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Ask the Expert: The Value of An Integrated Distributed Energy Resource Platform

Jan. 15, 2019
Utilities can optimize long-term energy supply, power delivery and customer service goals with integrated IT/OT system

1. Following the acquisition of ACS by Indra Systems last year, what makes the combination of ACS and Indra-minsait a unique value proposition for electric utilities?

Indra is a large global IT company with very deep experience in progressive IT solutions through Minsait, Indra’s IT solutions business. The resources and investment from Indra-minsait is game changing for ACS and our customers in North America. Together, ACS and Indra-minsait now have the most complete portfolio of electric grid management solutions in the market, ranging from the most applied Operational Technology (OT) to the most strategic information technology (IT) and integrated enterprise data management systems. No other company is able to effectively address the IT/OT convergence and provide such a broad, yet modular, set of solutions to cover every need of the electric utility industry. These solutions leverage the seamless integration of OT real-time data with IT business applications, leveraging extensive project experience across over 130 countries and broad domain expertise in the energy industry.

ACS has demonstrated for over four decades the ability to effectively monitor and control the power grid with advanced controls technology from generation to consumer end use. ACS has pioneered new digital solutions along with a unique distributed architecture that enables autonomous decisions and automation, like “self-healing” grids and self-forming microgrids, to perform at all levels in the grid hierarchy; from grid-edge assets, feeders and feeder islands, substations and the central control room.  Delivering real-time OT systems including SCADA, ADMS, OMS, EMS; ACS has enabled utilities to effectively manage and control energy delivery from any generation source to the end consumer. Indra-minsait brings a suite of IT applications and platforms for utility systems and end-user applications, to create a combined IT/OT solution portfolio that is industry leading. This comprehensive portfolio, now available to the North American market through ACS. This portfolio is continuously refreshed and bolstered by over 40,000 employees engaged in research into emerging technologies, development, engineering and deployment of advance solutions to our utility customers. Indra invests over $200M/year annually in emerging technologies ensuring that new disruptive technologies like the industrial internet of things  (lloT), become accretive for utilities in the energy space.

This integrated portfolio provides utilities the capability to better manage grid assets with a real-time digital model of their unique assets, allowing interactive planning and more effective and efficient operations capabilities using load dynamics and control usage to optimize energy utilization along with predictive functions to better manage severe disruptive events. It also provides customers the ability to maximize energy use with regard to efficiency, conservation and time-of-use rates. These solutions enable the utility to affect and predict the load beyond the meter, while allowing customers to capture benefits from real-time energy markets where available.

Ultimately the overarching value of the combined IT/OT platform is the ability to manage and distribute data across the entire energy value chain. By integrating customer data with operational grid data, utilities can dramatically improve overall system performance. The integrated intelligence of the common platform promotes a more data-centric model that delivers value throughout the spectrum of electric utility source-side and demand-side service.

In a very rapidly changing environment where data is ever more available and yet difficult to process in real-time and extract value, no single organization was able to develop solutions and get them to the market rapidly enough to serve its customers. ACS and Indra-minsait, have therefore developed their latest smart grid suite of products with a “collaborative ecosystem” in mind, choosing technologies and solutions that are open to accommodate third-party software, enabling rapid integration and prevent the traditional vendor lock-in of proprietary systems often seen in the industry. The Active Grid Management (AGM) solution is a good example of a solution that combines the OT with IT environments to create value in a secure exchange of data sets.

2. What are some of the greatest challenges facing utilities today?

Utilities biggest challenge is to move from an “obligation to serve” to becoming an “energy integration platform” capable of servicing the load, retaining and engaging consumers as they become more aware that they are the utility's greatest asset. Integrating intelligent devices at the “grid edge” to work effectively, and reliably with the utility’s current assets represents one of the greatest challenges for utilities. More specifically, the industry refers to this as integrating Distributed Energy Resources (DER) which requires a number of other associated systems to be implemented to ensure interconnectivity, interoperability and eventually access to transactive energy markets across the grid. The list of systems required can involve generation and transmission applications, but it is the integration between the distribution and the customer networks that can be the most challenging. This interface encompasses utility customer information systems (CIS), energy management systems (EMS), work management systems (WMS), outage management systems (OMS), geographic information systems (GIS) and automated metering infrastructure (AMI); in addition to customer systems like building management systems (BMS) and home automation networks (HAN). The utility business model and integrated platform must be adaptable to these different systems in a plug and play fashion as the ever-increasing number of smart customer devices connect to the grid.

To further the DER integration challenge, distribution systems today are not designed for interactive distributed energy sources, so unique hardware configurations are required to enable automatic transfer and multi-directional power flow. Next, to interconnect and operate DER requires real-time communications and operating platforms that can receive and quickly act on data. This requires sophisticated data management and analytics in conjunction with the integration of IT and OT systems that provide the needed source data to create actionable information. Indra-minsait has developed an open bus communication platform called iSPEED which is based on DDS and OpenFMB, with CIM compliant data definition, which eliminates the integration effort making “plug and play” feasible in a publish – subscribe platform.

DER integration also requires that real-time operating data from a diverse set of sources can seamlessly interact with the grid systems. The challenge extends beyond the capability to receive and share data, so our solutions provide real-time analytics and the ability to manage the manner in which the data is shared to avoid conflicts between systems requiring the same information. Finally, to ensure DER operate under optimized conditions, it is essential that solutions provide dynamic and adaptive data that constantly adjusts to real-time grid conditions.

3. What solutions cases do you see to address these challenges? 

 A fundamental challenge to enabling DER interaction is a utility’s ability to perform real-time data analytics. This requires a data-centric environment that can act on distributed intelligence and supply it promptly to prosumers and smart assets for optimal action. One case study that optimizes solutions with DER integration is the Smart Energy City Project at Australia’s largest university - Monash University. This project was designed to simulate a grid-connected microgrid and provide energy and power quality management, DER integration and value creation for network and behind-the-meter assets. 

The project uses Indra minsait’s Active Grid Management (AGM), an IIoT software platform based on intelligent nodes, to perform the monitoring and real-time control of the network’s power quality by analyzing data at the connection point with the DER. AGM collects and manages real-time data at established gateway nodes for 20 university campus buildings along with photovoltaic, energy storage and electric vehicle charging systems. Unlike many microgrid initiatives, the Monash University project goal is to demonstrate how microgrids can optimize grid performance and compliment but not replace existing distribution networks while enabling participation in a transactive energy markets and response to real-time market signals. 

It is microgrid deployments like the implementation at Monash University that demonstrate the full range of integrated IT/OT applications and how to manage integrated technologies in an optimized grid platform. The DER deployments utilized on this project showcases the ability of Minsait’s AGM to process interoperable data and manage power networks through distributed control. 

4. What should utilities be doing to prepare for the future?

Utilities need to understand that technology decisions being made today need to contemplate not only current requirements but projected future requirements in the next 5-10 years. As part of this, utilities need to have a long-range plan of how they can best integrate customer end-use equipment in their respective grid locations. This requires a comprehensive strategic plan that defines their value-chain objectives and fully considers the interactive system impact on their power grid. The strategic plan should be driven by business objectives such as reliability, asset management and system efficiency.  Technology advancements like IT/OT integration, distributed networks and end-use devices must also be considered. It is essential to have an end-to-end approach to cyber security ensuring supply chain security is in place and that the IT/OT network has secure enclaves which allow appropriate data exchange.

Unless already available, an inventory of the grid technologies already in-service together with the disparate systems in operation, could be of great help. Next, an end-to-end assessment needs to be completed that identifies the grid devices and end-use loads that should be included in their interactive optimized grid. This involves evaluating the various systems needed in the integrated platform. In short, it will require a systematic approach that decides what data is actually needed to drive the desired grid performance.

Once the performance objectives are determined, the technology and operating platforms can be aligned. It’s at this point that the overall architecture addresses both OT and IT networks and interoperability requirements need to be examined and mapped. Once the roadmap is determined, the systems can be assessed for functionality and security gaps, and the integration can begin. The eventual outcome will yield a secure, interactive operating platform that can analyze data from a full range of intelligent devices and maximize grid performance for utilities and their customers.

Utilities will be prepared for the future if they commit to providing an intelligent, integrated platform that will maximize grid performance for their customers, but that is also able to easily integrate third-party solutions to rapidly solve problems or to unlock value, creating an ecosystem of distributed energy services providers. In doing so, utilities can conquer the last-mile challenge and provide a flexible grid that serves the needs of its customers.

Ready to move forward? Click here to learn more about how the combined Indra (ACS and Minsait) can enable your utility to operate more efficiently, safely and profitably.

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