As an industry, we continue to move into a future where the modern grid driven by the combination of intelligent grid-edge devices and high-speed communication with near real-time processing of the data.
These enablers fuel automation and digitalisation capabilities that enable the use and management of more sustainable resources. But the industry still faces the challenge of integrating the data and software subsystems required with using complex protocols and architectures to unlock and enable the desired capabilities.
The answer to this challenge lies in intelligent cloud-based platforms for computational needs and data storage and implementing co-developed cloud-based grid applications.
These efforts will be the key to enabling a power grid that works as a single ecosystem, where the analysis of grid-edge data becomes the lever to optimise the grid to operate more efficiently, resiliently and reliably with sustainable resources.
The Internet of Energy (IoE) describes a networked system of smart energy infrastructure components across generation units, loads, storage, energy meters, and automated distribution equipment. The aim of IoE is to collect, organise and make the information from individual grid-edge devices across the network available to all other grid management participants simply and quickly. The fundamental issue is the volume of data and the time required to analyse the information. As the number of devices and amount of information increases for distribution networks, the traditional SCADA communications, and application
management limits the sharing of the information across a utility and the capabilities that the data can offer. The data volume and scale can be overcome using secure communication networking of the devices, together with leading edge IT technology like cloud computing. As device information is consumed by a cloudbased platform the integration and sharing of information can be simplified using software applications running on top of the cloud platform. The cloud platform will become a data lake for different applications to utilise. This can eliminate the need for integration services between applications. A smart energy management system will keep the grid stable by balancing the power generated from all sources with the electricity that is consumed.
Also, an IoE will allow consumers and prosumers to coordinate supply and demand autonomously among themselves and is equipped with smart forecasting systems that use weather forecasts, expected traffic flows and other information to predict future energy demand.
The growth and success of the IoE will rely on how we use cloudbased systems for integration and our willingness across the industry to co-create the systems and processes for management of the future grid. Within our own company, we use a formal cocreation process where subject matter experts from both Siemens and the end-user utility work together via our MindSphere cloudbased platform to design advanced grid apps. Open interfaces for development of customer-specific applications make this process fast and easy and result in a wide-range of grid application use cases that provide new levels of efficiency for utility operations.
Some examples of these advanced apps include meter data management, grid analytics, substation device management, distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS) and low voltage outage management system (LV OMS). By connecting real things to the digital world quickly and easily, with secure and encrypted data communication, the grid can become more efficient and sustainable than ever before.
For a closer look at how to view the IoE, take meter data management as an example. This advanced application that automates smart meter data management along with the related business processes has evolved over time to operate on the IoE cloud. Making this information actionable via the digital world allows the utility to better address long-standing needs such as meter-to-cash billing. But it also gives a utility the ability to address emerging use cases that leverage interval and timeofuse IoT device data to support a variety of mission-critical enterprise applications. Via the IoE, utilities will be able to manage and operate all smart device-related processes and data acquisition systems; communicate with all grid devices and receive problem notifications when tampering or outages occur; leverage data to prioritise field crew dispatches for repairs and outages; and manage new metering points like customer-side solar and electric vehicles.
At the substation level, cloud-based applications can automate asset inventory lists; compare actual versus target values across patch version and protection settings; and give operators the ability to conduct advanced services like remote support and security patch management. The IoE will allow the substation level control functions and asset management information data streams to be separated. The asset management information can then be analysed, and analytics applied real-time for proactive intervention or replacement. The right people within the utility will have access to the information to take appropriate action. IoE will also help bring virtual power plants to life. Using advanced distributed energy management technology, operators can put data to use in load forecasting for renewable generation, cost-efficiently integrate more renewables while avoiding grid extension, accurately plan for energy market resources, and realise higher profitability with energy trading, among many other use cases. And by using intelligent outage management software, utilities can use meter data to reduce unnecessary utility truck rolls, accurately resolve service incidents and identify distribution issues before they impact reliability of service.
Achieving an IoE is not without its challenges. The safe transmission and processing of the data plays a particularly important role, as large volumes of data must be communicated and processed to better understand and actively manage advanced grid operations. Grid cybersecurity standards will continue to iteratively expand to make it impossible to falsify or manipulate grid data and maintain system integrity. To achieve this, modern cybersecurity technologies and standards must be applied to ensure a maximum degree of security at all levels.
These systems must be able to integrate and process a multitude of grid-edge devices, from many manufacturers, with a substantial volume of data in a safe and highly reliable way.
Challenges also loom around the industry attracting enough workers who have the right skills and knowledge to operate an IoE. Well-deserved attention has been placed on the manufacturing skills gap, but the energy industry is facing a similar, and arguably less nationally recognised, risk. According to a DOE jobs report, the industry will require 1.5 million new energy jobs by 2030 and it found that 75% of companies have challenges in hiring qualified candidates. If it were as simple as backfilling positions, it would be easier – but that is not the reality. The reality is that future positions are the same in name only. They require new skills to match the new technologies that are moving our grid forward. In order to create the next-generation energy workforce, there must be a focus on building training initiatives that provide hands-on experience to better equip students to work in the emerging energy industry. Digital grid academic partnerships with Case Western Reserve University and the University of Central Florida consist of providing software, hardware, and expertise for curriculum development. The software platforms simulate real-world grid environments and provide real-world situations to better prepare the next-generation workforce. For example, students will be trained at digital grid labs on power distribution software that helps balance renewables like wind and solar on the grid. The labs will also feature software platforms that help identify grid disturbances within milliseconds so the grid can quickly recover from unexpected operating failures.
Though it was only a matter of time until IoT technologies entered the energy sector, there is no denying that they are here, and we need to harness the possibility that they can create. In the past, what we as an industry have called the ‘smart grid’ is now so much more. As we look further into the grid’s future, it is clear that digitalisation is a key requirement for the energy industry to remain competitive in an increasingly connected world.
This article was originally published in Smart Energy International 1-2019.
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