Renewable energy needs to be scaled dramatically if we are to reach net zero by 2050. According to Guillaume Lechaton at Akselos, digital twins will be crucial in aiding its deployment.
- Around two-thirds of electricity generation must be renewable by 2030 to reach net zero by 2050.
- Governments worldwide are enforcing policies to scale up renewables, but there is still a significant gap between what’s installed and what’s needed.
- Digital twins could help to accelerate the deployment of offshore wind turbines, contributing to the transition.
To achieve net zero by 2050, the deployment of renewable energy must happen as quickly as possible. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), around two-thirds of electricity generation must be renewable by 2030 to set us up to reach the goal.
Racing to net zero
Around the world, governments are stepping up and putting in place legally binding policies and regulations to drive the deployment of new renewable projects at pace. In 2021, the US government passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the most significant investment in climate and energy in the country’s history. The IRA provides funding and incentives to help achieve the overall target of a net zero economy by 2050.
Similarly, the Net Zero Industry Act, passed by the European Union in March 2023, will scale up the manufacturing of clean technologies to ensure that the continent can achieve its goal of climate neutrality by 2050.
Despite such positive steps, there is an enormous gap between the current rate of renewable energy capacity and what is needed. To achieve net zero, annual renewable energy generation must increase at an average rate of 12% from now until 2030, which is twice the average rate of 2019-2021. In offshore wind, for example, this means installing the equivalent of the current global capacity every year until 2030 and then increasing the capacity to 2.5 times that amount for each of the following 30 years.
Closing the Gap with Technology
Digital twins will be crucial in deploying enough renewable energy to hit net zero targets in Europe, the US and beyond.
A digital twin is a virtual replica of a physical asset or system that simulates its behaviour, performance, and response to external factors in real-time. It is created using advanced software that combines sensors, models, and analytics data to create a digital representation of the physical asset. The digital twin enables operators and engineers to monitor and optimise the asset’s performance remotely, reducing downtime, improving efficiency, and enhancing safety.
Offshore wind farms are subject to various environmental factors, including wind speed, wave conditions, and ocean currents, all of which impact their performance and life expectancy. Digital twins help address these challenges in several ways:
Design optimisation: Digital twins simulate and optimise the design of offshore wind turbines and support structures, such as foundations and moorings. This can drastically reduce the time and cost required to design and test physical prototypes, enabling faster and more efficient design iterations before any money is spent on manufacturing.
Performance monitoring: Once operational, digital twins can be used to monitor the performance of offshore wind turbines in real time through live data from the asset, allowing them to streamline their operations and identify issues before they lead to downtime or reduced output. This helps increase the overall energy output of offshore wind farms, improving their efficiency and reducing their costs.
Predictive maintenance: Digital twins predict maintenance needs and optimise maintenance schedules for offshore wind turbines. By detecting potential issues before they become critical, digital twins can help reduce downtime and maintenance costs, increasing the overall availability of offshore wind farms. Moreover, undertaking predictive maintenance reduces the number of visits by maintenance teams to do repairs, which can be dangerous in challenging conditions.
DigiFloat: Real-World Deployment
Around the world, there are examples of digital twins being used to enhance the design and operations of offshore wind turbines to increase deployment. For instance, the DigiFloat project is a collaboration between Akselos, a Swiss software company, and Principle Power, an offshore wind technology company. As part of the project, Akselos has built a digital twin of a WindFloat foundation used in Principle Power’s Windfloat Atlantic floating offshore wind far off the coast of Portugal.
The digital twin simulates the behaviour of the WindFloat foundation and the wind turbines mounted on it, considering factors such as wave conditions, wind speed, and turbine loads. This enables operators to monitor the performance of the platform and turbines in real-time, optimise their maintenance needs, and improve their overall efficiency. The Digifloat project is expected to help reduce the cost of offshore wind power and accelerate its deployment, contributing to the transition to a cleaner and more sustainable energy system.
To achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and avoid the worst of climate change, we must start leveraging innovative technologies such as digital twins to help meet the enormous demand for renewable energy capacity in the coming years. While governments worldwide are taking steps to promote renewable energy, there is still a significant gap between the current rate of renewable energy capacity and what is needed to reach net zero. Digital twins offer a promising solution to help close this gap and accelerate the deployment of offshore wind turbines, contributing to the transition to a cleaner and more sustainable energy system.
The opinions of guest authors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of SG Voice.