In this modern era of the internet and globalization, utilities are bombarded by ideas and solutions on how to manage the various challenges they face. These challenges can include everything from vegetation management to storm hardening, to assessing the risk of failure on each pole across their entire network. Instead of single, one-off solutions, a digital twin of a utility's assets offers a holistic answer to assessing, analyzing, and managing the network - no matter the challenge the grid faces.

So what is a digital twin?

A digital twin is a virtual model of physical objects, with the type at the focus of this article being a digital twin of a utility’s network. It is able to depict all of the existing assets, along with their interactions with each other and their environment. This is made possible by utilizing company data such as LiDAR, GIS, and 3D/2D Imagery.

An overview of the digital twin process, from data to network model to use cases.

The chart above shows the procedure for utilities to create and use a digital twin. The digital twin uses data to model network-wide simulations and scenarios.

But now that we know what it is, we get to the fun part -

What can Digital Twins do?

Let’s say a team wants to know what parts of the network are at the most risk with an upcoming hurricane season. They can analyze the entire network at once, assessing which assets are at risk of failure in extreme weather. The users can automate and edit the areas under threat by changing things like pole types, positioning, materials, or guy wires until they find the most effective and cost-effective way to reduce the risk.

LiDAR points highlighting conductors and clearance violations in nearby vegetation.

After all that is calculated, utilities can instantly generate a bill of materials, tool requirements and a report of the areas at risk in terms of priority, before sending it to all to their linemen within minutes. A process that previously may have taken days or weeks to assess and prepare for can now be set into action in a fraction of the time, allowing for greater preparation, data-driven decision making and a result of reduced costs, greater network resiliency and even preventing potential power outages or fatalities from network damage.

Let’s look at another example. Say that the utility needs to reduce the network’s chances of causing wildfires prior to a hot summer. The digital twin can be used by the vegetation management team, who can run network-wide analysis looking at clearance requirements with the surrounding vegetation - caught by LiDAR scanners in 3D. They can then assess how the tension of the conductors will change in the heat, meaning they can test the true clearance needs in all scenarios.

An example of analysis: red markers indicating points of interest or priority.

Other teams can also use this digital twin at the same time. This is crucial in assessing whether any areas are at risk of the conductors slapping due to changes in tension and weather. This could cause sparking, shortages, and wildfire ignition. These teams, and many others, can then collaborate on the same platform to coordinate their preparation for the same larger goal, improving both in prioritization and organization of their efforts together. They can also then provide 3D visualizations of plans, detailed customized reporting, and collations of all available data and imagery on each asset being worked on to the field teams and their managers - all of which come from one platform and reduce the chances of error or miscommunication.

Digital twins are the way of the future for utilities. They bring the capability for unprecedented collaboration, organization, and analysis.

Digital twins are the way of the future for utilities. They bring the capability for unprecedented collaboration, organization, and analysis. As the challenges to utilities grow more sizable and urgent, it is important to go after long term solutions like digital twins - ones that will allow for holistic approaches and greater cooperation between teams.

At Power Lines Pro, we’re committed to creating content to spark interest and ideas in the future of energy. We recognized the need for Digital Twins and Scenario Modelling in the energy utilities industry and created software to help you introduce these ideas into power line design.

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