Walk the line: How to balance your utility network in real time

Escalating concerns about climate change, resource depletion and environmental degradation are putting utility companies under intense pressure to adopt more sustainable practices and technologies.

Utility companies need to adapt and modernize their operations quickly. They face a dual challenge: comprehending their network through a digital twin, which is relatively straightforward, and accurately forecasting external load influences, a more intricate task. This requires implementing digital solutions to manage asset lifecycles and promote collaboration among all stakeholders interacting with the utility network.

Digital representation of the network

Utility network management often focuses on forecasting. Utilities must simulate extreme scenarios to adequately size their networks, including potential failures such as peaks or blackouts – all of which are executed by having a digital twin of the network.

These digital models play crucial roles in conducting simulations and can be used in real time and in a highly automated way. Real-time execution balances the network efficiently, ensuring assets are protected during heavy load periods. And it extends beyond the simple distribution of energy to consumers; it encompasses the sustainability of the network long term.

Integrating real-time data from the grid and a digital twin from a geospatial asset management (GeoAM) solution to make informed decisions and manage the grid effectively depends on reliable telecommunications. Today, utility companies are making substantial investments in deploying telecom networks, particularly fiber optics, alongside their infrastructure. This ensures seamless real-time data transfer between key assets and the central office. Many utilities prefer their own networks rather than relying on private telco operators. This stems from the need to maintain network operations in all situations, including blackout scenarios, where private operators cannot guarantee network availability.

Once the telecom network is in place, the focus is now on the streamlined deployment of sensors and measurement points across the utility network. The efficacy of real-time measurements is essential to support preventive maintenance and prompt timely alarms. Real-time measurements should guide optimal maintenance practices to ensure the network’s resilience.

The goal is to use these measurements as much as possible to anticipate events rather than react once it’s too late. Grid operators can better understand energy patterns and trends to enhance real-time management through preventive maintenance and an outage management system (OMS).

An OMS enables real-time management of a network by providing an advanced operational foundation with outage management, fault location, dispatch and mobile workforce capabilities for better monitoring of advanced meter infrastructure and distributed energy resources (DERs). And real-time management helps operators understand assets’ abnormal behaviors before they fail.

“Utilities are managing the impact of renewable energy on their networks,” said Hexagon’s Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division Director, EMEA Utilities and Communications Jean-François Allard. “I see a noticeable shift toward a shared responsibility model where every consumer produces, stores and uses their own energy output. And the rise of electric vehicles (EVs) empowers individuals to store excess energy in batteries and utilize it when needed. I think every home connection will eventually contribute to the grid.”

Understand and predict

How does weather forecasting impact the generation and distribution of renewable energy, and what are the implications for grid management?

Wind and solar production are driven by weather conditions, which can be unpredictable. Yet larger producers must predict their wind and solar production based on accurate weather forecasting before selling it. Sunlight and wind have a considerable impact on solar farms, so producers must keep in mind the cooling effects of wind and how it can directly impact the yield of a solar panel. The more precise the weather forecast is, the more accurate the production forecast becomes.

Utility companies can also optimize their operations with AI and machine learning applications to improve forecasting and decision-making in vegetation management. These applications will help companies better understand the impact of vegetation on assets, where trees can influence aerial lines and poles during windy conditions and may cast shadows on solar farms.

“I believe that renewable energy is transforming how we interact with energy,” said Allard. “Consumers currently play a passive role by simply plugging in their devices and using electricity. But soon, every consumer will become a producer and automatically assume an active role within the utility network, ultimately improving consumer responsibility and awareness.”

Learn more

Set a solid foundation for your utility networks with the right technologies in place. Explore Hexagon’s solutions tailored to enhance renewable energy initiatives for utility companies.

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