Indra: A perspective on technology (part 2)


MSEI:   How do you see some of the opportunities that IoT presents for managing extreme weather events?

LB: With the intelligence in the grid, we have seen in the past that there have been big blackouts in the US. The problem is not really that it was caused by a storm but when the blackout starts to propagate, because the mechanisms that the grid has to heal itself or isolate the bad part of the grid is what ultimately causes the biggest problem. When you have a storm, it is concentrated in a particular location.

When you have a problem on the grid, it starts to propagate and that propagation is caused due to the mechanisms that the grid has to manage it are old-fashioned. One of the things we are proposing is what we call edge computing – the ability to bring intelligence to the edge of the grid. It is impossible when a storm happens that you can bring all the relevant data to the control centre, especially if you have associated communication challenges.

If all the intelligence is based in the control centre, you will not have the relevant data to do what you need to and you cannot take remedial action from the control centre if the communication is compromised.

So the ability to have intelligence distributed in the grid is a key part of our offering and this is key to solving cascading blackouts.  In the primary substation, or even in the secondary substation, you should be able to make intelligent decisions.

An IoT platform in the way that we envision it is one that allows you to have distributed intelligence, to have intelligent nodes in the network that are able to process information that is coming from the surrounding area and enables decisions to be made right there in order to minimise the losses or the outages.

MSEI:   How would you classify or define the IoT?

LB: This is an interesting question. I can share my classification of what the IoT is though. My colleagues and I have a similar perspective on this.

There are two types of IoT – one that is related to a utility’s ability to connect with their clients; (consumer based IoT), which does not require immediate information or immediate responsiveness from the grid; the other is the one used to manage the grid or manage assets and here, millisecond relay of information is vital. As a result, there are more stringent cybersecurity; more edge computing, more distributed intelligence, more robust communication. We definitely see two types of IoT – one for consumers and one for machines. When you see what global tech companies are doing, you can see the difference between IoT and Industrial IoT. Within these two groups, there are no doubt other IoT classifications but these two are definitely two separate elements. 

MSEI:   What projects are you working on in this space at the moment? 

LB: One of our flagship projects is the work we are doing in the smart home/home energy management space. We are working with three utilities in implementing behind the meter technologies in order to give value added services to their clients and enable the utility to manage that energy and connect it to the grid operator.

The challenges we are encountering here is typically around the business case behind this. Lots of utilities are already working on pilots, but the challenge is to bring this to the market, because it is important to consider how you monetise this due to the many considerations such as regulation and the uncertainty around customer reaction to the technology.

Other applications include sensors on secondary substations. In many cases, the utility has not been clear on what is happening at the secondary substation level and while they have worked hard to forecast the load of the transformer, they didn’t have a lot of real clarity on the state of the network across their day to day operations. However, as sensors are becoming less expensive, they are able to put sensors into the secondary substations and bring the data to the control centre, thereby adding intelligence to that section of the grid.

We are working with Intel on some projects in this sector. We consider them a key partner and will be launching an offering during European Utility Week with them.

Workforce management is also a big opportunity – anything related to the digital worker, whereby you have the ability to connect your workers in the field and implement work management solutions. We are operating seven or either projects and are working on a related subject where we are using simulation as an opportunity to train staff before allowing them out into the field.

This is one of the technologies we are applying from some of our other divisions such as defence and aeronautics.  We have some projects were we are using simulators for substations or simulators for wind generation etc.

We are even working on R&D for augmented reality applications utilising either helmets or glasses for workers to use in the field. When they work on a machine or piece of equipment, they can get information directly from the sensors.

Lastly, we are working on some asset management projects for grid operators to monitor the primary and secondary transformers.


Access part 1 of the interview here.

Read the third and final part of this interview on Thursday 17 November.