Indeed, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) estimates that the global market for storage will double six times by 2030. For instance, Texas—the largest consumer of coal in the United States, according to the Energy Information Administration—has seen wind power generation surpass coal in the first half of 2019. And utilities in Texas are going through a massive transformation with wind, solar, and energy storage becoming a bigger mix of energy generation sources for utility customers.
The story is a tale of a power system transforming from a traditional one-direction power provider—from large, fossil fuel power plants to consumers—into a more distributed and cleaner network in which power flows in two directions.
But coupled with these advances is the stark reality that the power system as a whole is full of aging assets. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) 2017 Infrastructure Report Card gave America's energy system a grade of D+. The report noted that it would require investments of nearly $180 billion between 2016 and 2025 to avoid capacity bottlenecks and more frequent power interruptions.
"We know that the world suffers from an investment deficit where economic growth has outpaced infrastructure investment," said Teresa Elliott, industry marketing director for utilities at Bentley Systems. "Failures due to aging and overloading can cause widespread outages that impact customer service but can also raise maintenance costs resulting from reactive corrective actions."
Then, there is the challenge of weather-related events that can cause significant damage to traditional power infrastructure, taking weeks or months to fully repair. Extreme heat and cold weather cycles are becoming more of the norm, with a recent stretch of high heat and thunderstorms causing power outages in 16 states across nearly 3 million customers. Both aging infrastructure and weather can inhibit a utility's ability to meet reliability requirements, such as the system average interruption duration index (SAIDI) and system average interruption frequency index (SAIFI).
However, grid transformation, digital advancement, and delivering safe, reliable power are not mutually exclusive efforts.
One grid transformation is the ability for greater grid flexibility with the emergence of "microgrids" that provide a type of backup source of energy that can benefit businesses, hospitals, police, fire, and other critical government services suffering from these weather-related power outages. Furthermore, when not used for emergencies, utilities see a valuable resource that can also be used to help balance unexpected peak energy demands that strain traditional generation resources. Utilities can turn on small energy sources to help with demand response, load management, frequency regulation, voltage support, and other demands that can cause brown outs or damage equipment. Microgrids offer a cheaper alternative to new infrastructure investments to avoid a repeat of a problem. This helps avoid expensive rate increases for customers and helps ensure less expensive ways to ensure electricity reliability.
One important digital advancement is to reform information silos that limit collaboration and hinder integrated planning. Utilities today have many different solutions with siloed data that creates many inefficiencies. Even worse, these silos of data often morph into different versions that do not represent reality on the ground. "Bentley's core competency is in engineering technologies (ET), but the company is converging ET with operations technologies and information technologies to deliver an open, connected data environment (CDE) that enables digital twins," said Brent Jensen, sales engagement director, Bentley Systems. A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical asset, process or system, as well as the engineering information that allows organizations to understand and model its performance.
This CDE is what enables a digital twin because with it, users can federate GIS, CAD, BIM models, and operational data that encompasses both existing and proposed infrastructure information. "Bentley's Connected Data Environment based on ProjectWise and AssetWise connects the various datasets during all stages of asset lifecycles," said Elliott. "The digital twin includes the digital context and digital components that provide immersive visualization and analytics visibility, making information available to relevant stakeholders, encouraging collaboration, and instantiating a single (or federated) view of data to all applications and workflows."
Once this collaborative environment is established, trusted information can be used by multiple stakeholders. Information created for one purpose can be used for others, and provide the ability to visualize an asset, check its status, perform analysis, and generate insights to predict and optimize behavior.
For instance, a digital twin of a substation is created by digitizing the substation and classifying assets. With this in place, users can navigate and walk through the substation, measure distances, zoom and navigate throughout the substation, and even zoom all the way down to details on the plate on a piece of equipment. By federating data from multiple sources information becomes an immersive digital operations environment. Inspection teams can minimize or even avoid location-related surprises, minimize travel time, and reduce contractor costs, as well as plan engineering and service activities without de-energizing substations. "So, instead of waiting for equipment to run to failure and then rushing to fix it," says Elliott, "utilities can perform predictive maintenance on their most important assets before anything goes wrong, potentially saving money, minimizing truck-rolls, and minimizing safety risks with inspections around energized assets."
Reliability is improved by digital advancement. By federating information from multiple sources, utilities can inform capital planning with updated health indices, automation of asset criticality ratings and risk scores, and streamlined workflows, such as work order prioritization. "With the help of AssetWise, one utility is using health indexes to decrease the length of time per customer of defective equipment. This impacts the related outages related to SAIDI—delivering results well below the regulated threshold of 1.15 hours per customer," said Elliott.
Grid modernization is improved by digital advancement. Digital twins support collaboration on infrastructure expansion. With a digital footprint of a substation, and a full inventory of the existing assets and conditions, the design team starts from trusted information. During design, new components and equipment tags, as well as associated attributes, are automatically synchronized in a project information management environment. "ProjectWise makes it possible to have a full project team access the digital design data including engineers in multiple locations and/or between the utility and third-party consultants," said Elliott. From document control, to audit trails to coordination between protection and controls to physical design—the entire team collaborates to deliver a quality design, avoid rework, and deliver trusted information about this asset to operations and maintenance teams.
Plant modernization is improved by digital advancement. As more clean power is produced, some existing plants are undergoing modernization to continue to provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective power to its customers while meeting growing demand. As some plants determine to eliminate coal consumption in generating electricity, they are modernizing facilities to combined-cycle generating facilities and providing other updates like optimizing water use in generation processes, producing less wastewater, minimizing or eliminating solid waste and reducing air emissions. Projects of this scope and magnitude need a digital twin to keep projects on track and deliver superior designs. With improved visualization and collaboration capabilities, engineers, customers, and equipment suppliers can collaborate and improve the design phases. Design reviews across owners, engineers, and construction and plant operations teams speed up construction time and enhance site safety, which leads to cost savings. Finally, collaborative model reviews help reduce the number of drawings releases, saving resource hours.
Additionally, bi-directional power is a grid advancement in dire need of technological advancements and business process changes to support it. Digital twins support disruptive technologies like DER. "The rapid adoption of DERs is already changing the way that utilities do business with customers, how they manage their electric distribution network, and how they plan for infrastructure investments," said Jensen. For example, planning and managing bi-directional power flows is both an opportunity and a challenge for utilities. With more DERs connecting at the edge of the distribution grid, utilities need improved visibility and better collaboration between traditionally siloed generation, transmission, and distribution planners. Better known as integrated planning, this collaborative approach to incorporating large amounts of DER at the grid's edge, while also efficiently operating the power system's existing assets, requires improved data sharing and management. "DER interconnections cannot remain a siloed information management process," said Jensen. "An open CDE can make trusted information available whenever and wherever it is needed, but this starts with creating an environment where this is possible." With a central source of truth (unified databases), utility engineers and planners would have the ability to constantly update information and quickly perform grid analysis, simulation, forecasting, and model validation. "Bentley Systems 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," said Jensen.
The utility of the future will undoubtedly be digitally-enabled. Already, utilities have been pioneers in data collection with aggressive deployments of smart meters, sensors, and RFIDs. With these collaborative environments, utilities are creating efficiencies that have less impact on both capital and operational expenses. This is helping to address the funding gap and, more importantly, advancing both grid modernization and digital advancement while delivering safe, reliable services to its customers.
Advancements can be happening in many areas within the utility, yet the utility still overall operates in silos. How can a utility overcome digitalization issues and information silos to begin to reap the benefits of these digital advancements and the value of digital twins? It begins with an open CDE. Digital advancement represents an opportunity for utilities to continuously change and improve how they work, find ways to collaborate and share data more effectively. Digital twins have the potential to offer huge benefits to utilities.
By eliminating siloed data sources and combining them with asset management, generation, transmission, and distribution data, an entity (utility) can harness the power of combined knowledge and expertise across multiple disciplines and skill levels.
To learn more about ProjectWise and going digital, visit https://www.bentley.com/en/products/brands/projectwise.