May 12, 2015

Thames Tideway Tunnel

John O'Hanlon
4 min
This article originally appeared in the April 2015 ed...

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 edition of Energy Digital. 

It’s remarkable that there are only two European projects in the, recently released, 2015 Strategic Top 100 Global Infrastructure Report, issued by CG-LA Infrastructure.  These are not selected by size, complexity or spending, though most of them are big. The focus is on the relationship between governments, private investors and the public. Infrastructure is the internal framework for a country, allowing its economy and citizens to be productive and healthy. Infrastructure is a catalyst for progress and the compilers of this report believe that the right policies and projects create important opportunities for all.

Related: How to Prevent Data Breaches and Protect Energy Infrastructure

The three major criteria for project selection are that it needs to be well on the way through the approvals process, be a clear priority for a country’s growth prospects and reinforce a country’s clear, long-term vision. This vision must define how the infrastructure investment will create well-being by growing the economy or improving public health or communication.

It’s not hard to see why the Thames Tideway Tunnel (TTT) made the list this year. Like Crossrail, the other network currently moleing its way beneath the city, it will massively improve Londoners’ lives. By 2031, 8.6 million people will live in London. An estimated 600,000 new homes will be needed to absorb the growth. The sewerage network, already under severe pressure, needs an upgrade. That’s an important part of the vision.

The project will improve the public health, reputation and economy of London; not to mention the thousands of skilled jobs and hundreds of apprenticeships it will create.

Related: London On Tap: A carafe for London - Thames Water

The TTT is very much a project with legs. It has just revealed the three joint ventures that have been selected as preferred bidders for the east, central and west contracts. BMB JV, a joint venture of BAM Nuttall Ltd., Morgan Sindall PLC and Balfour Beatty Group Ltd. has been named for the west contract; FLO JV brings together Ferrovial Agroman UK Ltd. and Laing O’Rourke Construction for the central contract; and CVB JV, made up of Costain, Vinci Construction and Grands Projects Bachy Soletanche, has the east contract.

Related: Thames Tideway Tunnel Names Preferred JV Contractors

The engineering marvel that is the TTT is 25 kilometres long, descends 30 metres at its western end and 66 metres at its eastern and is over seven metres in diameter. The TTT will be the biggest infrastructure project ever undertaken by the UK water industry. Generally, it will follow the route of the River Thames, connecting to the combined sewer overflows located along the riverbanks. En route, it will travel underneath all other London infrastructure and through a variety of different ground environments.

It will be dug out by German-made, underground-conditioned, tunnel boring machines (TBMs). These extrude the excavated material, which is removed with a conveyor belt or, in wetter places, a slurry pipeline. As excavation advances, the tunnel is encased in a concrete shell using precast segments. The TBMs are introduced through a vertical shaft. Later, the existing overflow shafts will be connected to the great tunnel, ensuring that the sewage is no longer able to pollute the Thames.

The situation is worse now than before Sir Joseph Bazalgette constructed the interceptor sewers in the 1850s. These are still the backbone of London’s sewerage system. During severe storms, Bazalgette’s system was designed to overflow through discharge points on the riverbanks into the River Thames, rather than flooding streets and homes. When designed, this happened once or twice a year. Today it happens weekly, on average.

Related: Thames Water lines up huge-scale service upgrades for AMP 6 and beyond

During its construction, between 2016 and 2023, the project will employ upward of 9,000 people at peak times. Given the continued national predominance of men over women in construction jobs, TTT’s CEO Andy Mitchell has set an interesting goal to achieve gender parity by 2023. While admitting that as a white, middle-aged male he is part of the problem, Mitchell exhibits an enlightened attitude towards the issue. “This is not really a man’s world: we need women and we need diversity,” he says. “It’s a fact that a diverse workforce is a more productive one. If we are to deliver infrastructure that is of most use to society, we are more likely to achieve that with a team that is representative of that society.”

It will be an uphill task. Over a six-month period at the start of 2014, only 21 percent of job applicants were female. “At the peak of construction, we’ll be creating more than 4,000 direct jobs and another 5,000 indirect. We need to make sure that when we advertise those roles we’re getting a far better rate of female applicants than we are now,” Mitchell admits. “Gender parity is a bold statement, and maybe it is too ambitious, but I don’t see the point in striving for anything less. If we achieve this goal, I believe it will change the face of construction for future generations.”

This policy may have been the deciding factor in securing the TTT a place in the Strategic Top 100. 

 

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Jun 12, 2021

Why Transmission & Distribution Utilities Need Digital Twins

digitaltwins
Technology
Utilities
Management
Petri Rauhakallio
6 min
Petri Rauhakallio at Sharper Shape outlines the Digital Twins benefits for energy transmission and distribution utilities

As with any new technology, Digital twins can create as many questions as answers. There can be a natural resistance, especially among senior utility executives who are used to the old ways and need a compelling case to invest in new ones. 

So is digital twin just a fancy name for modelling? And why do many senior leaders and engineers at power transmission & distribution (T&D) companies have a gnawing feeling they should have one? Ultimately it comes down to one key question: is this a trend worth our time and money?

The short answer is yes, if approached intelligently and accounting for utilities’ specific needs. This is no case of runaway hype or an overwrought name for an underwhelming development – digital twin technology can be genuinely transformational if done right. So here are six reasons why in five years no T&D utility will want to be without a digital twin. 

1. Smarter Asset Planning

A digital twin is a real-time digital counterpart of a utility’s real-world grid. A proper digital twin – and not just a static 3D model of some adjacent assets – represents the grid in as much detail as possible, is updated in real-time and can be used to model ‘what if’ scenarios to gauge the effects in real life. It is the repository in which to collect and index all network data, from images, to 3D pointclouds, to past reports and analyses.

With that in mind, an obvious use-case for a digital twin is planning upgrades and expansions. For example, if a developer wants to connect a major solar generation asset, what effect might that have on the grid assets, and will they need upgrading or reinforcement? A seasoned engineer can offer an educated prediction if they are familiar with the local assets, their age and their condition – but with a digital twin they can simply model the scenario on the digital twin and find out.

The decision is more likely to be the right one, the utility is less likely to be blindsided by unforeseen complications, and less time and money need be spent visiting the site and validating information.

As the energy transition accelerates, both transmission and distribution (T&D) utilities will receive more connection requests for anything from solar parks to electric vehicle charging infrastructure, to heat pumps and batteries – and all this on top of normal grid upgrade programs. A well-constructed digital twin may come to be an essential tool to keep up with the pace of change.

2. Improved Inspection and Maintenance

Utilities spend enormous amounts of time and money on asset inspection and maintenance – they have to in order to meet their operational and safety responsibilities. In order to make the task more manageable, most utilities try to prioritise the most critical or fragile parts of the network for inspection, based on past inspection data and engineers’ experience. Many are investigating how to better collect, store and analyze data in order to hone this process, with the ultimate goal of predicting where inspections and maintenance are going to be needed before problems arise.  

The digital twin is the platform that contextualises this information. Data is tagged to assets in the model, analytics and AI algorithms are applied and suggested interventions are automatically flagged to the human user, who can understand what and where the problem is thanks to the twin. As new data is collected over time, the process only becomes more effective.

3. More Efficient Vegetation Management

Utilities – especially transmission utilities in areas of high wildfire-risk – are in a constant struggle with nature to keep vegetation in-check that surrounds power lines and other assets. Failure risks outages, damage to assets and even a fire threat. A comprehensive digital twin won’t just incorporate the grid assets – a network of powerlines and pylons isolated on an otherwise blank screen – but the immediate surroundings too. This means local houses, roads, waterways and trees. 

If the twin is enriched with vegetation data on factors such as the species, growth rate and health of a tree, then the utility can use it to assess the risk from any given twig or branch neighbouring one of its assets, and prioritise and dispatch vegetation management crews accordingly. 

And with expansion planning, inspection and maintenance, the value here is less labor-intensive and more cost-effective decision making and planning – essential in an industry of tight margins and constrained resources. What’s more, the value only rises over time as feedback allows the utility to finesse the program.

4. Automated powerline inspection

Remember though, that to be maximally useful, a digital twin must be kept up to date. A larger utility might blanche at the resources required to not just to map and inspect the network once in order to build the twin, but update that twin at regular intervals.

However, digital twins are also an enabling technology for another technological step-change – automated powerline inspection.

Imagine a fleet of sensor-equipped drones empowered to fly the lines almost constantly, returning (automatically) only to recharge their batteries. Not only would such a set-up be far cheaper to operate than a comparable fleet of human inspectors, it could provide far more detail at far more regular intervals, facilitating all the above benefits of better planning, inspection, maintenance and vegetation management. Human inspectors could be reserved for non-routine interventions that really require their hard-earned expertise.

In this scenario, the digital twin provides he ‘map’ by which the drone can plan a route and navigate itself, in conjunction with its sensors. 

5. Improved Emergency Modelling and Faster Response

If the worst happens and emergency strikes, such as a wildfire or natural disaster, digital twins can again prove invaluable. The intricate, detailed understanding of the grid, assets and its surroundings that a digital twin gives is an element of order in a chaotic situation, and can guide the utility and emergency services alike in mounting an informed response.

And once again, the digital twin’s facility for ‘what-if’ scenario testing is especially useful for emergency preparedness. If a hurricane strikes at point X, what will be the effect on assets at point Y? If a downed pylon sparks a fire at point A, what residences are nearby and what does an evacuation plan look like?

6. Easier accommodation of external stakeholders

Finally, a digital twin can make lighter work of engaging with external stakeholders. The world doesn’t stand still, and a once blissfully-isolated powerline may suddenly find itself adjacent to a building site for a new building or road. 

As well as planning for connection (see point 1), a digital twin takes the pain out of those processes that require interfacing with external stakeholders, such as maintenance contractors, arborists, trimming crews or local government agencies – the digital twin breaks down the silos between these groups and allows them to work from a single version of the truth – in future it could even be used as part of the bid process for contractors.

These six reasons for why digital twins will be indispensable to power T&D utilities are only the tip of the iceberg; the possibilities are endless given the constant advancement of data collection an analysis technology. No doubt these will invite even more questions – and we relish the challenge of answering them. 

 

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