Part 1 of a three-part interview with Leonardo Benitez, director of smart energy, Indra.As utility products reach the end of their life cycle, the importance of utilizing the best technology available is a vital consideration. Approximately 5 years ago, Indra undertook a new investment cycle, coupled with a focus on understanding the challenges and threats facing their customers. The company determined they needed to modernise their product offerings, supporting the new scenarios facing their clients such as smart grids or the increase of prosumers on the network. Indra’s core strategy is to have their own solutions and to identify opportunities in this new market.
Metering & Smart Energy International spoke with Leonardo Benitez, director of smart energy. Read part 1 of the interview here…
MSEI: Tell us about the IT/OT offerings that Indra offers the market
LB: Because of our history we already have a number of solutions – grid management, customer management or generation management, which means that the traditional utility business processes were already supported by us. Our main change is that these business processes must be connected to the sensors in the field, to the clients and from the clients to the field teams.
The layer that sits between the solution that supports the business processes and the devices in the field is a space where Indra wants to work. At this stage we have our own products which we have been developing through a number of R&D projects and we are also partnering with some global companies such as General Electric, with whom we signed an agreement to use one of their platforms to work in this space. We also partner with IBM, Microsoft, and others and we consider this a strategic area for us in order to deliver value to our clients.
This means we are able to offer a holistic offering. Sensors are getting cheaper and this means they are no longer limited to the primary substation. They are now being placed in the secondary substations and as sensors become more cost effective, it will be easier for these to be placed in the field. Utilities see this, but without the ability to access the data, analyse it and make use of it – the sensors will drive no value. We are defining the solutions, the architecture for our clients in order to process that data.
MSEI: From a data analytics perspective, what opportunities exist for utilities?
LB: There are three or four that I’d specifically like to mention:
Firstly, the integration of distributed energy resources. We are already working with utilities in some markets which are already actively considering the impact of photovoltaics on their grid. I recently read a report which stated that the price of rooftop solar is cheaper than grid-tied energy. Therefore, this generates a lot of opportunity for utilities, because while distributed energy is being used, it still has to be managed from a storage, load and demand perspective. Some clients are already utilising remote connect/disconnect capabilities on air conditioning units in order to stablise the grid. The ability for you to manage all these resources which are distributed along your grid requires IoT and this is an area where we are concentrating effort.
Another area is asset management. We have been working in asset management and predictive monitoring in the generation space for a number of years. However, we are seeing this move further downstream and utilities are considering how they can better manage their assets, particularly distribution system operators, in order to manage primary transformers. Also, there are utilities that are planning on bringing this down to the secondary transformer level and for this you also need IoT.
A third is the concept of the digital worker, or the ability to manage your field workforce. Here IoT enables a connection between the worker and the control centre and enables you to use the available technology to optimise their fieldwork.
In the retail market, there are opportunities around the concept of the smart home. We are working in this space with Intel and we are undertaking some projects for utilities which will enable an expansion of the existing utility business model by selling additional services. In most cases, the threat has been identified and they are now working to make the most of the opportunities. I believe this will be a very important market in the future and utilities have the advantage of already being on the client side of the relationship and use this advantage to implement smart home solutions.
MSEI: One of the big opportunities is around integrating distributed resources, managing these appropriately and ensuring that the load and the power grid are properly balanced at all times. How do you see this role evolving?
LB: Aggregators and companies operating on the network will be taking the opportunity to sell balancing services to the grid operator. So while this is currently a network, and therefore a utility function, I see this changing or evolving in the future.
By creating virtual power plants, the grid operator will have the resource available to reduce the load at a given moment. A client could then give the right to the aggregator to change the temperature of their home, or disconnect the air conditioning for a period of time. These rules and the payment therefor will be determined by an agreement with the demand aggregator and the demand aggregator with all the available resources, will sell that service to the grid.
This is also possible for storage – an electric car can provide an opportunity for a utility to store energy. In fact, all the services that the client can give to the grid operator to ensure the balance of the grid may be undertaken by a service provider or an ‘Uber’ of the energy sector, which will give these kinds of services to both the client and the grid operator. I think new business models and new companies will emerge that will manage all of these resources and enable value added services for the grid operator and the client.
Read more tomorrow when we discuss the importance of resilience in the face of increasingly extreme weather and what edge intelligence will mean for grid operations. Alternatively, listen to the full interview here.
Indra is a global consulting and technology company. It offers a comprehensive range of proprietary solutions and cutting edge services with a high added value in technology, which adds to a unique culture that is reliable, flexible and adaptable to its client’s needs. Indra is a leader in the development of comprehensive technological solutions in fields such as defense and security, transport and traffic, energy and industry, telecommunications and media, financial services, and public administration and healthcare.
Through its Minsait unit, it provides a response to the challenges of digital transformation.
In 2015 it reported revenues of €2,850m, had a workforce of 37,000 professionals, a local presence in 46 countries, and delivered projects in more than 140 countries.
Indra's energy and utility solutions have been implemented at more than 140 electricity, water, oil and gas companies in more than 45 countries. In excess of 100 million customers across the world are currently managed using systems developed by the multinational consulting and technology firm.