How Digital Twins Change the Energy Industry

  How Digital Twins Change the Energy Industry

By Martyn Williams, COPA-DATA UK Managing Director

Digital Twinning describes the mapping of physical assets onto a digital platform. For the energy industry this could be a wind farm, a nuclear power plant or a traditional coal power plant. The digital replica uses data from physical objects, such as the data collected by the engine of a wind turbine, to analyze its efficiency, condition, and real-time status.

It sounds impressive, but how can it improve energy applications?

Twin Power

Consider wind farms as an example. Wind energy accounted for 15 percent of total UK electricity generation in 2017. It is an increasingly popular form of energy production. However, with turbines operating for many decades, unexpected failures can be costly in some of the harshest environments. Therefore, predicting an impending device failure well before it takes place is of great benefit.

With a digital twin of the turbine, the replica can inform a server when a plant starts to show signs of not optimal performance without an engineer having to access the physical turbine. This could provide an indication of when the asset might fail, thereby minimizing the risk of unexpected downtime.

With this insight into upcoming issues, maintenance engineers can base their repair decisions on actual data as opposed to predefined maintenance plans or installments. Assets can then be held at their optimum level for maximum profits rather than random, reactive maintenance when part fails.

That is, improved maintenance is not the only benefit of this technology. Unlike nuclear, gas or coal power plants, where power can be predicted, wind power is much more volatile. Using a digital twin of a wind farm, operators can predict when they can see increases or decreases in wind speed due to simulations

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This will allow them to respond quickly to markets and better handle vertically highly integrated markets such as North America and North America where there are multiple fuel sources to meet the energy needs.

By analyzing digital turbines, operators can use this data to optimize generation and profits. What happens when the wind falls below a certain level? Should you sell your energy today based on rate trends? Would it be better to discontinue production today because the production costs exceed the potential profit? All these questions could be informed and answered using this data.

However, the data collection has no value without the right software. An intelligent software package is necessary to analyze and visualize this data on a human machine interface (HMI). For example, COPA-DATA's zenon monitoring software includes a simulation mode that allows operators to make changes to a digital asset and see the impact – without the risk of manipulating a real physical asset.

All-Inclusive

Digital Twinning can be applied to almost any power generation site. In nuclear installations, this technology could predict the failure of a compressor 30 to 60 days before the actual failure. It can cost millions to bring a nuclear power plant back online, so the cost savings for this sector are undeniable.

Co-generation operators can also benefit from a twin digital insight to save fuel and improve overall efficiency. This could reduce the amount of coal needed to run a plant, reflecting the huge potential for economic and environmental benefits.

Improved operations, lower outages, and better managed changes in market conditions may seem idyllic, but the digital twin makes it possible. This certainly explains why this technology is so well received in the energy sector and why we will use more digital twins in the future.

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 How Digital Twins Change the Energy Industry

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