What until the 1930s was a rural and marginal district of the São Paulo metropolitan area in Brazil has since become known as the city’s own “Silicon Valley.” We are talking about Vila Olímpia, one of Brazil’s main financial centres and, more importantly still, a model for the cutting-edge high-tech district of the future. And now it will be even more so, thanks to a new Enel project with a futuristic name: Urban Futurability.
A Digital Twin
At the heart of the initiative is the creation of South America’s very first Network Digital Twin. The Twin is a 3D digital model that faithfully replicates the local electricity infrastructure, from individual physical elements to the most complex dynamics of its working. The simulation is made possible by a network of around 5,000 sensors installed on the actual grid, each communicating information on the grid status in real time to both the Distributor and the local stakeholders.
The Network Digital Twin is an example of Industry 4.0 technology that embraces network automation and AI, the Internet of Things and 3D modelling. It is a “good” technology because it improves service quality. For instance, it will facilitate grid inspections, which will be carried out with the help of Augmented Reality, as will the transition from corrective maintenance, which involves rapidly repairing problems, to preventive maintenance, which can spot a risk ahead of time and act on it in advance. This means the system can predict whether external factors, such as trees near power lines, might interfere with the grid’s functioning, enabling technicians to solve the problem in advance.
The concept involves the creation of an open, shared urban ecosystem, in which energy becomes a service. Thanks to evolved digital platforms, information and data from the electricity infrastructure can be made available in real time. This promotes greater awareness in terms of energy use, efficiency and savings.
A living laboratory in the energy revolution
Our Group, which has two decades of experience in researching and implementing smart meters and smart grids, is also one of the pioneers in the field of Network Digital Twins. It was the first company in the world to launch an Innovation Lab, in Haifa, dedicated to researching that technology. Indeed, one of the first fruits of this experience will see the light of day at Vila Olímpia.
Urban Futurability’s official birthday is 9 October 2019. The project was presented in São Paulo by, among others, Enel CEO and General Manager Francesco Starace and Livio Gallo, Head of our Global Infrastructure and Networks Division. The project will be implemented in partnership with the local government authorities and the Agência Nacional de Energia Elétrica (ANEEL), the national regulatory body which contributed to the financing of the project as part of its research and development programme.
The geographical location was also a conscious choice. Brazil is South America’s largest country and one of our fastest growing markets. São Paulo is the nation’s economic capital and the largest city in the southern hemisphere. Not only that, it has more Enel customers than any other city in the world – over seven million. Vila Olímpia is one of São Paulo’s most modern, high-tech districts: the perfect base from which to export a positive example for the rest of the continent. Indeed, according to Livio Gallo, “megalopolises like São Paulo can act as living laboratories for the revolution known as Energy 4.0.”
Intelligent, sustainable, resilient cities
Cities are responsible for two thirds of the world’s energy consumption and 70% of its CO2 emissions. They are also particularly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis. As Gallo puts it: “Electricity grids are the most important urban infrastructures. It is thus vital to make them more flexible to boost cities’ overall resilience. In that sense, the Digital Twin also helps us understand how grids can react most effectively to unforeseen incidents, such as extreme weather events which are becoming increasingly frequent and intense.”
Furthermore, digitalised grids also allow energy from renewable sources to be integrated to a growing extent and encourage customers to play an active role, by actually producing energy, typically using one or more rooftop photovoltaic panels, rather than merely consuming it. This turns customers from passive users into active players in grid management, one of the most radical features of the current energy transition.
Sustainability and circularity for smart cities
Looking to the future, the Network Digital Twin will also act as a laboratory of sorts for testing out advanced technologies for new services thereby paving the way for smart cities. It will also lead to improved urban planning that will make cities smarter and more efficient which in turn will improve the quality of life of the people living in them.
The Vila Olímpia project will also help protect the environment by boosting energy efficiency, thus reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and the atmospheric pollution that is the scourge of so many large cities. But the project’s sustainability credentials don’t end there either: the work will be carried out according to the principles of sustainable construction principles, in order to minimise environmental impact and encourage recycling and reuse of materials. Once again from a circular economy perspective, underground transformer vaults used in the project will be made from recycled plastic rather than cement. Our vision already goes well beyond smart cities: in sustainability terms, the most harmonious way a smart city can develop is, in actual fact, as a circular city.
At a later date, further efficiency and sustainability-related solutions will be implemented in Vila Olímpia, not least a network of e-vehicle infrastructure and services plus a smart street lighting system developed by Enel X. Making sure that the district of the future has a sustainable future.