The pace of digitalisation in energy is increasing rapidly. In fact, global investment in digital electricity infrastructure and software has grown by over 20 per cent annually since 2014.

Big data, the Industrial Internet of Things and artificial intelligence are some of the leading technological developments across the energy sector. Spanning these three areas is the concept of the digital twin, which has gained increasing popularity among energy companies in recent years. It can use physics-based digital models of real machines to understand their performance safely and efficiently in a simulated environment.

By creating a virtual copy of a power plant in a digital realm, managers can simulate various scenarios in real-time to improve the operation of the plant, reduce their fuel use and assist in any energy trading decisions.

There are several ways that twin technology can be implemented and, to explain, we will consider it in relation to a digital twin built on GE Digital’s Predix platform.

The first is referred to as a part twin, which is used to capture the operating history and key performance indicators of the existing plant. The digital twin then draws up insights and notifies the operator of any early warnings or potential problems the equipment could experience, to reduce unplanned downtime.

Next we have the product twin, which can monitor the remaining life of a certain piece of equipment, to protect against unexpected maintenance costs.

In addition to this, a system twin can be integrated to review the company’s revenue against the remaining life and maintenance costs of equipment. Ultimately, digital twins can be used to predict not just potential failures, but also potential business opportunities for energy companies.

While the energy industry is poised for transformation with the increased adoption of newer technologies like digital twinning, plant managers need to begin embracing these new and emerging technologies to further improve their processes and reduce expenditure.

Sean Robinson is service leader at utilities control system provider Novotek UK and Ireland.

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The digital twin will be explored in detail next year at POWERGEN Asia.