How the internet of things is transforming energy

Engerati reviews what’s new in IoT for grid flexibility, asset management and predictive analytics.
Published: Sun 14 May 2017

The internet of things (IoT) in the energy sector represents a new reality that will reach all aspects of the value chain, with a new digital foundation enabled by the rapid adoption of internet-connected devices.

Out of the many impacts of the IoT in energy, Engerati has identified three for an indepth focus an – intelligent asset management, situational awareness with predictive grid analytics and grid flexibility and resilience.

Back to the future

For the utility sector, the IoT represents a natural progression from the smart grid, which in turn has its foundation in smart metering.

But the challenges the IoT presents are two-fold – one is the significantly increasing volumes of data from the new devices and sensors coming onto the grid, and the second the integration and analysis of that and other data not only from within the utility but also from external sources.

“The concept isn’t new,” says Iain Stewart, Practice Partner Utilities at Teradata International in Engerati’s In Focus webinar.

As examples, he cites two projects of data integration onto a single platform – one at Pacific Gas & Electric in California, the other at Smart City Aspern just outside Vienna.

“The IoT is all about data and the ability to monetise it is what drives value,” Stewart comments, offering a five-step process for managing data. “But the IoT is expanding and the need to collect and analyse data at scale is increasing.”

He also advises, as the process is expensive, a focus on data use cases.

IoT and asset intelligence

Asset management and maintenance is an obvious use case of IoT, given the costly and distributed nature of utility assets – and especially so in an environment of ageing assets on the one hand and growing numbers of new and more complex assets on the other.

It’s about improving reliability and customer satisfaction while reducing the operating costs and optimising the capital expenditure, says Roger Goodwin, VP, Industry Solutions Group at SpaceTime Insights.

He comments that IoT solutions provide “a new source of data” for asset maintenance and advanced analytics are the key to unlocking its business value. But there are several levels of analytics and not all are the same.

“The greatest business benefit comes from prescriptive analytics, which tell us not only what is likely to happen but how the event should be handled,” Goodwin says. “That is the value IoT can provide and we see early adopters reporting savings of $4m to $6m a year.”

Rhys Davies, President of consultancy eAsset Management, and Boudewijn Neijens, Chief Marketing Officer at decision analytics software provider Copperleaf Technologies, reference the ISO 55000 asset management standard in their webinar.

“ISO 55000 provides some key messages for organisations,” says Davies. “These are the need for aligned objectives, a long-term strategic view and rules and knowledge for transparent and risk-based decision making.”

Neijens comments that value is the key metric when it comes to asset management. “Value can have different interpretations and an organisation needs to generate the greatest possible value to itself from its assets.”

The heart of Copperleaf’s approach is the Value Framework, which encapsulates all the elements of value that are important to the business of the organisation and enables these to be compared on a common scale.

Grid flexibility and resilience

For John Simmins, Technical Executive at EPRI, much of the excitement of the IoT is not in simply adding more devices into the network but in how the utility’s assets can be leveraged in new applications, such as smart cities.

“There are semi-active assets such as the communications infrastructure and active assets such as smart devices that can be leveraged by other entities and for new measurement or monitoring applications. There are many exciting possibilities,” he says, pointing out that in this context the consumer is also a ‘sensor’ in the utility network.

As an example, he cites a distributed energy resource architecture that is being leveraged without utility involvement for energy trading.

EPRI’s jargon references the ‘integrated grid’ and ‘integrated energy network’ with research under way on a wide variety of topics pertaining to the communications infrastructure and its architecture and utility planning and operations.

“For me the microgrid is the ultimate IoT environment,” Simmins says. “It can act as a ‘black box’ for demand response and distributed resource integration. And when islanded, the ‘things’ can maintain operational reliability and it can un-island itself.”

Submetering in buildings

Another example of the IoT in action is the optimisation of the energy efficiency performances of buildings, driven by data from smart submetering.

In a presentation, John Gionas, Chief Commercial Officer, and Stelios Koutroubinas, CEO of energy management company Meazon, review this proposition.

Connected submetering has been enabled by the latest technology advancements, says Gionas. He explains: “Organisations are now able to centralise and manage their energy use across heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, etc. in near real time, enabling energy efficiency at scale.”

The challenge is in harnessing all the data to provide benefits not only for the building owners or managers but also the occupants.

Gionas recommends a cloud-based approach, which can readily be leveraged with the submeter technology and avoiding significant hardware and software capital expenditure.

A case study example is a large bank, at which 50 branches and 25 buildings were selected for energy efficiency interventions. More than 500 submeters were installed achieving savings of 7m kWh/yr and a project IRR of over 15%.

IT/OT convergence

As noted above a key challenge for the utility IoT is bridging the IT/OT gap that is common in many organisations. Both manufacturers and system integrators need a basic knowledge of IT and OT so that they can provide or integrate a suitable system for grid implementation, such as substations, solar energy, wind energy and energy management applications.

In a presentation on this topic, Dean Samara-Rubio, Solutions Architect for Energy and Utilities at Intel, discusses the need for intelligence at the edge of the grid in order to meet the transformation challenges the IoT is bringing.

“The compute or ‘convergence platform’ at the edge can provide the path for the apps and services the utility needs to provide to come to fruition,” he says.

Tony Milne, Business Development Manager at industrial computer company Advantech, points to the potential for automation of Europe’s approximately 20m low and medium voltage substations with the move to the IEC 61850 standard. There are opportunities for both visualisation and virtualisation applications.

Examples of automation projects that integrate OT and IT include Nice Grid in France and the power development and reform (R-APDRP) project in India.

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