FOR those involved in the energy sector at Bentley Systems, the confidence to design, engineer, analyse, and maintain energy infrastructure is paramount. It’s about empowering people to do more to modernise the grid, providing streamlined and collaborative data-driven utilities to reduce the complexity of designing electrical systems using the current engineering rules and standards.
As the global energy mix shifts to more renewable generation, experts like Bentley Systems’ Mark Biagi and Joe Travis are on hand to provide the tools to deliver and maintain complex generation projects. They sat down with Geospatial Engineering’s Danielle Kenneally to talk about the past, the present, and the future of the energy sector.
Could you tell our readers a bit about yourselves?
Joe Travis: As the vice president of Bentley’s energy industry solutions, I have a global responsibility for our go-to market for many of our electric industry applications.
Primarily, we’re focused on electric distribution and substations, but we also touch the world of transmission and generation and a variety of other aspects around oil, gas, and plant. I coordinate with our teams on the marketing side, as well as our user success teams, services, and support to make sure that we’re all aligned and have the right messaging and marketing to go with our solutions.
Mark Biagi: As part of Joe’s team, I focus on energy transitions within Europe, particularly investments in offshore renewable power in areas with high voltage transmission systems, plus the nascent hydrogen market and other areas of the significant investment that are happening in the energy industry as well. The focus within this is on our industry solutions while supporting our customer opportunities.
How long have you worked within the energy sector?
Mark Biagi: I’ve been with Bentley for 15 years, but have been in this role for a relatively short time, however, I’ve always concentrated on energy at Bentley.
Joe Travis: It’s been a little under three years for me at Bentley and about half that time is in this role. Prior to that I was with Autodesk for over 20 years and in the industry prior to that as well.
You must have seen quite a lot of changes in your careers. What have been the biggest changes and challenges that you’ve seen?
Mark Biagi: Back when I was an undergraduate engineer, in the early 1990s, I worked for a renewable energy consultancy, that grew to become the world’s largest renewable energy consultancy – Garrad Hassan [I worked for them prior to it being acquired by DNV].
When we think about the world of engineering software, it’s changed so much, from the PC to the advent of the cloud, to the advent of Bentley’s latest announcements for its digital twin capabilities. The way in which projects and assets are developed as a whole has seen enormous changesAt that time, we were using engineering simulation software for simulating the stresses and strains, and the yield of different wind turbine concepts.
It became big business for that company, but at that time, it was run on a UNIX system and in order to program that you had to effectively create your own programs and run macros, and also run designs of experiments to produce results in a purely XY graph format.
There were no visual representations or anything like that, so it was very technical.
When we think about the world of engineering software, it’s changed so much, from the PC to the advent of the cloud, to the advent of Bentley’s latest announcements for its digital twin capabilities. The way in which projects and assets are developed as a whole has seen enormous changes.
Joe Travis: I was involved in asset mapping for electrical distribution systems early in my career, for Southeastern Reprographics, Inc., which is now Davey Tree.
Basically helping a power company understand all the facilities they have on their system; all the poles, all the miles of line, all the transformers, lights, all the way down to the meter on the house.
When I first started, it was all analogue. In fact, I was trained on drawing on aerial photography. So we would fly the system, print out massive sheets of aerial photo, take those photos in the field, find the pole on the photo, look at the pole in the real world and draw it on the aerial photo, take it back to the office, and then we would digitise on top of that photo.
I helped transform that company from that analogue mapping system into using GPS, taking a GPS unit to the power pole to find the X, Y and Z location and inputting all the transformers and lights onto it – mapping everything in a digital environment.
It was a very early transformation from analogue to digital and I’ve seen that take off to extreme heights to not only map, but do all the analysing and all the different tracing in a variety of ways to follow what’s really out there. It means that if a storm knocks a power pole down, you know exactly what was out there and can fix it at the right time, the first time.
What should we expect to see in the present day, in 2023?
Mark Biagi: Over the years Bentley’s amassed a broad portfolio of technologies to support different players in the energy industry. From structural analysis for offshore wind, whether it’s a fixed platform or floating platform design, to geotechnical engineering.
Over the years Bentley’s amassed a broad portfolio of technologies to support different players in the energy industry. From structural analysis for offshore wind, whether it’s a fixed platform or floating platform design, to geotechnical engineering. Now it’s about looking at how to link up these projects.Now it’s about looking at how to link up these projects.
For example, an offshore wind farm which requires grid connection requires substation engineering, land acquisition and more, and then increasingly, with the energy transition, there’s a push towards more green hydrogen, so there’s also a need for a process plant as well.
There are various designs being developed right now around giga factory hydrogen plants and you have to start to think about repurposing its storage facilities, its existing gas infrastructure, its method of shipping, and the real breadth of complexity of different infrastructure types in order to really facilitate that.
There’s a real need for a connected data environment, all these things are interrelated, they all have to work together.
At Bentley, our aim is to build confidence around the investment in this. The big focus is on how we evangelise the value of our open digital twin platforms to be able to support a multitude of work processes that aren’t just to do with design, construction and operations, but also to do with the ecological twins, the environmental monitoring and all those aspects of what has to happen in order to have a successful project and transition in the energy industry.
Joe Travis: Some of the biggest adoption that we’re starting to see is around reality capture; the ability to fly a drone or use lidar to capture almost any facility that’s out there. Many utilities and their infrastructure networks have grown over the past 40-60 years and the records that are kept are not always up to date, they’re not always accurate, so utilities don’t always know what they have on their system.
Some of the biggest adoption that we’re starting to see is around reality capture; the ability to fly a drone or use lidar to capture almost any facility that’s out there.A lot of that inherited knowledge has been lost as people retire. It’s a tremendous amount of knowledge that’s walking out the door.
To be able to fly a drone or use some type of data capture equipment and model that in our software, the iTwin, and augment that with CAD and GIS information and IoT sensors, gives it a foundation of what facilities are truly out there, what exists and what operations and maintenance need to be improved upon.
The capabilities for the hardware and the software to work together and feed that AI twin model is stunning. To create and capture, to analyse on top of that, and be able to share it, it’s a big part of unlocking these doors of knowledge to not only somebody who’s really smart and knows exactly how to run the software, but also to the general public, to somebody who’s a novice.
It’s a really interesting adoption of reality capture.
In terms of the energy crisis, is there any cutting-edge technology that you think can help overcome it?
Mark Biagi: Absolutely, I think people were already realising the need to not be wasteful, particularly around decarbonisation. Bentley has for a long time been involved in, not only offshore projects, but also with developing tools for district heating networks. There’s a real urge to use every available source, such as mine water heat – once mines become disused, they can be filled up with water that ends up being heated to 22ºC and can be used as an effective resource in regional areas.
It’s not just about the mega projects, but also the micro projects. For us, we can enable practitioners and companies at different levels to have access to the capabilities that they need.
Joe Travis: Energy can come from so many sources, from solar to geothermal, and hydro to nuclear. As we lessen our dependency on fossil fuels and grow into these renewable areas, it’s fantastic, and to help the energy crisis, I think there should be a lot more of that. It’s important to note that we’re here to not only help with that transition, but to help with stabilising the grid that exists today to ensure it’s resilient and reliable. There’s definitely a balance that Bentley’s trying to make.
It’s not just about the mega projects, but also the micro projects. For us, we can enable practitioners and companies at different levels to have access to the capabilities that they need.Are there any civil engineering infrastructure projects that you would like to see worked on that would help with this?
Mark Biagi: For me, it’s about having an awareness of the related disciplines and what other people might be doing. In order to be successful, you have to go narrow, you have to go deep. A geotechnical engineer has to be a master in their discipline, and to understand how the data that they’re generating can be valuable to other disciplines and other use cases downstream becomes a really important part of that.
There are so many opportunities to aggregate and present data together and it would be really beneficial to so many specialists.
It would also be great to see the capabilities of digital twins embraced more. The idea of recognising that what you’re doing, through these open source capabilities, fits into a bigger context can be really empowering and a huge benefit for so many more people, so, make it available in that bigger context.
Joe Travis: Collaboration is the key – integration, interoperability, we know that there are different use cases for so many different pieces of software around the world.
Utilities are often slow to incorporate new technologies, so if they can adopt these faster and have the ability to be open and interested in new ways to migrate their mapping systems, as well as their engineering systems, their billing systems, and outage systems, that would be huge plus.
It’s why Bentley has really taken a stance on being open with so much of that data; open APIs and open code to build upon, so that when you do have to leverage somebody else’s data, we can use it, and also export it if needed without duplication and conversion, and all the data loss and inaccuracies that are inherent in there and be open to so many different formats. It’s really important to stay open and integration is key for that.
Mark Biagi: I think the industry can be outdated in its thinking sometimes and should remain open to other applications and think more about functions. We can dissociate the data from the applications that created it, and we can make it useful for lots of other things.
What would your biggest wish be for future infrastructure?
Joe Travis: I’d like to see utilities move faster, if possible. Utilities are often slow to incorporate new technologies, so if they can adopt these faster and have the ability to be open and interested in new ways to migrate their mapping systems, as well as their engineering systems, their billing systems, and outage systems, that would be a huge plus. Many of these are often 20 years old and there’s sometimes a resistance to change.
For some, they have staked their career on a little piece of code that they wrote and they’re reluctant to make that change. So for utility to listen to the ecosystem of their contractors and subcontractors, the AEC firms and the E&C firms that are out there, to help them grow faster, and move faster, and evolve quicker, that’s really one area that I would request from the utility industry to look at.
Mark Biagi: It would be nice to see in my lifetime the realisation of a net zero reality. I really feel for people affected by the energy crisis, there are people in mining villages in Wales where there is a lot of coal that is not being dug up, and they’re freezing in their houses. I think that’s deeply inequitable.
I believe the level of both public and private investment is needed to realise the changes and accelerate those changes that are necessary to ensure that we do not find ourselves again, in such a crisis, where people are freezing in their rooms. That would be my wish and is a huge motivation.
Mark Biagi, Senior Director of Energy Solutions, and Joe Travis, Vice President of Energy, Bentley Systems, talk to Danielle Kenneally