Building an intelligent grid: Why an IoT platform is the solution

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In this thought piece, Capgemini shares use cases for IoT platforms as well as deployment tips.

Energy suppliers are keenly aware that the grid is becoming a multi-directional power and information flow system.

The introduction of distributed energy resources has fuelled much of the rapid transformation of the electric utility industry, says Rupak Patra, Programme Manager at Capgemini Global Utilities.

The emergence of prosumers is also a disruptive force and “this is happening”, says Patra.

Capgemini projects the number of US residential solar users at around 99 million households by 2020.

Patra says the need to integrate consumer-owned distributed energy resources into local energy markets is driving a shift in digital technologies.

“The focus of smart grid technology has moved from modernising the physical delivery infrastructure to creating a digital platform that supports a new energy provisioning model enabled by the economy of connections,” he says.

“As a result, the grid has already started to become a series of interconnected systems and the grid edge is more unpredictable.”

Traditional solutions to such disruptions are inadequate as the operational problems are due to lack of information, says Patra.

“Grid stability,” he affirms, “will come through data-driven transformation of key processes such as real-time monitoring and predictive maintenance.”

IoT and critical assets

Patra cites an example of asset tracking and predictive maintenance of key grid assets in the field.

Capgemini deployed its Internet of Things (IoT) platform to help a nuclear client proactively track its critical assets.

He explains: “The client needed to supervise mobile security items inside the reactor buildings during maintenance phases during outages.

“These huge operations are critical because every day that runs behind schedule costs hundreds of thousands of euros in power generation losses. Work cannot begin without essential safety equipment in place, and our client needed a smarter way to keep track of mandatory technician mobile air supply assets.”

Focused on the client’s safety and efficiency requirements, Capgemini created an IoT-based asset tracking system.

During the set-up phase for scheduled maintenance outages, the reactor is taken off-line and covered by a network of radio tags that sense locations of similar tags embedded within emergency mobile air supply units.

This location information, along with radio tag battery status, is transmitted via low-power radio to an IoT Gateway, which aggregates the data and triangulates the unit’s location before sending it to a dashboard in the main control room.

This dashboard displays the location of all mobile air supply assets on a 2D or 3D map, as well as the battery status of each device.

Patra says: “Now the client’s maintenance teams can immediately view the location and status of every single unit in an area spanning three floors, each one measuring 1,000m².

“The crews can automatically ensure the right equipment is ready to use and in the right place at the right time, so work can start on time.”

IoT for energy management

Another key use case of IoT platforms for energy companies is industrial and commercial energy management, says Patra.

By connecting to sensors on HVAC systems, smart lighting, and industrial equipment, energy companies can automate energy management using demand response, peak load management and energy efficiency initiatives.

Referencing Capgemini’s work with a European utility, Patra says: “Our client wanted to help its industrial customers with on-site energy audits and diagnostics.

“We supplied an IoT solution to gather energy data - power, voltage and current - as well as environmental data from over a few weeks to a year.”

He adds: “The platform gathers individual sensor data every minute and provides fast deployment at isolated client sites that are often without network infrastructure.”

Real-time grid monitoring is the other stand-out use case of an intelligent grid, says Patra.

Patra explains: “By integrating information from a variety of systems such as weather, real-time, historic, geospatial, asset health, asset condition, network condition, customer behaviour and geo-political events, you can improve grid resilience and allow optimisation of grid resources.”

IoT platform deployment

So the reasons for deploying an IoT platform are clear but what are Patra’s tips for rolling out such infrastructure?

“Utilities should look for IoT systems that complement existing software and can evolve harmoniously with the grid’s evolutionary needs,” he says.

“A platform should work as a data repository and most importantly take care of device manageability and security so deploying the solution does not create new problems for the energy provider.”

And when it comes to IoT design principles, Patra recommends that a platform is open, enabling integration with any type of device and communications protocol.

And as well as being compatible with all the major cloud environments, it should be highly secure and support real-time analytics at the edge and big data analytics in the cloud.

Patra’s final advice is to adopt an IoT platform as-a service. “So, utilities can start with simple projects, learn rapidly on the go, and then expand as new services are needed.”

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