New Zealand's energy industry is facing mounting pressures from a number of different directions.

The country is currently experiencing a relatively dry year. Lake levels are low and gas reserves are limited. It's why Genesis Energy has brought its third coal-fired Rankine unit at Huntly back into use to provide backup. However, wholesale electricity prices are rising with more non-renewable energy used to combat the potentially persistent dry conditions and low hydro lake levels.

Looking ahead, the industry is evaluating how it can support the government's goal to achieve net zero emissions of long-lived gases by 2050 and the Climate Change Commission's proposed emissions budgets.

It's encouraging to see studies being undertaken to evaluate the future of green hydrogen and pumped hydro, and new commitments being made about wind farms. But just like how the blades of one wind turbine may spin due to the wind while the one next to it may not, it feels like there are a lot of siloed parts in the industry working hard to make individual improvements. A more coordinated effort could benefit us all.

What is a digital twin?

A digital twin is a virtual replication of an object or system in the real world. It can be used to simulate the original object or system so users can plan potential construction and operations, and even the decommission of assets, in a controlled tech environment.

A digital twin programme could help New Zealand's energy industry to collaborate across the full electricity supply chain to forecast the scenarios associated with meeting climate change commitments. It would help the industry to plan the required investments and undertake risk assessment modelling more efficiently.

Fortunately, New Zealand is not the only country or region facing these challenges. In the United Kingdom, the government and the University of Cambridge have set up the National Digital Twin programme (NDTp) to capture data more securely and effectively.

The UK programme, which focuses on connecting digital twins together under a common framework, is a great example of how organisations can collaborate to benefit themselves and society. The UK has seen the opportunity to leverage the rise of data in organisations as a result of digital transformation to reveal new economic growth opportunities, support the climate change revolution, and direct R&D (research and development) investment.

Digital twins could energise the industry and even future-proof it at the same time. In the next two to five years, the New Zealand Government, as part of its EmTech 20 year landscape research, forecasts that digital twins could be combined with artificial intelligence (AI), to make more complex asset-related challenges increasingly easier. For example, investment decisions for generation assets based on factors like projected demand locations, weather patterns, and the capacity of the enabling national grid.

Renewing our tech energy goals

Infrastructure New Zealand called for a different and coordinated approach from key stakeholders to the way that data is leveraged for the wellbeing of New Zealand. With the scale of issues we face to secure the future of our energy industry and to move to a low emissions economy, there will be even greater pressures on the energy industry to develop a programme to help solve the short and long term goals equally.

The creation of a national digital twin for the energy industry where all parties contribute and leverage a shared view of the energy system in New Zealand could be a reality in the near future. It doesn't need to be necessarily complicated or expensive either.

No one part of the electricity supply chain, from the generation to the consumer, has all of the answers. A national digital twin could be a critical element in setting up a foundation for the energy industry to provide a brighter future.

Jonathan is a customer success executive who focuses on the sectors of energy, water and construction. With over 25 years of experience, Jonathan combines a passion for the positive impact that these sectors can have on New Zealand with extensive knowledge in technology, business leadership, and science. His objective is to enable organisations to sustainably achieve their goals with support from technology.

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