How a utility saved money through smart design

Friday, 12 January, 2024 | Supplied by: Bentley Systems Pty Ltd

How a utility saved money through smart design

With a network spanning 737,000 km and covering approximately 95% of New South Wales, Essential Energy distributes electricity services to more than 870,000 homes and businesses in 1500 regional, rural and remote communities.

Despite its large coverage area, the utility has a small customer density of 1.7 customers per square kilometre, resulting in a significantly higher operational cost-to-customer ratio than many other distribution network service providers. With a minimal customer base to finance the maintenance and support of over 184,000 km of powerlines held up by 1.4 million poles, and pressure to lower operating costs, Essential Energy needed to assess its capital works projects to find a low-cost, low-resource solution.

“How do we lower energy costs but unlock value across our complete portfolio of works?” asked Matthew Turvey, Senior Electrical Engineer with the substation design team at Essential Energy.

As a company that embraces going digital, Essential Energy wanted to solve the problem through an intelligent digital design system (IDDS). However, while intelligent digital design has been available for several years, it has mainly been used on large-scale projects with capital budgets exceeding AU$100 million.

Fewer than 15 people make up Essential Energy’s substation design team — a team responsible for managing the design of all capital investments related to the refurbishment, replacement and construction of substation assets. This team wanted to bridge the gap between large-budget projects and small capital works by applying the same end-to-end benefits of IDDS to both. “There are tens of thousands of design teams like ours working with state or private utilities that need a low-cost, low-resource solution so they can also take the next step to unlock value that an intelligent digital design system can offer,” Turvey said.

Investigating substation design processes

Committed to improving design performance and digital efficiency across its portfolio of works, Essential Energy and its substation design team selected the Brewarrina Substation to investigate the substation design process and the feasibility of using digital technologies to replace time-consuming manual tasks.

A 22- to 66-kilovolt rural site with total capacity of approximately 5 megavolt amperes, the area is prone to severe weather events, including flooding, lightning, strong winds and dust storms. These site conditions presented data acquisition challenges, making traditional onsite surveys dangerous and inefficient in terms of time and accuracy. Several options, including ground scanning and LiDAR (light detection and radar), were trialled, and the captured images were converted to 3D models and used as the basis of new designs.

Streamlining digital workflows

Digital reality model of the Brewarrina substation. Image courtesy of Essential Energy.

Already familiar with Bentley applications, Essential Energy initiated the IDDS workflow for Brewarrina by creating digital reality models of the site using Bentley Systems’ ContextCapture. “The digital reality model is then copied into ProjectWise and forms the foundation to create both primary and secondary drawings for the project using Bentley’s OpenUtilities Substation,” said Jess Hammond, Senior Drawing Officer at Essential Energy.

All reality models, CAD drawings and related documents were stored and shared via ProjectWise, using links instead of manually sharing drawing files, which led to the elimination of uncontrolled versions. The team used OpenUtilities Substation for all design and drafting tasks. In this way, Essential Energy used Bentley’s applications to create an IDDS, enabling virtual design reviews and streamlining the design and drawing approval process.

The interoperability of Bentley’s applications and Microsoft 365 allowed Essential Energy to automate conversion of the approved drawings into PDF copies that were immediately accessible to the onsite construction crews via their mobile devices, ensuring all relevant parties always had the most up-to-date information. “It wasn’t until we could take advantage of Bentley’s partnership with Microsoft 365 that we were able to formulate a working system, [an] end-to-end solution,” said John Rogers, CAD Administrator at Essential Energy.

Upon completion of construction, Essential Energy re-sent drones to capture photos of the site and generate an as-built model with ContextCapture, closing the loop by performing a post-construction audit against the initial design.

Driving smart solutions in the energy sector

By automating previously manual processes, Essential Energy significantly reduced substation design hours. The implementation of the utility’s Bentley-based IDDS has reduced project costs for design at Brewarrina by 50%. “We now believe we have bridged the gap in making IDDS not just financially viable for large-scale budget projects, but [now we can] also offer the same end-to-end project benefits in a low-cost solution,” Turvey said.

Using low-cost 3D reality models, clash detection and automated workflows rather than traditional manual methods improved quality and efficiencies, reduced work associated with design and construction errors, minimised travel, enhanced safety and decreased Essential Energy’s carbon footprint. “IDDS and reality models provide accurate information and revolutionary viewing angles, which enable quick and safe design decisions and allow construction crews to reduce outage times, resulting in a resilient network,” Rogers said.

The benefits Essential Energy has received by moving to an IDDS will help the company transition to a more comprehensive digital twin, according to Bentley Systems. With the increasing push to lower operating costs across the energy sector, Essential Energy is on the way to transforming its approach to capital works projects and the use of technology.

The utility aims to integrate bidirectional data flows and real-time visualisation between its IDDS and asset management system to identify high-risk assets, thus improving its operations and maintenance processes.

“As for the digital future, as Essential Energy builds its data lake of reality models, we will be able to use artificial intelligence to help identify defects in assets and use historical data to show time lapse visual conditioning models,” Rogers said.

Top image caption: The town of Brewarrina in the far north of NSW. Image credit: iStock.com/JohnCarnemolla

Online: http://www.bentley.com/en-AU/
Phone: 07 3270 4317
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