Rory Gopsill joined GlobalData’s Thematic Intelligence team in July 2021. His research has focused on the energy, consumer goods, and packaging sectors. He has written reports on smart cities, AI, AR, cybersecurity, robotics, cloud computing, edtech, and the metaverse.
Lara Virrey: How can the metaverse help power companies meet some of the sector’s challenges today?
Rory Gopsill: The energy transition is a major challenge facing the power sector, but digital twins can support renewable energy projects. For example, Equinor uses Microsoft’s digital twin platform to create pre-development virtual versions of offshore wind farms to simplify and accelerate their physical construction.
The reliability of energy supplies is not currently guaranteed. The energy sector is facing supply complications due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the ongoing energy transition is resulting in greater dependence on renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar that are intermittent by nature.
Industrial metaverse experiences can help deliver a reliable energy supply by optimising asset management and maintenance, reducing unplanned downtime and improving asset performance. Digital twins enable the predictive maintenance, remote operation, and performance monitoring of energy assets and can also simulate hypothetical conditions and scenarios. Outfitting field engineers with AR-based remote assistance solutions can expedite maintenance operations.
Lara Virrey: What are the most promising applications of the metaverse in the power industry?
Rory Gopsill: Digital twins are by far the most promising application of the metaverse in the power industry. Vast networks of industrial infrastructures underpin power operations. Power companies rely on energy generation, storage, and transmission infrastructures. These large, expensive, complex, and sometimes hazardous assets need to be operated and maintained as efficiently as possible. Digital twins of these assets can enable their remote management and predictive maintenance and can also improve employee safety.
On a grander scale, digital twins of entire infrastructure networks can improve supply chain management by delivering insights into multiple interconnected assets’ operations. They can also expedite mergers and acquisitions. If both the acquirer and issuer have digital twins of their infrastructures, it is easier to analyse at the deal discussion stage the cost and revenue synergies of operating both infrastructures together, and to carry out due diligence. It is also easier to identify the best way to integrate both operations once the deal has been agreed.
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Lara Virrey: Who are the leading power companies in the metaverse right now, and why?
Rory Gopsill: Leading metaverse adopters in the power sector include EDF Energy, Iberdrola, and Enel.
EDF has proven especially innovative in developing digital twins for the nuclear power industry. EDF has partnered with leading digital twin vendors to digitalise its nuclear engineering processes, including Dassault Systemes and Capgemini in 2018 and Aveva in 2021. The company has even launched its own digital twin start-up, Metroscope. The governments of both the UK and France have used EDF’s expertise in digital twins when researching and developing nuclear energy.
Elements of the industrial metaverse are central to Iberdrola’s long-term digitalisation strategy. The company considers digital twins, VR, and AR to be digital transformation pillars and has extensively adopted both technologies.
Iberdrola is part of multiple consortia researching the application of digital twins in the offshore wind industry. Iberdrola uses AR mobile devices for field operations on overhead cables and pipe infrastructure. Its technical training school in Madrid and the Bilbao campus train employees using virtual geographic information systems (GIS) in 3D, AR and VR headsets, and holograms
Enel has created its own metaverse platform populated with digital twins of assets and energy infrastructures that it has developed and operates.
Dubbed the GridVerse, the objective is to provide employees with a virtual environment where they can collaborate and access digital replicas of the assets for which they are responsible. Current use cases include remote assistance and virtual training. However, the head of digital hubs at Enel Grids envisions future use cases such as advanced simulations and 3D analytics to improve efficiency.
Lara Virrey: What are the barriers to implementation of the metaverse in the power industry?
Rory Gopsill: Innovation is slow in the energy sector. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, energy infrastructure such as power stations typically have lifespans extending decades. Legacy technology often becomes outdated during this time, and replacements can be expensive and inconvenient for workforces.
Secondly, incorporating new technologies and improving sustainability practices often requires retraining, which can take time and prove frustrating for employees who are used to a particular way of working. Thirdly, a lack of sufficient technology skills and expertise across energy companies is slowing the industry’s innovation rate. A report by PA Consulting found that nearly 50% of senior energy executives felt their companies lacked the skills necessary to develop new technologies.
Finally, the energy industry is highly regulated, which can deter innovation. For instance, the EU sets a maximum energy price, which limits revenue. A profit-maximising organisation will be less incentivised to invest in new technology, which causes more capital expenditure (capex) in the short term when they cannot increase prices to their customers.
Metaverse adoption in the power sector is stifled in particular by the second, third, and fourth reasons listed above.