Optioneer cuts through complexity
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Optioneer Cuts Through Complexity for Strategic Transmission Planning

TL;DR

At Continuum Industries, our clients in the UK, USA, and across Europe are the organisations leading plans to upgrade transmission networks worldwide. They know first-hand that they cannot continue working as they have in the past with the amount of work required, limited resources available, and time pressure to meet net-zero targets. The existing global grid simply cannot meet the increased demand for transmission and distribution as we head towards net zero.

The UK’s Electricity System Operator is fully aware of this pressure and, in its recently released ‘Beyond 2030’ report, calls for an additional £58 billion investment into electricity networks by 2035 to meet this need. The same drive is reflected in the USA, with the Biden administration earmarking $3.46 billion in funding to upgrade the US’s outdated electric grid, alongside a wider programme of work. In Europe, the 2024 Ten Year Network Plan requires 54,000 km of transmission routes, at minimum, to meet Net Zero targets.

Optioneer, a cutting-edge AI-powered platform, helps our customers to meet this challenge by accelerating how infrastructure planning, site selection, and optioneering for essential services like electricity transmission and distribution, water and wastewater, hydrogen, and CO2 pipelines are planned, scoped, permitted and delivered.

We’ve created this case study to illustrate how Optioneer helped one of our customers develop a new network planning project. However, we’ve removed all identifying features to preserve our customer’s confidentiality.

Four priorities for network planning

Our customer had a network planning problem. They needed to address a mismatch between the anticipated generation they knew they would have to connect to their network and how to get this energy onto the grid. New wind power would come online over the next 6 to 13 years. However, the clean power required transmission from an isolated area with low population to urban areas where energy users needed it.

For this project, the customer, a Transmission Infrastructure Utility, needed to get feedback and approval from the national regulatory authority on regional network development plans to solve the new offshore wind connection problem. However, the infrastructure development team soon realised that several other network development drivers also needed to be considered.

The four drivers for the project included:

  1. Connecting to the new offshore wind generation and achieving landfall.
  2. Diverting energy from a grid-constrained region of the network to ensure future generation capacity could be successfully connected.
  3. Developing and upgrading the grid to reinforce and increase the resilience of adjacent network boundaries.
  4. Enabling future government-mandated onshore wind development by providing co-located grid connection opportunities as a consequence of this project.

Strategic planning with Optioneer

At this stage, the network planning team asked Continuum Industries to get involved. Their colleagues had used Optioneer previously for another project and realised that Optioneer could be hugely helpful at the strategic planning level. They were also facing a tight deadline with an eight-week turnaround window to assess a huge number of network layouts, routing and connection options, with the four key drivers to consider alongside a considerable number of regulatory and permitting requirements. The team had the added complexity that their project territory contained an untouched area of natural landscape with the high likelihood of underground cabling needed and the additional costs associated with this type of work.

They had to consider multiple connection options and scenarios, ranging from the simplest, including just one of the four main drivers, to the most complex and expensive option, considering all four drivers. At the same time, they needed huge amounts of data to back up these scenarios, explain all the factors associated with each scenario, and assure the regulator that they had thoroughly investigated every avenue.

The team knew that Optioneer could vastly accelerate this process, taking into account deliverability, operability, environmental impact, and cost, and generate the multiple, well-considered variants required by the regulator.

Strategic Optioneering Onshore: Fictional Project

Setting up the project area

To get started, the network planning team worked with the Customer Success team at Continuum Industries to set up the territory area in Optioneer. The project team were able to quickly add all the relevant data sets for the project to give a detailed view of the constraints across the territory, ranging from transport and existing infrastructure to areas of natural beauty, urban and industrial areas, and protected habitats. The team were also able to use Optioneer to create scenarios where reviewing feasibility took place alongside the scenario’s ability to meet one, two, three, or all four of the drivers.

As with any project in Optioneer, the power of the AI platform to handle massive amounts of data meant the project team were able to review and iterate hundreds of route options across all four scenarios at the same time. Each scenario and route option had comprehensive information sets associated, detailing why this particular route was considered a viable option or why it had been rejected.

Strategic Optioneering Offshore: Fictional Project

The project leader commented:

“Optioneer gave us the confidence we needed that all the strategic options we gave to the regulator for consideration within the four scenarios were deliverable, feasible projects, albeit with differing cost and impact profiles.”

“Trying to manually assess multiple complex scenarios upfront is difficult, time-consuming and hard to standardise. One of the outputs that Optioneer really helped us with was working out how much of the cabling would need to be underground if we were going ahead with a specific scenario. Undergrounding affects not just cost, but also the amount of power we can pump, and many of our options included replacing existing distribution lines with transmission lines and undergrounding existing distribution lines to smooth permitting issues. Plus, because of areas running through a national park, undergrounding was just required if we were going to extend the grid into those areas.”

“This is complex and difficult electrical system planning, and it’s hard to project at this early stage using traditional methods like standard electrical modelling software, GIS data and multi-disciplinary expert review with no common ‘source of truth’. Either it takes a long time, or the project plan is not nuanced. ”

Full confidence planning

Using Optioneer meant that the team had full confidence that options within each scenario had all the details needed to roll out into a development project. They also felt much more confident that their preferred scenario, which future-proofed the grid through to 2050, was feasible, deliverable, and would solve all four key drivers efficiently and effectively.

Iterating the plan internally proved easy with Optioneer and the team at Continuum Industries. The tool enabled the project team to present to internal senior stakeholders and experts and answer questions immediately. Optioneer’s display of the project territory, visually showing the various constraints, proved intuitively understandable across the multidisciplinary team. The ability to iterate options ‘on the fly’ in the meeting was powerful, accelerating the process but maintaining the team’s confidence that nothing was slipping through the net, as constraints were pre-set.

The project team was able to submit the strategic plan to the regulator within the eight-week timeframe. Assisted by the team at Continuum Industries, they provided comprehensive supporting documentation and visuals to outline each scenario in detail and ultimately gain regulatory approval to proceed with further development works.

The project team leader commented:

“At the end of the project, we felt confident that we had a real, long-term strategic plan for the territory, a plan that we could confidently implement. And that’s a big deal because this plan could have implications for hundreds of thousands of people who live here and will cost billions."

“To know that Optioneer had looked at all the options and analysed the risks was a really good feeling. We felt confident in our decisions and our process. And we know that when the time comes, we won’t be starting from scratch, we can just open the plan up in Optioneer, and all the details will be there waiting for us. That’s particularly significant when you consider that team members can change and new people come on board. With a common platform like Optioneer, they can get up to speed quickly and start immediately.”

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