18 Mar [Intel Q&A] Utilities and the Internet of Things
By Jon Arnold, ETS16 Community Advocate
As buzzwords go, the Internet of Things, or IoT, has a great deal of currency now, but at a high level its meaning is rather vague. However, when applied to a vertical market, IoT becomes more tangible, as those “things” have specific meaning and the impact is clearly understood.
The energy sector is a prime example, as Internet-based technologies are enabling utilities to connect the dots across the grid in ways never possible before. There is tremendous benefit to be realized from IoT, and Intel is at the forefront applying this to the needs of utilities. We’re looking forward to hearing more about this at ETS16, and to prepare you for that, here’s my interview with Thierry Godart, Intel’s General Manager for Energy Solutions.
IoT has a broad meaning and is finding relevance across many verticals, including energy. As a major IoT player, how do you define this opportunity overall, and specifically for utilities?
IoT is a technology-driven opportunity which will unleash tremendous business value for utilities. I refer to it as taking the best of IT into the operational world. The Internet has matured in scale and reliability, and it can be applied to real-time environments with all the required security features for smart grid applications. With IoT, we can connect equipment and devices anywhere in the network to provide complete situational awareness using real-time data which can be visualized and analyzed by operators.
The opportunity for Intel is to lead a standard and universal implementation of the IoT infrastructure to maximize the number of participants in the ecosystem—sensor and device makers, smart equipment manufacturers, software vendors, system integrators and service providers—and to accelerate the adoption of the modern technology by utilities. Once everything is connected, big data analyses will unlock the business value for all stakeholders.
The smart grid is tailor-made for IoT as well as for your IoT vision for the energy industry. Please outline that vision for us and briefly touch on themes you’ll be speaking about at ETS16.
Our vision of IoT for Energy is to connect people, machines and systems to create a “smarter” energy world. For asset operators, “smarter” means the ability to improve their operations by maximizing the use of their existing assets and lowering the cost of their maintenance. In addition, utilities can rely on concepts such as microgrids and virtual power plants to better manage the grid. For energy prosumers, “smarter” means taking full advantage of energy conservation and demand management programs without impacting their comfort or productivity. For society, “smarter” means the further decarbonization of the generation fleet, less greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants. Our everyday life will become even more rewarding with the further electrification of transportation, heating, and the like, especially because the source of energy will be renewable and sustainable.
Are there any best practices from other sectors that translate especially well for utilities and IoT?
Best practices can be seen in Enterprise IT and, of course, in the World Wide Web. We use the analogy of our sensors now being capable of “tweeting” or “streaming” to indicate how we intend to use the new paradigm on Internet communication as opposed to the older proprietary SCADA protocols. Applications like Netflix, Yelp and others make use of inferences and analytics to provide actionable data for consumers. Retail intelligence from crowdsourcing and machine learning of sentiment analysis are also interesting concepts that can be applied to energy consumers. Enterprise IT has seen significant innovations in the remote manageability of PCs, workflow management and the like, all of which can be adapted to the operational environment of a utility with devices connected in the field.
Because the nature of IoT is so complex, what challenges do you think utilities will be most concerned about in their plans for the integration of these technologies?
The IoT infrastructure (edge-to-cloud) deployed in the smart grid must be designed for easy installation and long life support. Installation will most often consist of retrofitting a gateway within an existing environment of sensors and figuring out which communication is most adapted to bring data into the cloud. New devices and sensors will have to co-exist with older equipment and communication infrastructure. Ideally, the IoT infrastructure is an open platform that abstracts legacy technology and promotes open standards for new technology. Communication technology is evolving rapidly and can be the most difficult decision to make when deciding on an IoT architecture. A proprietary mesh network, such as an AMI network, can be well suited to support IoT data traffic, but what about LTE and 5G cellular network in the near future with data plans designed for IoT?
We also expect a lot of innovation in the area of smart sensors which will be cost effective, communicating and self-healing. Smart sensors will make old sensors obsolete with their capability to be programmed remotely and to perform local data processing rather than sending all data all the time. So in short, the most concerning issue remains the decision to get started on an implementation while knowing that innovation is on the way and current technology will be obsolete very quickly. It is best to trust a technology partner with the ability to innovate while supporting an upgradeable roadmap to avoid obsolescence.
IoT connects people, devices and endpoints to a common network to improve process automation and to provide problem-solving and decision-making capabilities. How do you see that translating into business value for utilities?
We see three major areas for IoT implementation that will provide an immediate return on investment for utilities.
First, by using a cost-effective IoT approach, a connection of the low-voltage grid from the last substation to the meter will provide real-time visibility on that part of the grid which sees the most disruptive changes as a result of distributed energy resources (DERs). Applications such as voltage optimization, fault location, better planning of reinforcement, and feeder reconfiguration can then be deployed based on the continuous flow of real-time telemetry
Secondly, an IoT approach will allow for the monitoring of equipment to detect abnormal conditions and alert operators before deterioration occurs. This is enabled by a combination of real-time data collection and machine learning algorithms implemented at the edge with minimum transfer of data. Machine learning analytics provide historical correlation and pattern detection and become richer and more accurate as data pours through. Predictive maintenance can then be implemented on large assets as well as smaller distributed assets.
Thirdly, new transactions between prosumers, grid operators and service providers can be enabled. Buying and selling energy to form virtual power plants in real-time require ubiquitous telemetry and dispatch capability. Small assets like rooftop solar and residential batteries can be aggregated by service providers with larger assets—such as hydro, wind, and solar—to provide flexible ancillary services to the overall grid. Utilities can take an active part in this process either as a deregulated business offering new services or as a newly regulated mandate for distribution system operators.
A key benefit of IoT is a more resilient grid. How can Intel help utilities become more resilient in ways that are better than legacy-based approaches to resiliency?
In abnormal conditions, a resilient grid will have to take advantage of DERs by either shedding load or connecting distributed energy sources to the grid. Islanding of the grid—forming cells that can either survive or be restored faster than a hierarchical bulk to retail energy process—is possible once control center functionality is implemented on each island. Grid resiliency can be improved using control technology at a much lower cost than over sizing the equipment, building new lines or burying existing lines. The capability to run powerful analytics at the grid edge is made possible by our IoT platform. In addition to providing Intel architectures for scalable and secure IoT gateways, Intel is also working on making the deployment and support of edge analytics easier.