The world’s 1st Digital Twin of a Pumped Hydro Station

The Challenge

Turlough Hill is a 292MW pumped storage hydro station that was built by ESB in the 1970s to provide system stability to the electricity grid. Turlough Hill continues to play a vital role in Ireland’s electricity system which requires changing modes of operation and greater flexibility to cater for increasing amounts of variable renewable electricity. To minimise wind-farm curtailment in the east of Ireland, Turlough Hill is now being used to pump water at irregular times to add balancing loads onto the system, a mode of operation that wasn’t envisaged 50 years ago.

Considering the impact of extra cycling on design life of the high-pressure shaft between higher and lower reservoirs, ESB needed to assess the original design life of Turlough Hill and for how much longer it could operate within its design parameters whilst changing its operating regime to accommodate more intermittent renewable energy on the system to ensure the safety of staff in the plant and the long-term integrity of the asset.

The Solution

ESB in partnership with the Free Electrons start-up Akselos created a Digital Twin of Turlough Hill which can answer all the above questions and automatically generate asset-condition reports in real time. The Digital Twin is an accurate, identical 3D model of an asset that takes full account of its operational history. This allows user to perform asset optimisations within seconds, predict potential failures, test and validate the required modifications and monitor the asset-condition in real time. 

The Benefits

Through the Digital Twin of Turlough Hill, users can now remotely monitor the asset-condition, predict potential failures, test and validate any required modifications and understand the criticality of any defects found. This delivers increased financial return by

  • Extending the duration between outages
  • Reducing the total number of outages (saving approx. €100,000 outage) 
  • Reducing the length of any required outages by focusing inspections on areas of high stress
  • Reducing the risk to personnel carrying out inspections and repairs by minimising the work needed
  • Unlocking further operational capabilities of the asset
  • Extending asset life through accurate remnant life assessment
  • Performing time consuming analysis and complex calculations in minutes
  • Improving risk management by enabling risks to be quantified

The Future

ESB has become one of the only utilities to have undertaken a Digital Twin of a pumped storage hydro plant. The Digital Twin covers almost 0.5 km of pipe and 8 km of welds. The modelling technology can be applied to multiple asset types and is not limited to Turlough Hill. The use of the Turlough Hill digital twin will enable plant operators to move from a time-interval maintenance regime to condition-based maintenance regime extending the design lifetime of Turlough Hill and safeguarding the future of this critical asset. Given the importance of Turlough Hill to provide grid support services, this will facilitate integration of more renewables onto the grid, helping Ireland to achieve its climate change targets.