digital twin, energy system,
Heriot-Watt University’s GRID facility.

Researchers at Heriot-Watt University are developing 5G-powered digital twin technology to map out the Orkney Islands’ energy system

The project, led by Heriot-Watt University’s GRID facility and supported by the Scotland 5G Centre,  will develop a digital twin demonstrator that will create a virtual 3D environment that models Orkney and the different components in its energy system – from electric vehicles and domestic batteries to generators and turbines.

The demonstrator will be used to engage members of the public and support their understanding of what can be achieved through new energy networks and the digital control enabled by 5G.

David Richardson, chief entrepreneurial executive at Heriot-Watt University, said: “The system will show people what can be taken from the virtual world and made into a physical reality, helping communities to flourish with the use of renewable technology.”

The immersive simulator system will also build a virtual dashboard, which outlines some of the energy network’s key features and model a live 5G data connection to key assets on Orkney island.

Orkney’s new energy network

The researchers said they hoped the project would inspire people and businesses on the island group off the north of Scotland to participate in the delivery of its new energy network.

Richardson said the digital twin would demonstrate how Orkney’s new energy network will operate, what the different component parts are, how people can interact with it and collaborate to create a genuinely democratised energy system.

He added: “It will be an engagement tool that helps people understand how they can get involved in helping the island maximise renewable energy and, ultimately, achieve a carbon-neutral future.

“The system will show people what can be taken from the virtual world and made into a physical reality, helping communities to flourish with the use of renewable technology.”

The project– expected to last an initial three months – builds on the 5G RuralFirst initiative already undertaken on Orkney and provides a foundation for the further use of 5G technologies on the island.

Unique digital twin assets

The university’s deputy principal enterprise and business, Dr Gillian Murray, commented: “This is a fantastic development which demonstrates our capacity to create unique digital twin assets at Heriot-Watt that can both underpin research and innovation in teaching.

“The GRID team have built this capability in such a short time and have a number of other digital twin/simulation projects in development which are supporting academics across the University ranging from social sciences to engineering and physical sciences.”

One of The Scotland 5G Centre’s flagship projects, Scotland 5G Rural Testbed – led by the University of Strathclyde and Cisco – is providing a 5G testbed on Orkney for a series of trials around usage.

Gordon Ross, innovation strategist at Heriot-Watt University, added: “There are ambitious projects already underway in Orkney to create a state-of-the-art distributed energy system, helping to secure an affordable, reliable and sustainable energy supply for the future.

“The future of energy is going to be defined by smart, distributed networks and micro-grids. For that to work to its maximum potential we need everyone to understand how it works and how they can get involved in making Orkney a ‘smart energy island’.

“The island is the ideal testing ground for principles that could be applied on a larger scale elsewhere.”


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