Digital twin technology is revolutionising the utility industry, offering utilities the chance to move towards real-time asset management – utilising predictive rather than reactive maintenance schedules – and test out an infinite range of “what-if?” scenarios. Here, Leah Moss of CSIRO’s Data61 discusses the applications, implications and opportunities surrounding digital twins.

Leah Moss, Environment Business Lead at CSIRO’s Data61

Leah Moss, Environment Business Lead, CSIRO’s Data61

Ahead of her presentation at Digital Utilities 2020, Leah Moss, Environment Business Lead at CSIRO’s Data61, explains how digital twins can help utilities improve the performance of their assets and the safety of their workers.

The term ‘digital twin’ has a broad definition, but is effectively a digital representation of the real world. It can be a data model of a process, a visual representation of an object or system, or even photogrammetry data rendered to represent a 3D environment. Having a digital model of real-world systems or objects is infinitely beneficial, and has a multitude of applications in the utility industry.

Data61’s Digital Twin platform can visualise 3D and 4D data over time, buildings, strata plans, terrain, property boundaries and utilities, including power, water and sewer pipes. Pulling this data together in a spatially-enabled, easily accessible platform fundamentally changes the way cities are visualised – infrastructure developers can see locations of underground assets and understand the impact of planned works before they even commence.

As Data61 continues to develop the platform, it will see the integration of analytics allowing the user to model different scenarios with changing variables such as population growth, extreme weather events or future infrastructure builds. Being able to quickly understand the impact of changing environments means more robust and data-driven adaptation strategies.

Digital twin technology, such as Digital Human at Data61, can also be used to analyse and model scenarios for optimal health and safety outcomes. For example, understanding susceptibility to injury risk on an individual level, or calculating strength requirements for specific movements such as heavy lifting or operating heavy machinery.

“At Data61, we have developed a platform called Digital Human, which is a detailed 3D simulation of a person and their physiology within their surrounding environment,” Ms Moss said.

“Using markerless motion capture technology, we’re able to capture and visualise their physiology and motion, and understand how and whether their movements can place them at risk.”

Understanding asset vulnerabilities to improve resilience

With a changing climate, areas which may not have been previously at risk are now experiencing extreme weather events more frequently and with greater intensity.

“Asset owners need to understand what implications this has on their network at a granular level and how to adapt accordingly,” Ms Moss said.

“For example, how might a storm surge event which causes erosion affect your coastal assets? And how might you build to adapt to that scenario? These are the types of problems we address for utilities.”

To assist with understanding climate and hazard vulnerability, Data61 has developed INDRA, an analytics engine which assesses climate risk. Both INDRA and the Digital Twin platform are open sourced platforms, interoperable and naturally complementary.

As a result, the user can visualise datasets such as built environment data, weather data and satellite data. This creates a richer view of asset vulnerability, and helps identify potential hazards or risks that require immediate or future intervention.

“Our digital twin environment extends beyond just data visualisation, and can speak to other capability we have at Data61. The integration of the INDRA and Digital Twin platforms allows us to generate physics-based models of likely scenarios that could occur as a result of disruptive weather events,” Ms Moss said.

“Visualising these scenarios in the Digital Twin environment is an incredibly valuable tool in understanding the context of climate change risks.”

By creating interoperable and data agnostic platforms, the team at Data61 can look at risks in an “all hazards” context, such as flood, fire and drought, as well as understand the impact of changing climate systems over a long-term period.

This not only allows asset owners to understand the likelihood of scenarios across a wide range of risks, but also allows for various adaptation scenarios to be modelled in a future context.

This data can be used to either retrofit at-risk assets, or assist in planning or implementation strategies to make networks more adaptable to climatic events.

The importance of interoperability

Because everyone has so much data, in all different formats and hosted on a range of systems and servers, interoperability must be at the core in order to leverage as many of these rich datasets as possible and create robust results.

There are new dataset sources coming online daily, such as IoT sensors and new satellites, and systems need to be resilient to this influx and capable of dealing with and absorbing the whole spectrum of data formats and information.

“It is critical that our systems are able to deal with a range of geospatial input, like imagery from different sources – drones, satellites, or routine flyovers – as well as terrain, vegetation and weather data,” Ms Moss said.

“Interoperability of analytics engines allows you to play out thousands of scenarios, and understand potential risks in more depth.

“But, being able to interrogate data in a visual way is just as important to the end user. Thus, our systems need to be able to speak to each other so we can achieve the best outcome for the user. INDRA and Digital Twin are a great example of how we’ve developed technologies using these same core principles.”

How can utilities leverage digital twins to optimise operational efficiency?

Hear more from Leah Moss about the benefits of digital twins for asset-intensive industries at Digital Utilities 2020, running from 19-20 March at the Sofitel Wentworth in Sydney.