Valery Stennikov: If digital twins were used, the winter power failure in Texas would not have been so devastating
By predicting the risks of equipment failure, digital twins could help reduce the February energy collapse in Texas, said Valery Stennikov, director of the Melentyev Energy Systems Institute at the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Valery Stennikov is the author of one of the chapters of the second annual report “10 Breakthrough Ideas in the World Energy for the Next 10 Years”, which will soon be presented by “Global Energy” at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. In an interview with the president of the association, Sergei Brilev, Valery Stennikov told what digital twins are and what caused their growing popularity in the industry.

Sergey Brilev: Hello to all subscribers of the Global Energy Association. We’ve gone through all the holidays and the countdown has started for the St. Petersburg Economic Forum at which the Global Energy Association will present its second annual report of “Ten breakthrough ideas for the next 10 years in energy.”

Today, we are speaking to the author of one of the sections of the report, Valery Stennikov, Director of the L.A. Melentev Institute of Energy Systems of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Hello, Valery!

Valery Stennikov: Hello, Sergey!

Sergey Brilev: Let me just add that you have a doctorate in technical sciences, you are a professor, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and, of course, an active scientist. And it is important to note that the president bestowed this on you. And the section you wrote is called “digital twins”. Just about all of us would like to have a twin who would do something for us. In a nice way. But a digital twin? Can you tell us what that is?

Valery Stennikov:  A digital twin is a modern trend. Everyone may have heard of it. The simplest way to put it is that it is a digital model of a real physical object.

Sergey Brilev: Like a virtual copy.

Valery Stennikov: Well, in reality it represents a virtual copy and this model is not rigid in nature. It’s a dynamic model – it develops alongside the physical object. Let’s just say that up until now we have used statistical models which have helped us solve problems and then we sent them off to an archive. But these models are always there – they track down life cycles of physical systems, from their planning to their use and right up to the disposal of the objects and goods.

There are three aspects to this – and this is very important. The first is that these models represent descriptions of physical system. They can operate on different methods, including the method of machine learning, the method of artificial intelligence which enables you to pinpoint the actual process in real time. They include cloud storage, they include cloud computing, they include the Internet, the good Internet connection, 5G, for instance and what this means is that it is vital to have data delivery of physical objects from sensors – and when you add it all up you have, in effect, a digital twin. This digital model develops alongside a physical model.

Sergey Brilev: This amounts to another round of questions of “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”. Do you make a digital model from an existing object or do you do make a digital sketch and on that the basis of that you produce an object?

Valery Stennikov: There are different models. Let’s suppose we are talking about, for instance, a digital model of an aircraft engine which a united aircraft manufacturing corporation is developing. That digital model is intended to create that engine and that model works through the entire process of operations for the engine, including the description of how it looks in a 3D format, including all the processes linked to fuel supply, fuel circulation, the creation of motive power etc. And that model can even accompany the engine right through to its operation, right up until it is taken out of service.

Some models are created in response to existing systems, that is systems that are already operating. A system, for instance, for an oil deposit, a gas field — or an oil refinery already in operation. And just like before, this model allows for the operation of that plant to be examined and to ensure that the plant works efficiently. This means it works alongside it and develops in parallel fashion.

Sergey Brilev: It develops in a parallel fashion – it repeats what happens in reality? Let’s assume we are talking about an aircraft engine and some kind of cog is removed. You can put it in a digital model to see the effect and how it might influence the entire system?

Or, let’s presume an oil deposit and strata are nearing depletion, you can in the same way enter this change in your digital model and see how the strata are likely to behave?

Valery Stennikov: That is absolutely correct, Sergey. The digital model will then also carry out this function. In this digital model we can work through a predictable situation linked to specific risks. The risk of being out of order, the risk of wear and tear on parts, risks linked to external factors. Take the emergency which occurred in Texas. In theory, had there been a digital twin, the system might have been able to cope more easily with the situation without such difficult consequences. What if there were no opportunity to run through things with a digital twin — there could be similar situations. And even if there had not been a run-through of the system such a digital model would have operated alongside the system and, exposed to this situation, it would have suggested to operators how and in what way to work with technical sites to keep the system in operation.

Sergey Brilev: Thank you for providing an example, and specifically the Texas example as it was surprising how this system operated in terms of the systemic assessment of American energy specialists. Forgive me for using a tautology. This, for example, is different from similar Russian systems in that the Americans had no installed heating system for the wind turbine blades. A digital model would allow for such is a scenario?

Valery Stinnikov: It would show how important a heating system might be. It is all real, all is possible with the help of a digital model. For instance, a second example, we cannot all go up in a space ship. Let’s go back and look at the distant 1970s when there were no such digital systems created on computers but, rather, insolation models with a small “illegible” system – modelled in real time through a telescope linked with the space ship and with the astronauts aboard Apollo 13. The entire process of breakdowns that occurred as a result of an explosion in the oxygen tanks. The situation was run through and a solution was found, let’s say, to enable them to maintain the astronauts, get them out of this problem and create a means to safeguard the ship as it was descending. The craft successfully made its splashdown and the astronauts were saved — there is an example of the effect of these models.

Sergey Brilev: Well, Valery, I can tell you that you are clever and I am clever – you cleverly did not use Russian examples. I am clever as I have read your report already – it is being readied for publication. I am not going to reveal any details – let everyone wait to see it.

I will, however, reveal a small secret – that you discuss in it the use of these digital technologies, digital twins with regard to energy, energy grids and oil and gas production. Let’s just give a few hints of the broad outlines of why this report should be read not only by scientists but also by managers who will be making decisions on using these technologies. Let’s talk about oil and gas, more familiar to us.

Valery Stinnikov: The development of digital twins in the oil and gas industry is one of the main drivers of Russian science. It has found its greatest application in this sector. There are now smart deposits. There are oil refineries with digital twins, exploration is conducted with digital twins. For me, for instance, it was very interesting to see the digital twin of Termo. When we conduct subsurface exploration for oil, we take out capsules made up of elements found at certain depths and we investigate them. It is still very difficult to do this. But a digital twin allows for examination of the subsurface and allows for an assessment of the presence, the scale of oil. And a digital twin may be kept for some time in order to make further use of accumulated knowledge.

Here is an example of a rigid system. If we are talking about deposits, there are digital twins which, on the one hand, enable us to assess the application and lowering of capital expenditure on introducing new technologies. And we have our own Russian specialists who have shown that you can achieve a 20% reduction in capital expenditure by taking such decisions on technical issues on developing deposits.

Sergey Brilev: You have already to some extent answered my question about the decree of need for such technologies throughout the world. I know there are five leading countries in developing digital twins: the USA, the British, someone else and Russia, in fifth place. How much is it in demand?

Valery Stinnikov: The level of demand is perhaps lower because we still have many unresolved, questions. These are not questions from prominent managers running companies, but rather from the general “illegible” part involved in digitalisation and from the general population – people who have jobs, who work in factories. This is also understandable. And there is some delay and there is some mistrust of digital technologies – because we are all used to doing things in a certain way and have to imagine these solutions which are born and appear in our heads and here you have a decision which we feel just appeared. These nuances stop things. That’s the first thing.

    Secondly, we need qualified specialists and there aren’t enough of them.

    Thirdly, our manufacturing is ill-prepared because we have not dealt sufficient with automation, use of data, the development of the Internet, cloud storage etc and that requires huge reserves. But things are developing, moving and I believe that we will catch up to the countries in front of us and achieve good results.

    Sergey Brilev: I just spent a week in Siberia – not in Novosibirsk, but in Kuzbass. I was at pits belonging to the Siberian Coal Energy Company, I visited sections of the Siberian Business Union, the West Siberian Iron and Steel Plant Steel mill, in Novokuznetsk. Although I often visit industrial sites, I can say that there is indeed demand for these things from management – as the results are clear for all to see. And what especially made me happy was that at the level of middle management I saw a striving for these things, perhaps because they are a little younger. These people, of course, were not born with smartphones in their hands – this is a generation that is a little older. But they understand how this works in daily life and they want to introduce it in production. So I would say that the process is continuing.

    Valery, I really do not want to reveal your secrets and propose waiting for publication of your report at the St. Petersburg Forum. By the way, we have been practically made aware of the timetable, we know what days, at what time – and we will make it public after we agree things with Congress Foundation. My last question to you is of an everyday sort. How was your technology during the pandemic, though perhaps it didn’t affect you too much. Did you work remotely and keep dealing with things in normal fashion?

Valery Stinnikov: Well, I can say there were positive moments. First of all, I can say that the problem I just raised about mistrust, hesitancy and fear of using such technologies – this has all disappeared. We did a transition to remote working and used computers with remote links, all those digital technologies that allow us to do just that.

We have even got to the point where we deal with medical services – when a doctor can already make recommendations and examine patients remotely if required and carries out examinations, treatment and procedures.

In terms of production, our managers have also seen the situation in a somewhat different light because many were told to work remotely and they started to understand which processes, which places can undergo change and presented within the framework of computer technology, which can be organised. From that standpoint, there has already been change. And I mean a serious change in terms of our mentality and in terms of our approach to digital technology and digital twins and other nuances which go together with them. That is proof of it.

Sergey Brilev: I just wanted to tell our subscribers that today, in the framework of the series of chats and meetings in connection with publication of our report, we have been speaking to Valery Stennikov, Director of the L.A. Melentev Institute of Energy Systems – at the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  We will be showing you our report at the beginning of June, including that part prepared by Valery Stinnikov – the report will be issued in Russian and English  — so let’s wait just a little longer. Until we meet again.

 Valery Stinnikov: Thank you Sergey, Thank you for inviting me for a chat. It was most pleasant.


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May 2021