Digitalizing power transmission, they knew, would be a game changer for the industry. But to make sure transmission system operators receive exactly the kind of added value cloud connectivity could bring, the customer became a co-creator.
When the work began to bring the undersea Basslink Interconnector between Tasmania and mainland Australia into the Information Age, project lead Bernd Koppenhoefer, a specialist in digitalization and digital services for Siemens Energy, was at his apartment some 16,500 kilometers away in Nuremberg, Germany.
In fact, Koppenhoefer, an avid traveler who has been to 73 countries, had never set foot on the Basslink converter station just outside the small seaside village of George Town in northern Tasmania. The pandemic had made travel unthinkable, and even so Koppenhoefer and his team had decided they were going to forego the conventional way of doing things and take an innovative approach with this project.
Their goal was straightforward: use data to create added value for customers through a secure cloud-based online monitoring solution – at any time from any place in the world. Transmission operators would get online access to the actual status of their facilities as well as all historical data that had previously been lying dormant in their systems and assets. And it would be easy for them to use this big data for data correlation, analysis, troubleshooting, forecasting, and even predicting the future to maximize system availability and improve maintenance.
“We wanted to include the customer right from the beginning of our development process rather than at the end,” says Koppenhoefer, “making sure we used real input from real operations so we could offer the customer maximum value and move quickly. And the benefits and results of this kind of co-creation are overwhelming.”
Co-creation is not as straightforward as conventional development strategies, says Koppenhoefer. “It requires agile learning circles and early validation of what works and what brings real value. It’s a dynamic process that calls for openness and trust – that was a precondition for both the team at Siemens Energy and Basslink.”
Siemens Energy first approached Basslink with the idea of a co-creation project to digitalize their HVDC link in July of 2020. Basslink would not only be a party that would procure the solution and use the service, but also a partner and team member in its development. “There was no hesitation at all on our part,” says Basslink engineer Greg Mather. “We saw it as an opportunity to improve operations, and, once we got the concept, we quickly began sharing ideas.”
Fittingly enough for a digitalization project, virtual meetings, file transfers, screen sharing and other Internet collaboration tools to exchange information and ideas became the norm, shrinking the distance between Germany and Australia. When asked how they manage the eight-hour time difference, Mather puts it succinctly: “Bernd gets up early and we stay late.”
The benefit of the approach, he adds, “is that people with different perspectives and experiences – even people in different locations – can work together to create a product with practical applications for more than one user. We’re not trying to recreate the product that we have, we’re trying to build something from scratch that’s useful, something that actually does more than we do now.”
Of course, Koppenhoefer and Mather were not working alone. In total, Siemens Energy had more than ten of their engineers and experts involved in the project, including Project Manager for Research and Development Maximilian Zimmerman, Teamlead SensSolution Michael Zorawik and Project Manager SensSolution Nicolas Soellner. Basslink’s team included Site Managers Mark Bostedt and Gabriel Avens, along with Chief Operating Officer Joska Ferencz.
“Basslink provided us with fresh input and the important, real everyday work experience of an HVDC system operator,” says Koppenhoefer. “They were able to provide us with invaluable insights on technical topics and operations, on maintenance and asset management – even on regulatory requirements and market conditions so we were better able to understand both the business and the financial impact of the project.”
The first point of order was to adapt the Siemens Energy SensSolution® product to Basslink, enabling the secure transfer of their transmission system data to the cloud. Then the team began developing customizable dashboards that would display, calculate, and analyze that data, automatically creating, for example, forecasts for predictive maintenance and better maintenance scheduling.
“We had discussions about the data to be used, how it should be visualized, what kind of dashboards and functionalities were needed – and we worked intensively on how we could use the online monitoring system to identify, analyze and resolve operational issues as fast as possible to maximize system availability,” says Koppenhoefer.
“We provided three terabytes of data of historical information going back to 2006,” says Mather. “By analyzing the past, we can predict the future. And along with a lot more efficiency, we also get to correlate data that we previously didn’t know or didn’t understand the relationship between.”
Moreover, adds Koppenhoefer, “we can combine data from the HVDC system with additional data, such as weather forecasts, to create additional value for our customers. The next step would be to add data from other transmission systems and assets such as substations and Flexible AC Transmission Systems (FACTS) to create a digital twin of the entire power transmission network.”
This makes the entire transmission process transparent. As a result, operators are able to accurately determine their system’s actual status with real-time analysis and monitoring anytime and anywhere in the world right from their smartphones, introducing the kind of flexibility and intelligence needed to support the energy transition.
“We want to have an impact on carbon reduction worldwide,” says Koppenhoefer, “and the only way to get there is by making electrical grids more intelligent.”
Today, power transmission systems are tasked with a crucial role in decarbonization, delivering massive amounts of decentralized renewable energy over vast distances, explains Koppenhoefer. “The current grid infrastructure wasn’t built for that scenario,” he says. “These factors need faster and smarter capabilities to manage them. It sounds paradoxical, but if you want to make the world greener, digitalization is the key.”
The project with Basslink is only one of a number of co-creation projects currently under way at Siemens Energy. “Working with an external group of motivated people with a wealth of ideas,” says Koppenhoefer, “brings us all to a higher level. And we’ve decided to include co-creation – or at least some elements of it – in all future development projects. The quick progress we achieved in digitalizing power transmission was only possible through co-creation, and it wouldn’t have been possible any other way.”
Based in Tasmania, Australia, Nina Hendy is an independent journalist specializing in business and finance. Her work has been published in a number of media outlets, including The Financial Review, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
Combined picture and video credits: Andrew Wilson