From SCADA to Industrial IoT - how to connect behind-the-meter assets

Once you have a use case for connecting behind-the-meter assets, what are the next steps to deployment and management?
Published: Thu 07 Jun 2018

The business drivers for creating energy networks spanning customer assets and the distribution grid are taking shape - from automatic demand response to measurement and verification.

Other forces in favour of connecting assets are “technically suitable connectivity solutions”, says Richard Stamvik, Ecosystem Business Development at communication technology company MultiTech.

Stamvik cites how LTE category M1 and NB-IoT as well as unlicensed technologies like LoRa are better suited to many Industrial Internet of Things-focused applications than their “more power hungry and expensive traditional cellular counterparts like 2G, 3G and higher LTE categories”.

The next question then is how to connect distributed energy assets in a scalable and secure way and this was the topic of an Engerati webinar - ‘Connecting behind-the-meter assets: Enabling new energy services’.

Connecting distributed assets - the ecosystem

In the presentation, Brad Witter, Chief Technology Officer of Blue Pillar, a US-based developer of IIoT platform technologies and products, set the scene of the complex behind-the-meter asset landscape. “It’s like alphabet soup with customers owning equipment of various ages and manufacturer.”

The company visualises the eco-system as a “north-south gap” with devices in the southside needing to translate information going to the external world (the northside) and on to the cloud.

In the middle of this visualisation is an Internet of Things (IoT) gateway such as MutliTech’s Conduit that acts as a bridge, says Witter.

At this point, SCADA shows its limitations as an industrial control system.

“SCADA systems over distributed networks have to be ‘brute-force engineered’,” he says. “Some start with a distributed SCADA solution but it isn’t scalable. Industrial control systems are typically programmed and customisable and traditionally not secure when connecting over a cloud-type connection.

In contrast, the IIoT network has been built for scale for lightweight industrial devices distributed over a geographical span at massive scales allowing 10,000 or 100,000 devices to communicate in real time.

An IIoT gateway is an essential bridge between the “alphabet soup” of the device side and the cloud  

How to connect behind the meter assets

The best approach to implementing behind-the-meter networks is design-oriented using template-based deployment and provisioning, says Witter.

“The more out-of-the-box the better so you’re not tied to one particular electrical contractor,” he advises. “That allows you to drive the economies of scale up and enablement fees down as far as getting networks in the ground - the ‘southbound connection’.”

Once the network is in place, even at the level of 100s or 10,000s of devices, the underlying platform that gateways connect to should be geo-redundant, “so if the data centre fails, there is somewhere else for data to go”, says Witter.

Another key consideration for deployment is security, emphasised by both Witter and MultiTech’s Richard Stamvik. “Security needs to be automated and built in from the ground up. Managing for example 30,000 devices over a network will be a difficult solution if you're managing the end point security one device at a time,” says Witter.

Stamvik says that a trustworthy security strategy will address three areas. First, secure products reducing device attack vectors; then secure end-to-end services like encryption, authentication and policy enforcement; and finally management services allowing control and monitoring.

“If you work according to this approach - only deploying secure devices that you trust, running services that implement the security features that you need, and ensuring that you have the relevant control points in your architecture, devices and services, then you've de-risked your solution” says Stamvik.

MultiTech’s Richard Stamvik explains how to keep IIoT networks secure

Staying connected to IIoT

The next consideration is ensuring that you stay connected.

Witter says there may be a business case where owning your communication infrastructure is strategic but staying connected is complicated and device management “is a huge task”.

“We see utilities doing pilots and then realising that they’re not meant to be a network manager and can't support thousands of connected devices,” he says. “By adopting a different business model - such as data-as-a-service, the solution provider takes on the architecture requirements and device management.”