Digital Twins of a Smart Grid

A digital twin is a virtual representation of systems that behave identically to the physical system, are fully synchronised in both directions, and can incorporate or feed AI systems to optimise processes. There are sectors in which they are now not only a reality, but a key aspect of their operations. In fact, Gartner has included digital twins among this year’s most important technologies.

Smart Grid

The digital twin is one of the main topics when we talk about connected industry or industry 4.0. There are sectors in which they are now not only a reality, but a key aspect of their operations. Manufacturing use digital twins in their day-to-day operations, helping to operate machinery, monitor material, predict behaviour, or plan tasks, using a virtual copy of the systems involved, and thus, saving hundreds of field visits.

It is common to think that digital twins already existed with the simulation and SCADA systems developed by industrial companies, but it is important to understand that a digital twin goes much further.

We are not talking about simple 3D representations, but systems that behave identically to the physical system, that are fully synchronised in both directions, and that can also incorporate or feed AI systems to optimise processes.

Bearing in mind, the former definition of a digital twin, we could say, the electricity sector has not yet taken advantage of the full potential of digital twins.

«Despite the huge impact in cost and efficiency of a digital twin for the electrical sector, the development and implementation of digital twins presents a number of complex challenges to solve; challenges that utilities have been struggling with for years, and today’s technology can finally solve them”.

What are the challenges of a digital twin of a Smart Grid?

Decentralisation: The need to integrate new elements into the grid such as electric vehicles, heat pumps or batteries, as well as distributed generation from prosumers with self-consumption facilities, are creating a grid that is increasingly distributed and complex to connect to a digital twin. This ends up with increasingly «opaque» digital twins as we move from high voltage where there is good visibility, to low voltage where operators are completely blind about what is happening in the user domains.

Precision. The trend for connecting new elements of a Smart Grid, is based on the use of IoT technologies. These technologies, that do present optimal scalability, cost and performance, do not enjoy the reliability and robustness of those used by industrial protocols in other environments such as a SCADA environment. If not properly addressed, this can cause that the precisión of the digital twin as a representation of the physical world not to be accurate. And when it comes to the power grid, a small problem in the data can lead to big business errors.

Data sovereignty. The value chain of a smart grid is complex and involves multiple actors, from energy producers, TSOs, DSOs, energy operators, to end users, etc. Each of the actors is usually wary of providing data outside their ecosystem for competitive, or even sometimes legal or regulatory reasons.

Cybersecurity. For many years, the cybersecurity in the electricity grid has been a frontline issue for electricity operators. They are increasingly at risk due to the opening up of their traditionally isolated grids, which are now connected to IT environments in order to be more efficient.

The digital twin «opens up» these connections and, if they do not include the most severe cybersecurity mechanisms, they will clearly put the continuity of services or event the security of states and citizens, at risk.

Thin Edge Computing as an enabler of a digital twin

Thin Edge Computing, i.e. digital applications running as close as possible to physical operations, solves these challenges. Its distributed nature, with the simple installation of thousands of lightweight nodes in the network, makes it easy to connect directly to sensors, actuators and industrial equipment in the Smart Grid, and to process high-frequency, high-precision data without incurring the costs of a centralised system, in the pursue of a complete and reliable digital twin.

By processing data locally at each point of the Smart Grid – from production points, to  transmission and distribution substations, till consumption points – it allows only the necessary information to be shared, point by point and in an anonymised manner, with those external systems that need it. And so, we can create hierarchies of information in the digital twin in a much more agile and flexible way.

Finally, edge computing and network hierarchies avoid having to open many information networks, which increases the security of a digital twin deployment to maximum levels. The Thin Edge architecture is closely aligned with the IEC-62443 standard, which is becoming the most widely followed standard for securing cyber-secure IT/OT environments.

At Barbara, we are already deploying Thin Edge nodes at the different points of the Smart Grid, which not only allow bidirectional synchronisation in time of the digital twins with the physical systems, but also the deployment of AI applications that automate business decisions, thus relieving pressure on operators. All this with a cybersecurity layer that makes the solution scalable and certifiable in an environment as demanding as the electricity sector.

If interested in knowing more, do contact us and request a personalised demo.