Utilities Digital Solutions Europe

Digital Twins can drive better utility collaboration, finds panel

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Creating a more powerful set of insights

Digital Twins can enable water utilities to bring internal teams together to digitise knowledge exchange and drive a culture of innovation.

That was one of the remarks from the recent Aquatech BreakOuts live event entitled: ‘Twinning to winning: Digital twin innovations in water, from concept to reality’.

Sponsored by Idrica, the webinar featured:

  • Jesper Kjelds, Chief Digital Information Officer, Aarhus Vand
  • Biju George, Executive Vice President, Operations & Engineering, DC Water
  • Pilar Conejos, Digital Twin Manager, Idrica
  • Gigi Karmous-Edwards, President of Karmous-Edwards Consulting

Kickstarting the webinar, Gigi Karmous Edwards said: “I’ve seen an increased interest in Digital Twins, especially in the last two and a half years.

“Digital Twins are the next step. They enable the integration of many existing digital technologies and many existing data sets, which in some cases, are currently isolated. The integration generates a more powerful set of insights for operations,” she added.

Mimicking natural systems in DC

Biju George said DC Water has been on the “Digital Twin journey” for a while, from when the organisation wanted to maximise the use of hydraulic models.

“In my opinion, most well-run utilities have enough digital systems to start their Digital Twin journeys,” he said.

“It’s a very effective tool that’s bringing the physical system and natural systems together to optimise service.”

Defining what a Digital Twin means for the utility, he said: "For DC Water, we define it as a digital representation of our physical systems, leveraging all other digital assets that we have, especially SCADA (Supervisory control and data acquisition) and sensors, in a way that we can deliver useful information to improve performance and customer service.”

Discussing merging the built and natural systems, George recalled how a major flooding event in September 2020 drove the utility to get better data and insight to manage such events in the future.

Bij George Digital Twins

DC Water created a gauge adjusted radar rainfall (GARR), with the data being integrated into its hydraulic models.

“We can now get down to five-minute incremental predictions on where the rain intensity and where it's going to fall, and also which customers are going to have a sewer back up or surface flooding and how do we mitigate that by providing an early warning or mobilise crews,” he said.

“It’s a very effective tool that’s in place, bringing the physical system and natural system together to optimise service.”

George added that real-time monitoring for contaminants at the source, such as rivers, modelling is enabling DC Water to see, in real-time, how these events can affect the total water supply risk.

Twinning the network - lessons from Valencia

Pilar Conejos spent 15 years at the utility, Global Omnium, as the head of network control and regulation for Valencia.

Sharing the experience from the city, she started by saying a Digital Twin allows operators the ability to “make changes, to try and test new ideas and make a change in the virtual system, before making a decision in the physical system. We can minimise risk, time and costs”.

Discussing Digital Twins in water distribution systems, Conejos said they could help to monitor the whole system, analyse its behaviour from a holistic perspective and simulate the behaviour under any conditions.

She added that they could help to "improve the performance of the system and adapt the system to new conditions, which is very important”.

Pilar on Valencia Digital Twin

Valencia is home to 1.7 million inhabitants and a 200 km main water network, including a 2,500 distribution network. The city’s digital twin comprises 900km of water network, 430 pressure meters, 200 flow metes and 10,000 virtual sensors connected in real-time.

Commenting on the 10,000 virtual sensors, Conejos said: “We can know what’s happening at 10,000 points in the network. This is very important because without installing more sensors, we wouldn’t have the necessary information.”

A scalable solution

She added that the system developed in Valencia is “scalable, so can be implemented in any network”.

A Digital Twin was developed for the Spanish Mediterranean town of Calp, much smaller than the Valencia example and facing fluctuating water supply demands. In the summer, it needs to supply 100,000 people, but in the winter, this drops to 20,000.

“We know what’s happening in 3000 points in the network.”

"The developed Digital Twin works on a hydraulic model connected in real-time – we know what's happening in 3000 points in the network," she added.

Concluding, she added that digital twins allow four main uses:

  • What if scenarios (past, present or future)
  • Forecasting the system operation for the next 24 hours
  • Decision support system for emergency response
  • Estimate values for non-telemetered points (virtual sensors)

Digital at the heart of ReWater

Moving the conversation onto twinning the wastewater treatment side of the business, Jesper Kjelds from Danish utility Aarhus Vand started by referencing a benefit of digital technologies not often talked about.

"We swim in our harbours in Denmark, and that's primarily due to using Digital Twins,” he remarked.

Aarhus Van provides water and wastewater services to 400,000 people. Real-time data is gathered through SCADA systems and Internet of Things (IoT) systems, with real-time weather radar imagery used to help predict rainfall over catchments.

A model-based control of its entire systems is used, together with optimised targets alongside instrumentation and extensive sensor deployment.

Jesper Kjelds Digital Twins

While Digital Twins are often talked about in relation to mirroring drinking water networks, instead Kjelds believes they can enable a more integrated approach across the entire water cycle.

“We have plans to have digital at the heart of ReWater…the project will be born digital.”

“We manage, via a Digital Twin framework, the conveyance of combined sewage, managing storage volumes dynamically so that we can maximise the use of capacity in the collection system and storage facilities,” he said.

“This helps to reduce overflows in peak events to our receiving waters from combined sewers. This gives us a more predictable inflow to our wastewater treatment plants.”

The chief digital information officer discussed plans for ReWater, which the utility intends to be the world’s most resource-efficient wastewater treatment facility when it comes online in 2028.

“We have plans to have digital at the heart of ReWater…the project will be born digital,” he added.

“The Digital Twin framework will be a cornerstone with our efforts on digitalisation, where we have a digital-first approach in handling data, numerical models and analytics.”

- To watch the Digital Twin BreakOuts on demand, please visit here.

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