Digital twin use cases in the UK energy sector
The UK energy sector is in a transition phase where the UK has set an ambitious goal of net-zero emission by 2050. The UK energy sector needs to adopt innovative strategies and digital technologies to combat challenges such as energy security, affordability, integration of renewable energy, and optimization of the operating cost of the UK’s energy sector assets to make this target a reality. One of the emerging solutions to address these requirements is the deployment of digital twins. The use of digital twin technology will lead to a more sustainable and resilient energy system in the UK.
Digital twins are facilitating companies, investors and the government for the development of the power sector in the UK. Utilities and investors are following this approach for effective planning of the energy sector expansion, aiming to ensure grid stability and good Return on Investment (ROI) on their investments.
Public and private stakeholders take several initiatives to understand the potential benefits of digital twins in the UK. For example, in order to study the impact of digital twins in the cities of the UK, including the local energy ecosystem, transport, and housing, Siemens and the University of Birmingham joined hands in 2022 to conduct a detailed feasibility study. The results of this study will be used as part of a funding bid to develop digital assets for the city of Birmingham.
Development of the world’s first virtual energy system:
Britain’s National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) has appointed Arup to develop the technical framework for the world’s first virtual energy system program in the UK. This will support the UK’s de-carbonation goals and the development of a sustainable power network in the UK. For this massive task, Arup will work with multiple global organizations, such as Icebreaker One and Energy Systems Catapult, to identify the key principles of the common framework of the Virtual Energy System. These principles include technical factors as well as social and legal factors.
Digital Twin of Warrington, UK Energy Sector:
A digital twin of Warrington has been created as a part of REWIRE project, which Innovate UK is funding. This development is an effort of the UK’s government to implement energy-efficient, carbon-reducing, and cost-efficiency measures across the UK to deliver a net zero future. This digital twin covers 29 areas. They obtain data for this digital twin from the council, the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) database, and local distribution network operators.
Warrington Borough Council has developed the digital twin in collaboration with the University of Manchester, Siemens, Ordnance Survey, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, and IES consultants. Funded by the local government, this digital twin will support local businesses to make more sustainable choices and also identify opportunities for innovation and investment in green infrastructure.
Transforming UK’s Power Grid using Digital Twin:
The consortium of SP Energy Networks, Digital Catapult, along with the University of Strathclyde and National Grid ESO, received funding from Ofgem’s Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) for exploring an innovative solution for the country’s entire power grid based on digital twin technology. This is an important ongoing work because it will help decision-makers manage energy resources, expand renewables, and effectively plan energy markets for the future. By simulating test scenarios of a digital twin of the power network of the UK, we can forecast faults and, with a proactive approach, minimize effective maintenance and downtime for the power network. The digital twin will also contribute to the UK’s goal of achieving net-zero targets by 2050. They call this “Project Discovery.”
Achieving Optimization in Power Generation Sector:
GE has implemented a digital twin model for a 1,080 MW gas power plant in Pembroke, Wales. This digital twin uses real-time data from the gas power plant to simulate and optimize the performance of the gas turbines and generators.
Another implementation of digital twin technology by GE is for the Senvion wind turbines at the Bhlaraidh wind farm in Scotland. The digital twin within the energy sector uses real-time data to simulate and optimize the performance of the wind turbines, enabling GE to identify potential issues, optimize maintenance schedules, and improve the overall efficiency of the wind farm.
GE also implemented a digital twin for the gas turbines at the Keadby 2 power plant in Lincolnshire, England. The digital twin is contributing to preventive maintenance, optimizing gas turbine operations, and reducing the operation and maintenance costs of the plant.
Bank Renewables has awarded a contract to DNV GL for monitoring and reporting services for eight onshore wind farms in the UK with a total capacity of 85 MW. Furthermore, DNV GL will develop an online digital twin, WindGEMINI, for these onshore wind farms and regularly review the assets’ performance and efficiency. With effective monitoring and simulation analysis on digital twins, Bank Renewables will receive data-driven analysis, reduce operational costs, and extend the lifespan of renewable wind power projects.
Achieving Energy Optimization across the Energy Value Chain:
The concept of the energy ecosystem and value chain extends beyond generation, transmission, and distribution. The increasing energy requirements from consumers and the rollout of distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar, energy storage, and the role of electric vehicles in the grid, i.e., vehicle to grid (V2G), have transformed consumers into prosumers. It is essential to monitor and optimize the way modern-day consumers utilize energy. Therefore, not only are grid operators making more stringent requirements for any large loads connected with the grid but entities that fall under the category of large consumers of electricity are also evolving their systems to ensure energy sector efficiency. Digital twins play a key role in transforming industry verticals, which is evident from a couple of examples below.
Network Rail, Atkins, and Cardiff University have developed a digital twin of the station via the university’s computational urban sustainability platform (CUSP) that has the potential to reduce carbon emissions and optimize energy performance by 20%. This digital twin can simulate current energy usage, and with the simulation of different scenarios, the energy performance of the station can be optimized. Passenger numbers and behavior will also be recorded in this complex digital twin to improve energy savings measures and enhance user experience.
Digital Twin for E-Highways Development in the UK
There is another dimension to the application of digital twins related to the future of e-mobility in the UK. Hadean, a Metaverse startup, and the Connected Places Catapult have been awarded funding from UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) grant to develop an e-highways digital twin in the UK. The main objective is to develop a traffic simulation model to determine the optimal locations for e-highways in the UK. This extremely complex digital twin will consider historical data, current traffic flow data, public transport data, heavy-duty vehicle data and passenger vehicle data in its modeling. The digital twin within the energy sector will generate optimal paths and infrastructure requirements for developing e-highways in the UK based on this data.
Digital twins have proven to be a transformative technology in the UK’s energy sector. Case studies have shown how wind farms are utilizing digital twins to optimize performance and reduce maintenance costs. Moreover, companies like SP Energy Networks and Catapult are deploying digital twins for the entire UK electricity network.
The use cases discussed in this article demonstrate the potential of digital twins to revolutionize the energy sector by enabling data-driven decision-making, predictive maintenance, and improved energy efficiency and reliability. Furthermore, with ongoing advancements in digital twin technology and increasing adoption across industries, the future of the energy sector looks promising, with digital twins at the forefront of innovation.