Cosmo Tech

Digital Twins Bring a Competitive Edge to Utilities

Digital Twins Bring a Competitive Edge to Utilities

According to a Gartner report, 70 percent of organizations cite customer satisfaction as the primary benefit of their field service management (FSM) solution. For today’s Distribution System Operators (DSOs) and Transmission System Operators (TSOs), the difficulty of balancing customer satisfaction with fluctuating consumption patterns has never been more challenging.

The recent governmental Covid-19 directives, plus the transition to renewable energy, and the continual impact of climate change, mean grid operators must not only rethink how they can best serve their customers but, just as importantly, run their operations, notably the management of their assets.

Grid operators are very asset-centric and, as such, need to rethink how they manage their asset base to balance cost, risk, and performance. In the context of the challenges operators face, traditional asset management approaches are not sufficient.

To better leverage their asset management strategies, electricity utilities must adopt innovative technologies such as simulation digital twins. Implementing digital twins not only means gaining a competitive advantage, but it is also a market differentiator. By modeling their assets through digital twin modeling, grid operators can meet future challenges while improving efficiency, productivity, and customer satisfaction.

In the years to come, how can utilities leverage digital twins to face the challenges ahead?


Aging Assets

One of the most significant challenges faced by utilities is their aging assets. In Western Europe, the vast majority of the grid networks in operation today were built in the ’60s and ’70s. These assets are near the end of their life and require extensive maintenance and replacement investments. Not doing so means service failures resulting in the degrading of network performance and the eventual decrease in customer satisfaction.

To ensure grid reliability, operators need to understand the tradeoffs between their aging assets’ maintenance and renewal investment options. The best way to do this is by leveraging simulation digital twin technology. The ‘how to’ and ‘what if’ capabilities digital twin modeling provides means asset managers can look at varying scenarios, find the best investment options, and thus lessen complex investment roadblocks.

Grid operators also face the aging of talent within their organizations. As experienced workers enter retirement age, modeling this loss in expertise and skill-set is critical. Simulation digital twins can simulate and measure the impact of retirement and help define the optimal way to transfer skills through, for example, mentorship programs.

Energy Transition

Energy consumption is increasing globally, causing grid operators to put an even heavier load on their aging infrastructures to meet customer demand. Simultaneously, the move to renewables means customers are also producing energy, thus becoming prosumers; putting an additional load on grids to handle the two-way user and provider traffic.

To support the growing energy demand, operators need to rethink their networks, which goes beyond just adapting the existing network; it means reinventing it. This reinvention requires digital twin technology that helps asset managers test how network extension and renewable energy strategies—individually and together— impact demand, grid load, and physical infrastructure capacity. And to help them determine the best implementation approach and rollout.

Even as asset managers work towards the transition of their networks, equally important is the day-to-day management of their existing assets. Using digital twin simulation, asset managers can:

  • Optimize maintenance while ensuring performance, asset health, and customer satisfaction targets are achieved.
  • Minimize assets’ total cost of ownership and operational expenditures.
  • Achieve a sustainable infrastructure for the business

Justification of Asset Investment

Grid operators face the most disruptive time in their history; aging infrastructures requiring significant investments, changing consumption patterns, and greater demand. These changes and the move to renewables and technology-driven smart meters means grid operators are at a point in their history where they must rethink their networks as they move to a more customer-centric model.

This reinvention of the future grid means asset managers will require a new approach to investment justification. Due to the high level of investment needed to modernize the network, asset managers will not be in a position to sign off budgets. The asset investment plan will be part of the overall business strategy and, as such, impact consumer prices and thus require regulatory and stakeholder justification.

The asset management financial plan, due to its magnitude and complexity, needs to take into account both the internal and external factors that will impact the business in the years to come and demonstrate investment viability. To do so requires a modeling tool that can consider many factors such as grid model, human resources, asset management, and risk while considering external factors such as regulatory requirements, energy prices, and climate change.

Simulation digital twins are the only technology capable of bringing together the internal and external factors to model a comprehensive financial plan. By doing so, the asset manager can present to upper management a strategic investment plan that is optimized, transparent and justifiable. The simulation digital twin can easily adjust investment forecasts (CAPEX, OPEX) in negotiations to reach the best tradeoff.

Utilities today face complex changes ahead. As they center on providing an optimal customer experience, they will need to foresee into the future to ensure a customer-centric approach.

To better prepare for the next generation of challenges, grid operators will need to transform. To do so, they need to embrace new technologies to leverage this transformation and remain competitive. Simulation digital twin software is the key lever to facilitate digital transformation and handle existing and upcoming challenges.