Technology provider Akselos is creating a structural digital twin of energy utility ESB’s aging Turlough Hill hydroelectric power station in County Wicklow, Ireland. The project, a world first, hopes to extend the operational life of the colossal asset and help it find new modes of operation. Heidi Vella finds out more.
Originally designed in the 1960s, with engineering work completed in the 1970s, the Turlough Hill hydroelectric power station in Ireland is reaching the end of its design life.
However, the plant, which is the only pumped storage station in Ireland, is still a key asset for its owner and operator ESB and helps stabilise the local grid at times of peak demand.
Keen to explore ways to potentially extend the power station’s life, in October last year ESB brought in software provider Akselos to create a digital view of the asset.
Using its predictive and digital design technology, Akselos has created a detailed digital twin of the Turlough plant and is working on building a Digital Guardian of the asset which Akselos says can extend its useful life by up to twenty years.
What’s the problem?
Located approximately 60km south of Dublin in the Wicklow Mountains, the Turlough Hill hydroelectric power station generates 292MW during peak demand periods by releasing water from its upper reservoir and allowing it to flow through its four turbines into a lower reservoir.
During periods of lower demand the water is pumped back to the upper reservoir ready to be used again.
“Our technology allows maintenance engineers to really pinpoint, using rules of science and engineering, where the issues will likely occur and we can also establish what the operational life is in terms of fatigue assessment. It also supports predictive maintenance,”
The energy storage that Turlough provides is increasingly important in the changing energy ecosystem, which is moving towards more flexibility to incorporate renewables. But due to its age and size, ESB does not know how much structural life the hydro plant has left and whether its operations can be made more responsive in the future.
As part of the Free Electrons Accelerator Programme – an initiative to connect startups with energy utilities to support and foster innovation – ESB was introduced to Akselos to help find some answers.
“The challenge for ESB is how to continue to operate and on what basis? That’s what the digital twin can help answer,” says Andrew Young, Akselos’ VP of projects and delivery.
Building the digital twin
To build the digital twin, engineers at Akselos needed to collect all available data on the gigantic asset which could then be used to create a 3D rendered structural digital model.
This task was made harder, however, by the lack of available digital information. Akselos’ engineers had to work with paper records only, which put the project behind by two months. In total, it took five months to complete.
To build the model, it was key to establish the geometries, interactions and stresses in the plant system to create an intuitive heat map. The map can show when and what tensions are running through the power station and direct maintenance inspections to specific areas of concern, rather than just doing a random walk through.
The digital twin is essentially a tool with which ESB can simulate many parameters around the day to day operation of the plant and visually pan through the entire structure and see how it reacts.
“Our technology allows maintenance engineers to really pinpoint, using rules of science and engineering, where the issues will likely occur and we can also establish what the operational life is in terms of fatigue assessment. It also supports predictive maintenance,” says Young.
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