By Devon Maresco
We’re in the run-up to what could be a new age for the energy industry. With the climate change crisis top-of-mind, there’s a real focus on renewables and cleaner energy; specifically, establishing the infrastructure for these new technologies. As energy companies and municipalities look to a future of renewable infrastructure, they’re also paying mind to the importance of digital twin energy management.
Embracing green energy isn’t as simple as setting up solar arrays and wind farms. To get the energy from these generation points to the grid takes a modernized infrastructure. And, there’s a difference between cobbling together new energy systems and preparing the country for a future dependent on them. Here’s a look at why digital twinning in the energy industry is so vital for the future.
Green energy systems require modern architecture
There are layers of complexity in establishing a modern energy grid. For starters, the mode of clean energy generation is much more vast. Take solar power, for example. You can set up an array anywhere there’s plentiful sunlight. This means more opportunities for power substations around the country. More arrays mean a broader infrastructure network to build out—as opposed to centralized power plants outside of major cities.
There are also the generators themselves to consider. Solar arrays, wind turbines, and natural gas pumps represent modern hardware. Many of these systems are digitally enabled, which means the grid they tie into needs to be equally as intelligent. What good are a cloud-enabled accelerometer and voltmeter for a wind turbine if there’s no system to receive that data?
Digital twins provide the digital framework engineers and energy companies need to build out a more robust, more intelligent energy system. From point of creation to point of delivery, a digital twin provides end-to-end energy management capabilities.
Energy management goes both ways
Digital twins in energy are also important from a commoditization standpoint. A growing number of residential and commercial properties have their own energy generation equipment, independent from the grid. The ability to sell clean energy back to the grid means energy managers need a way to measure units of energy as commodities within the system.
How much energy did commercial property XYZ consume over the past 30 days? How much energy did commercial property ABC generate and sell back to the grid in that time? What is the net cost per kilowatt hour for the difference in energy delivered vs. returned? These are real questions that accompany a smarter energy grid. Digital twins help provide the context to answer them—and to optimize energy management.
Asset management is critically important
The asset management capabilities offered by digital twins makes them instrumental in establishing the new green energy infrastructure. Solar arrays, wind turbines, and other equipment are off-site and function independently, save for routine maintenance. Energy management companies need a way to monitor and manage these assets without babysitting them.
A digital twin can provide deep insight into the status and performance of point-of-generation equipment. Turbine revolution trends can tell a story of a potential problem if one generates fewer rotations than its peers on a wind farm. Likewise, a drop in pressure at a natural gas extraction site can alert maintenance teams to a fault before it results in outages. Digital twins are key in asset management, which paves the way for efficiency, reliability and consistency—must-have traits for energy producers, brokers, and consumers.
Local vs. regional vs. national systems
Let’s not forget that the United States isn’t on a single energy grid. Cities are independent of state and regional grids, which make up a patchwork national grid. While many systems are set up to freely exchange power, there are still obstacles. These obstacles will become more pronounced as local grids modernize faster than others.
Through digital twins, grid operators can instantly communicate with nearby municipalities to coordinate shortages or excesses. Moreover, they’ll have the ability to track and trace energy generation and utilization over broader ranges and service areas. If the grid in Tacoma, WA goes down and Seattle needs to supply power, they’ll have the systems oversight needed to sync up and jumpstart supply—all while keeping the receipts in order.
The energy sector is getting more complex
The digital twin energy sector use-case is only a small part of the modernization taking part in this sector. Energy management stands to benefit from a wealth of emerging technologies, including the likes of blockchain and machine learning.
From the production of green energy to energy sharing across grids and efficient cost control systems, there’s a lot riding on a modernization of the North American power grid. Digital twins help to ensure we’re approaching modernizations and advancements the right way—and that they make sense as part of a larger, more complex approach to energy management.
There’s a bright future for energy ahead, and it’s riding on the opportunities offered by digital twins.
Keep reading: Digital Twins in Oil and Gas