With the pace of transformation in the transmission and distribution industry, there’s no shortage of relevant and interesting topics. Today’s growing demand for resilient, reliable and sustainable energy at an affordable price suggests that we may need to look for new ways to plan and analyze capital investments in power assets of the future.

That’s where TOTEX comes in. Technologies that embrace a total expenditure, or TOTEX, approach can enhance overall asset performance.

TOTEX is a relatively new concept — at least when applied to the U.S. electric and gas utility industry. I didn’t coin the term, but I like it because it’s an easy-to-remember way to describe a multidimensional approach for calculating actual capital cost, plus the net present value (NPV) of operating costs throughout an asset’s expected life cycle. A TOTEX approach to planning investments also gives utility and system planners the flexibility to factor in future costs of carbon and costs of resiliency factors, such as the ability to quickly recover from high-impact, low-probability (HILP) events that cause minimal or no system impact.

A New Twist on an Old Approach
Utilizing NPV assessments is nothing new; utility planners have been applying this methodology for many years. Factors like system design, safety and ease of installation, performance of various materials and impact of environments on operating efficiency are well established variables used in what was actually a TOTEX approach before the label was born.

What has changed since those early applications is the availability of sophisticated modeling technologies that allow engineers to go well beyond the physical characteristics of materials and equipment utilized in generation or transmission assets.

Beyond 3-D Modeling
It’s well known that Building Information Modeling (BIM) applies three-dimensional principles to the design of complex structures and systems. Today, BIM can incorporate many other types of design and construction data for a variety of industries and can model and enhance multiple attributes of an asset’s life span — referred to as 4-D through 8-D design attributes.

  • 4-D and 5-D attributes enable stakeholders to visualize an entire project schedule, progress of construction activities and related costs of material and labor over that time.
  • A 6-D analysis gives project owners a look at the project’s carbon footprint and overall sustainability.
  • 7-D analysis looks at HILP events, such as superstorms or terrorist attacks, and the system’s ability to withstand those potential events.
  • 8-D analysis looks at a broad range of data carefully documented on cloud-based systems to yield better accessibility to information ranging from site access details to operations and maintenance manuals.

The slow and deliberate application of 3-D through 8-D in the BIM will allow system planners, designers and operators to innovate on plans and designs for our electric and gas infrastructure that consider far more than just the initial capital cost.

Utilities and system operators will ultimately have to decide what works best for their unique service demands. But I would advocate that they identify a portion of their service territory — possibly two or three small communities — for a pilot project. Software tools and data-acquisition methodologies can be integrated with current systems to yield a geo-positioned 3-D model in preparation for 4-D (and beyond) analysis.

What do you think? Is TOTEX an effective approach for improving performance of T&D assets? Sound off in the comments. And if you’d like to learn more about TOTEX as it relates to electric and gas T&D assets, download my white paper.

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With extensive experience in industry policy and advanced technologies applied throughout North America, Mike Beehler is a Vice President at Burns & McDonnell.