How do you know where to invest in your power grid?

A digital twin of Finland’s power grid is going to shake up the future of infrastructure investment.

When Jussi Jyrinsalo, Senior Vice President of Finland’s transmission system operator Fingrid, coordinates future investments, today's and tomorrow's state of the nation’s power grid are at his fingertips: Thanks to ELVIS, the grid’s digital twin, the future is only a push of a button away.


By Marc Engelhardt

Planning the grid’s future investments in the past looked like this: 80 percent data collection and verification, 20 percent analysis. “I had to go around and ask everyone: ‘Do you have some projections that should be included to get a grid model of the future?’” Jussi Jyrinsalo remembers. “Every engineer would have his own models, and we would collect bits and pieces and add the parts that were missing completely.” It required weeks and months and lots of patience to successfully combine this data to get a complete picture of the future state and needs of the country’s grid.


For the same exercise today, Jyrinsalo, Fingrid’s Senior Vice President in charge of grid services and planning, simply has to push a button. “If want a 2025 forecast model, I get it instantly – with all available data included, because everyone feeds into the same system now.” The digital grid model, dubbed a digital twin, has reversed the workload quotas of the past. Data collection and verification now make up no more than 20 percent of the time, while 80 percent remain for the crucial task of analysis. “That means engineers have more space to do what they do best: planning the grid, in the most transparent manner.”

Planning 25 years forward

And that extra time is well needed, since grid development has become much more elaborate over the years. In Finland as elsewhere in the world, the rise of decentralized, renewable energy input has made it harder to balance the power system hour by hour. “We can still do it today, but how about in five or ten years when more and more traditional power plants will be replaced by fluctuating sources like wind and solar?” Jyrinsalo asks. And already knows the answer: “We have to act now and develop the grid accordingly.” Here’s where the digital grid model comes in: The model is linked to asset management data as well as past and real-time measurements. Combined with economic studies that forecast future energy production and hourly consumption, Jyrinsalo uses the digital twin to develop a number of investment scenarios taking different policy frameworks into account.

That’s how concrete grid planning starts. “For example, all scenarios predict that we will need more capacity on north-south transmission lines – so this was where we decided to invest first.” When those lines are built, other trends will have become clearer, opening the path to the next stage in grid development. Finland might be a comparatively small country, but the power lines add up to 14,600 kilometers. Some 50,000 transmission line towers are represented in the digital twin, as well as conductors that, combined, would reach 2.5 times around the globe. Additionally, the country’s grid is part of a Nordic and a European transmission system, which makes energy imports and exports part of the simulation as well. “And we can calculate for a future as far away as 25 years,” Jyrinsalo beams. The digital network model manager is a veritable time machine, catapulting Fingrid into the future.

Decisions worth E1 billion

This time machine, developed jointly by Fingrid and Siemens, contains a Siemens PSS®ODMS network model manager as well as a Siemens PSS®E network analysis solution. “We already had a digital PSS®E system in place which was highly praised,” Jyrinsalo remembers. “But data was still in separate silos, one reason why we decided to develop a new system.” Michael Schneider, Head of Siemens Power Technologies International (PTI), calls the creation of the digital twin – nicknamed “ELVIS” (short for Electric Verkko Information System) – a perfect example for cocreation, with Siemens turning Fingrid’s vision into reality. Since the digital twin’s installation two years ago, Fingrid is coordinating about E1 billion’s worth of investments, using this “single source of truth” as a basis. “The model,” says Jyrinsalo, “is up to 100 times more detailed than the old one, which means that decisions are much more fact-based than before – we no longer need to rely on gut feeling for any part­.”

The secret is in the data. Fingrid decided to digitize the grid early on. Today, the smart grid is the prerequisite for the accuracy of the digital grid model. Ever more sensors deliver equipment data in real time, forming a massive big data input fed directly into the system. The visualized output betrays the complexity of the data: Colored maps make for an easy overview, adding to the optimization of grid investments, each worth tens of millions of euros. And standardized interfaces offer the chance to add further data input in the future, as well as an eventual connection to cloud-based systems like Siemens MindSphere.

Cost-effective and reliable

The quality of the data and the whole system is tested on a daily basis, since the digital twin is used not only for investment planning, but also for operations and asset management. “When we plan the refurbishment of substations,” Jyrinsalo explains, “in the past, such decisions were only based on the substations’ age. Today, however, we have much more information on each substation’s actual condition, so we can plan according to the real needs.” And it’s a new way of planning that ensures cost-effectiveness and a high reliability of the grid, currently measured at 99.9996 percent.


While ELVIS for now remains an engineering model of the grid, Jyrinsalo is already thinking about the next step. He would like to see hourly transmission forecasts for the future, which are currently handled by a separate market simulation program, integrated as well and fed directly into the planning model to reveal potential shortcomings in the grid. Also, Fingrid is currently constructing a data hub that will collect data from digital smart meters all over Finland. Once the hub is operational, this data will provide additional value by making the digital twin even more accurate. “To every grid operator hesitant to introduce a digital twin,” Jyrinsalo advises, “I say: ‘Don’t wait any longer. Go for the low-hanging fruits first and then grow bit by bit, the time to start is now – you can do it.’”


Marc Engelhardt reports from Geneva on the UN and business news

Picture credits: Siemens AG, Fingrid Oyj

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"To every grid operator hesitant to introduce a digital twin, I say: ‘Don’t wait any longer."

Jussi Jyrinsalo, Senior Vice President, Fingrid

About Fingrid

Established in 1996 and based in Helsinki, Fingrid is Finland’s transmission system operator, responsible for the operations and planning of more than 14,000 kilometers of 400-, 220- and 110- kilovolt transmission lines and more than 100 substations.

In 2016, they introduced the digital grid model – ELVIS – that supports their asset and operation management as well as infrastructure investment planning. 


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