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Millions of people in Sydney’s Greater West and beyond rely on Endeavour Energy to provide a safe and reliable electricity supply around the clock. To combat the challenging conditions of the region’s harsh environment – subject to heat waves, flooding, drought and wildfires – Endeavour Energy has embraced technology and dramatically improved customer outcomes after it became the first electricity network in Australia in 2022 to deploy an engineering grade ‘digital twin’ of its physical poles and wires network.

A ‘digital twin’ is a virtual model designed to reflect a physical object, process or system that includes relational interactions with data and simulations.

Developed in partnership with leading cloud-based engineering analytics platform Neara, the digital twin has revolutionised Endeavour Energy’s response to critical emergency events by accurately identifying clearances between rising floodwaters and power lines from the office, rather than onsite inspections, freeing up field resources to perform other critical functions.

Endeavour successfully deployed the digital twin during four successive record-breaking floods along New South Wales’ Hawkesbury River in 2021-22, using the digital twin’s advanced analytics and risk modelling to eliminate 300 hours of inspection time and help speed up recovery.

These extreme floods saw up to 7,000 customers residents and businesses in Western Sydney left without power for up to a week as Endeavour Energy used past flood records and manual calculations to predict future flood levels in order to proactively switch off power to areas that were likely to be submerged as floodwaters rose.

During floods, this is a critical public safety step to ensure that residents and emergency workers are not exposed to live power lines hidden beneath raging flood waters. This was based on ‘best estimates’ in areas where the Hawkesbury/Nepean floodplain was submerged with floods reaching up to 14m – higher than most of the power poles in the area and stretching as far as the eye could see.

Endeavour Energy embarked on a trial to initiate a new system that would revolutionise the way it delivered power and supported communities in times of crisis.

Accurate data classification

After the first flood, Endeavour Energy used modelling of flood levels over its network digital twin to develop a virtual flood overlay across the modelled 3D network, based on data collected and manually calibrated through visual inspections, helicopter flights, Google Earth and the digital twin. This information was refined in subsequent flooding events to provide a more accurate picture of the impact of floodwaters on Endeavour Energy’s network, and to share that information with customers.

Identify at-risk assets

Using Neara’s physics-enabled software, Endeavour Energy can now assess where assets are at risk from multiple factors, including high tension and encroachment risk. With this information, the utility can identify high-risk and high-priority areas of its network when simulating extreme weather events – such as high wind, extreme heat, rising floodwater and wildfire – to understand the impact on its network.

For example, the digital twin can also be used to see how cables might sag in hot temperatures, which feeders might be impacted first as flood water rises, and which poles might be most at risk of failure in high winds.

During flood recovery, the digital twin has allowed Endeavour Energy to maintain safe clearances between the floodwaters and the high voltage network. It is used in conjunction with a purpose-built inspection app that brings back real-time information from the field to the control centres that coordinate the on-ground inspection and repair works between teams and partners. This has improved response times as well as worker and public safety.

It has enabled Endeavour Energy to quickly inspect and restore flooded properties, dramatically reducing the time it takes to restore essential electricity supplies to flood-affected customers so that they could start rebuilding their lives and communities sooner. However, identifying weather-related risk is not the only thing Endeavour Energy is doing with this technology.

Vegetation management

Vegetation management is an ongoing responsibility for utilities with overhead infrastructure. LiDAR data captures network assets and vegetation. Once the data is classified, the result is an extremely accurate representation of network assets and the objects around them.

Unlike buildings, vegetation grows and changes over time. Not only must utilities ensure that vegetation – such as trees – does not grow into power lines, they also need to ensure that the vegetation does not present a fall-in risk.

Endeavour Energy’s digital twin includes a physics-based calculation to determine whether nearby trees might fall onto a power line, and these are highlighted across the whole network so that engineers and contractors can easily identify and prioritise hazardous tree removals.

Replace and maintain assets

Endeavour Energy has been able to deliver more efficient asset replacement and maintenance regimes using the digital twin. With high-quality LiDAR data already captured by most utilities to understand vegetation encroachment, the next logical step is to use the data to extract more value by applying it to other use cases.

With its interactive 3D digital model, Endeavour Energy has been able to understand loading scenarios, so that it can optimize asset maintenance workflows. Having a rich asset database allows for better asset replacement strategies by prioritising the highest-risk and highest impact assets and tackling them prudently.

Invest in the modern grid

With so much time and money saved through the efficiencies introduced by the digital twin, Endeavour Energy can invest more time on strategising for the future. The utility is committed to planning a modern grid where batteries, microgrids and solar integrate seamlessly with the distribution network’s traditional poles and wires. By first designing digitally and stress testing the 3D model in a risk-free environment, Endeavour Energy can ensure that the decisions it makes are right the first time with new construction projects.

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