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Strategic Optioneering for Infrastructure Planning

TL;DR

Adam Anyszewski, Customer Success Lead at Continuum Industries, talks us through today's infrastructure planning hot topic: strategic optioneering.

Optioneering is a concept that is mostly used in the UK. Can you describe what it is for our non-British audiences?

Sure thing. To me, optioneering comes from a combination of two words: “options” and “engineering”. Generally, optioneering is looking at what options your engineering development is presenting and then trying to figure out which one to take forward.

In the context of linear infrastructure (cables, pipelines, overhead lines), it refers to looking at different placement alternatives for your corridor, your route and the asset, and then assessing how good these corridors or routes are against a variety of metrics. These metrics could be related to costs, technical risks, environmental risks and impact on communities and the general population. From this ranking, when optioneering, you decide which option is the best or as I like to say the “least bad”. You effectively weigh the trade-offs and see how these options are performing against each other.

Tell us about strategic optioneering

With optioneering, you know that you're connecting A to B, with some minor variations. With strategic optioneering, you are answering open-ended questions such as where to go from and to, what to build and if to build it at all. Or even should we go onshore with a cable or an overhead line, or should we go offshore?

Let’s take the case of electricity infrastructure: imagine you have to reinforce the network in a specific part of the country, but you don't know which nodes to connect with each other. All of these connections will achieve the same fundamental outcome of reinforcing the network, but you don't know what the best solution would be. In instances like that, you perform this strategic optioneering exercise by looking at different options and comparing them against each other.

For hydrogen transmission, you could be answering strategic questions such as should I use my existing network or should I build new pipelines? Using an existing network comes with specific advantages. There's potentially a lower cost and lower environmental impact to reusing the same pipeline corridor. But it could come with a caveat: not all of your pipelines may be suitable for repurposing. You might be building new ones. Another strategic optioneering use case for hydrogen is when generation and demand patterns are uncertain. One could be performing this high-level study of strategic optioneering that will also help to inform where to best place the source of hydrogen, as well as where the demand for the hydrogen might be.

We’ve seen a huge increase in strategic optioneering projects at Continuum Industries. Why is this becoming critical?

For starters, there are huge changes in the generation patterns of electricity at the moment. New fuels such as hydrogen are emerging and demand/generation patterns or demand/supply patterns are also changing for the water industry.
We are at a point where a lot of new infrastructure will have to be built over the next couple of decades to drive the requirements of net zero. And as a result, a lot of our customers are now faced with difficult strategic questions because the decisions that are being made now will impact the generations to come.

Offshore example challenge - reinforcing the network along a coast (between two red points). Multiple onshore reinforcements are possible, but these come with higher impact to environment and communities. The offshore cable will likely be more expensive and also requires an onshore connection to a substation. The onshore variant also connects other parts of the network (yellow dots), reinforcing the existing network more, allowing for higher capacity for local generation of onshore wind power, for example.

What are the key challenges of strategic optioneering?

Firstly, the number of options available to achieve the same thing. But also the amount of effort it will take to properly evaluate these options and have a robust comparison of the different advantages/disadvantages of each option.
And often the data is not available at these early stages. As a result, the assessment is done at a really high level, which could be problematic in the later stages of development.

How is Optioneer™ deployed for strategic optioneering projects?

The primary reason our customers find the software useful for strategic optioneering is that it brings the detail that is normally available in later stages, to the pre-routing stage. Optioneer does that automatically. You can define A to B and C to D and D to B and any combination of the different points you might be looking to connect and you get an objective and in-depth analysis of each of these connections.

Effectively, instead of different teams drawing a variety of straight lines on a map, Optioneer will ensure that it follows the same set of criteria, the same set of weightings and the same objectives. And it will compare what these different solutions (A to B or C to D) might actually cost, what their impact on the environment might be, what their impact on communities might be and so on and so on. Optioneer allows you to do that onshore as well as offshore.

Onshore example challenge - Power incoming to the shore from newly connected offshore generation. A suitable substation needs to be selected to facilitate grid connection, in terms of capacity available or possibility of upgrade. There will likely be implications further in the power network and additional reinforcements might be required.

What’s in store for the future?

We want our customers to be able to make fully informed decisions that are anchored in reality and not based on high-level assumptions. And over the next couple of years, we will be developing Optioneer even further to fully enable strategic optioneering and network planning. I'm really excited about these developments because that means that Optioneer will be used at the beginning of any projects before our customers have even fleshed out what these projects could look like. This means we will be bringing tremendous value and quite literally shaping what the country’s power/hydrogen/water network looks like for decades to come.