Energy companies use twin technology to bolster infrastructure

Siobhan Doyle

How can AI digital twins help climate-proof our energy infrastructure? Siobhan Doyle speaks to Taco Engelaar who delves into its potential.

With the frequency and intensity of storms increasing across Ireland in recent years, asset owner and distribution system operator ESB Networks needs to safeguard its 2.4 million customers against the growing risk of weather-related power outages. But how? In short, the operator aims to climate-proof its network by partnering with software company Neara to create a ‘digital twin’ of its transmission network spanning over 7,500km.

Ireland joins a cohort of nations embracing the Australian-based company’s AI and digital modelling technology to enable asset managers, risk managers, contractors, planners, and engineers to analyse and stress-test key critical segments of its infrastructure in granular detail, within a safe and simulated environment.

The adoption of Neara’s technology by ESB Networks enables quicker reporting and analysis, providing detailed insights in two weeks compared with the three to four months a manual reporting system takes. This will help accelerate risk identification and remediation for ESB Networks, reducing forced outages.

ESB Networks also uses the platform to address power outage causes, such as falling trees and vegetation near power lines. Here, it identifies high-risk areas for potential line failure, allowing teams to prioritise vegetation management such as tree trimming to prevent damage or outages. It also detects growing risks owing to longer seasons associated with climate change.


Neara’s platform constructs 3D digital replicas of utility networks by amalgamating existing LiDAR, geospatial, and satellite data, along with high-definition imagery. These elements are fused to autonomously generate an engineering-grade, physics-enabled model that replicates real-world conditions, using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. It is also able to precisely identify the location and status of every component within an energy infrastructure network, says Taco Engelaar, managing director at Neara.

“Utilities and engineers can use the digital twin to carry out key network monitoring and planning activities (traditionally performed by engineers in the field) in a safe, virtual environment,” he adds. “This provides enhanced visibility and allows utilities to protect and improve vital infrastructure more accurately and efficiently.”

Engelaar further highlights that the technology is able to conduct dynamic line rating, identifying untapped capacity within the grid to accommodate additional renewable energy sources. For example, when used by Empact Engineering in a fast-growing region in Texas, the Neara platform found that 94.5% of the lines could reliably operate at double its existing capacity.


According to Engelaar, digital twin technology “makes it easier for utility companies to remotely inspect their networks in great detail with high accuracy, leaving error-prone guesstimation behind, and ensuring that field resources are allocated to the most pressing risks at any given time.” Modelling technology also helps utilities “navigate today’s pressures [weather and climate change] by facilitating simulations that pinpoint equipment weaknesses and prioritise optimisation opportunities.”

Engelaar says digital twins can also help reduce risk and guide safe, effective recovery efforts across a network. He uses an example of a once-in-50-years flooding event in Australia whereby utilities company Endeavour Energy used the Neara platform to predict and monitor clearance risks and switch off sections of the network where floodwater presented a particular danger. Post-flood, it enabled them to restore power to those most in need more quickly, and ultimately eliminated 300 hours of manual inspection time.

“As we race towards Net Zero deadlines, digital twins can also help utilities identify pockets of latent network capacity in existing infrastructure, reducing the need for costly new transmission,” Engelaar adds.


As mentioned previously, Neara’s platform utilises AI and machine learning to create the digital twin of the existing grid – Engelaar believes that AI has a huge role to play in climate-proofing the energy grid and arming utility companies with the tools to weather future challenges.

“When coupled with digital modelling technology, AI can provide an unparalleled level of visibility and accuracy, empowering utilities, and engineers to repair, protect and enhance existing infrastructure more safely and efficiently,” Engelaar explains. “This can reduce the need for costly new builds and grid expansion to cope with rising climate pressures and energy demand – and when new infrastructure is needed, AI can help make sure grid expansion is executed flawlessly, removing risk and minimising costs.”


AI and digital modelling can help us mitigate the impact of extreme weather, uncover latent capacity to connect more renewable energy, and bolster ageing infrastructure to meet evolving energy needs, Engelaar adds. He uses the example of Scottish Power leveraging Neara’s technology to recreate Storm Arwen (November 2021) in their digital network model. Simulating the storm’s exact conditions equipped the power distribution company with a thorough, detailed understanding of how to best prepare for and respond to future storms of similar magnitude to minimise negative impacts across the network.

Indeed, Neara’s platform can be used by utilities to create an entire lifecycle solution of weather impact, disaster response, and network-wide optimisation in order to build resiliency and manage risk to the existing grid.