It has taken six years for Danish DSO Elværk to build a digital twin of its electricity network. Here is how digitalisation has transformed their business.
If an employee of Elværk – previously known as Thy-Mors Energi Elnet – wants to know something about a transformer station or a cable cabinet, they can drive out to the physical equipment – or click a few times on a tablet or PC, where all available data is registered. The employee can virtually look into a replica of the exact cable cabinet.
“We have just finished building a digital twin of the power grid we operate. It has been a huge task that is now crowned with victory. With the digital twin, we have gained control over our own system and can use data actively to optimise operation, maintenance, and new investments. Instead of making plans based on subjective feeling, we can make data-driven decisions,” says Kristian Tilsted, Technical Manager at Elværk.
The digital twin functions as an almost exact copy of a particularly complicated reality. Over the past six years, a dedicated team at Elværk has enriched the company's existing GIS materials, so that it is now possible for those working at the head office and in the field to access important information about transformer stations, cables, cable cabinets, and other equipment.
Anyone with a valid task can get all available information with a few clicks, for example about an older transformer or a PEX cable with an up-to-date address.
“The paper processes have been thrown away,” says Kristian Tilsted.
He expects that Elværk will now save both time and money with digitalisation.
With this new tool, Elværk feels better equipped for a future of considerable growth. According to the company's power grid development plan, electricity consumption in the region may double by the end of the 2020s (after having been fairly stable for 30-40 years).
The power grid company receives more and more inquiries about the supply of energy for charging stations for electric cars. In addition, district heating plants are considering investing in large heat pumps and almost 4,000 households must scrap gas boilers in favor of district heating, small heat pumps, or pellet stoves. Entire industries plan to be electrified, and there are plans for Power-to-X at the port of Hanstholm.
“As a power grid company, we cannot handle the doubling of electricity consumption with the equipment we have today. We will have to reinforce the power grid with transformer stations and cables where challenges arise. It is a requirement that we have to deliver the necessary electric grid capacity, and of course, we are happy to do that,” says Kristian Tilsted.
Kristian Tilsted calls on the government and parliament in Denmark to change regulations for the power grid companies so that it becomes possible to invest in a future with doubled electricity consumption.
“The future is unfolding before our eyes, so we must be able to invest based on expectations rather than on the basis of historical data. We must look after the interests of the population we serve, so we will not overinvest,” promises Kristian Tilsted.
Active use of the digital twin will help Elværk run the power grid even more efficiently - thanks to systematic knowledge of the age and condition of individual components. Elværk can also use data from its customers' electricity meters and gain more knowledge about the load of the power grid. Equipment can thus be operated closer to its maximum capacity.
“In the old days - not so long ago - customers had to call in with their consumption data once a year. Now we harvest neighborhood data once a day. Data from the meters, together with data collected in various places in the network, is an important asset in relation to operating the network optimally,” says Kristian Tilsted.
He expects that in 5-6 years the next generation of electricity meters will deliver data even closer to real-time.
With the help of the digital twin, Elværk is now equipped to partner with external parties who are in the business of delivering services. The EU has decided that data in the utility business must be set free, and the Danish authorities together with, among others, Energinet and Green Power Denmark are figuring out how this can happen in practice with respect for citizens' privacy (GDPR) and with safeguards against cyber threats.
“We are working towards being able to deliver an anonymized version of the data. It is important to remember that it is our data and that we must cover the cost of handing over this data,” says Kristian Tilsted.
The process has already been kick-started.
Elværk has been working on its complicated digitalisation project for six years. A milestone has been reached, and it has brought the small North-West Jutland company on par with some of the biggest companies in Europe.
“Some are ahead, others are behind,” says Kristian Tilsted.
As a member of the board of EU's DSOs, he follows European developments closely. He has no doubt that even the slowest will have to digitalise their information.
“We must have control over our assets. We must have control of the business. With digitalisation, we get completely different operating options, and it is important to be able to fulfil the requirements of the green transition,” says Kristian Tilsted.
This article was published by Green Power Denmark.
Volue is proud to have been part of the digitalisation journey of Elværk.