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How the Swiss Power Grid benefits from Digital Twins
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How the Swiss Power Grid benefits from Digital Twins

A leading Swiss grid operator is using an innovative cloud-based asset management solution to achieve its business goals.

Grid operators face some tough challenges. How to strike the right balance between network performance, operating expenditure and risk? What is the most cost-effective way to reach national or international energy strategy goals?  How can a grid operator fit into this strategy while offering a good pricing policy, an irreproachable supply quality, and still be profitable?

The job of the grid asset manager is to answer questions like these. Yet finding answers can be a struggle. There are thousands of variables to take into account. Additionally, data is scattered in silos and not always easy to get, let alone to integrate. And conventional tools like spreadsheets and CMMS (computerized maintenance management systems) do not offer much help if you need to simulate and optimize complex scenarios.

Real-world challenges

Based in the region of Fribourg, Groupe E is one of Switzerland’s largest grid operators. They serve businesses and nearly half a million people in the cantons of Fribourg, Neuchâtel, Vaud, and Bern. Like other Swiss grid operators, the company’s activities include electricity distribution and generation, and retail.

The challenges faced by Groupe E will be familiar to grid operators everywhere: how do you improve investment decisions while simultaneously taking multiple performance metrics into account? How do you optimize the total cost of ownership without affecting reliability? In addition, Groupe E is involved in Switzerland’s 2050 energy strategy which comes from the revision of the Switzerland Federal Energy Act validated by the Swiss electorate. The aim behind the revision is to reduce energy consumption, increase energy efficiency, and promote renewable energy. In this context, the operator has started his transformation and must be able to justify investment plans while keeping safety and reliability at their current levels.

Asset management with insights

Groupe E chose Asset Electrical, Nexans, and Cosmo Tech’s Asset Management Digital Twin Software to meet these needs. Asset Electrical works by centralizing data about all the assets and the processes used to manage them (inspection, maintenance, renewal, etc.) The data is then integrated into a single platform to create a Digital Twin – a high-fidelity computer model of the entire network.

“We modeled more than 80% of our network’s financial value. This represents more than 160,000 pieces of equipment spread across 10 asset types. For each asset type, between 2 and 5 technical policies apply: these can be maintenance, inspection, or renewal policies for example. Overall, 50 technical policies are active and simulate the everyday actions performed on the asset. The simulations are performed for long periods of time, typically between 50 and 100 years. Getting results over such a long simulation period brings fresh insight into where we currently stand and where we’re actually heading. It’s only then that we can be sure to make the right decision for the next 10 to 15 years” – said Aurelien Lair, Lead Strategic Asset Management at Groupe E.

One of the main strengths of Asset Electrical is that users can test hypotheses and simulate unlimited strategies that look decades into the future. Dashboards make it easy to explore scenarios and share the results. The solution is cloud-based (PaaS, Platform as a Service), so users can be anywhere – not just in the office.

So how does it work in practice? Let’s take the example of a medium-voltage transformer. The Digital Twin incorporates all the data about the transformer, such as technical characteristics, the loads it must handle, maintenance regimes and – importantly – its relationship with the rest of the grid.

Using simulation, users can experiment with these variables to see exactly what impact different choices have in terms of OPEX, CAPEX, outage minutes or any other metric. Which combination of actions will optimize the total cost of ownership? Asset Electrical generates a range of outcomes for any time horizon, so the best course of action can be chosen easily.

“Asset electrical allowed us to establish a methodology, and back up the feelings we had, with actual figures. When we make long-term decisions, we feel like it’s the right decision but it’s hard to explain how these decisions will have a long-term effect. This software has allowed us to set up a methodology for making decisions that we may have made based purely on intuition a few months or years ago.”Alain Ruffieux, Head of Grid Asset Management at Groupe E.

Asset Electrical can also integrate incoming projects like network extensions, network transformation to integrate renewable energy or smart meter deployment, the latter being a case study Groupe E was keen to complete.

Built for experts, by experts

A unique feature of Asset Electrical is its ability to take into account the effects of aging on different grid assets. This is achieved using a new “Apparent Age” methodology. When a simulation is run, Apparent Age constantly recalculates the need for extra maintenance or replacement as assets get older. Cables, transformers, switchgear, and structural equipment such as poles and towers are all included.

Asset Electrical also leverages Ofgem’s CNAIM framework for evaluating grid risks. Indeed, Nexans worked with Groupe E to customize Asset Electrical and tailor the solution to the use of the CNAIM methodology. Nexans also integrated Groupe E’s own asset performance data, addressing its client’s needs to a further degree.

“In my opinion, one of the major advantages of Asset Electrical is that we can factor in external constraints as well as internal ones. For the first time, it was possible for us to plan network equipment renewal with an optimized risks mitigation approach across all network levels.” – said Aurelien Lair.

Successful collaboration

Nexans and their technology partner, Cosmo Tech, worked alongside Groupe E to fine-tune and implement Asset Electrical. This included aggregation and formatting data from across the company – network inventory, maintenance, engineering, HR, and finance information.

“In an ever-evolving context, the added value of Asset Management becomes more and more crucial for Distribution System Operators. Asset Electrical is not only an Asset Investment Planning (AIP) solution helping grid operators; it is a unique way for them to push optimization boundaries and achieve their business goals, leveraging precise simulations at the whole-system level. This is what Groupe E was looking for, and the starting point of the Groupe E, Cosmo Tech and Nexans partnership collaboration.” Maxime Le Pendeven, Cosmo Tech Senior Key Account Manager.

The whole project was completed in less than six months, including customization to the client’s precise requirements. The results are tangible. According to Aurelien Lair, Groupe E’s first financial forecasts showed gains of about three to four times the cost of the solution.

Thanks to Asset Electrical, Groupe E can now create scenarios, explore every option and make long-term investment decisions with confidence – not just for years, but for decades ahead. 

[White Paper]
[White Paper]