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Technology | October 2011

Convergence of IT and OT in utility

To increase operational efficiencies, better manage outage or carry out a predicative fault analysis, it is essential that information technology and operations technology systems converge to give maximum benefits, says Somnath Chatterjee.

The power industry has been going through an enormous amount of change and the restructuring, unbundling and introduction of competition has radically changed the way the industry used to work a couple of decades ago.

There is a lot of pressure to drive maximum operational efficiency, increase reliability and at the same time reduce cost. This indicates that utilities need to have the right strategies and governance mechanism based on correct and timely information. This calls for the right degree of automation and information availability to the right set of people.

Power grids have seen very little change over the last few decades and now they are challenged not only with respect to network reliability but also the ability to manage the demands. A very important aspect which is becoming more and more prominent is distributed generation and micro grids of the future. These new aspects open up a whole new aspect of optimising grid operations.

Operations technology (OT) thus is very important in terms of monitoring the health of the network and giving information on the health of the network.However, more often than not, it has been observed that the use of OT is limited to operations management and the control room of the utility. Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) is the primary OT used to monitor the health of a network.

Traditionally information technology, i.e., the traditional IT systems, are seen differently from the operational technology systems and refers to areas like supply chain, asset management, mobile workforce management, HR, finance etc. And more often than not, we see them operating in an isolated manner. However, failure to manage the convergence of information technology and operational technology will limit the strategic use of OT.

An integrated approach to IT and OT systems brings in major benefits in the area as shown below, however they are not limited to these alone.

a)Asset management
b)Fault and outage management
c)Load-flow analysis and demand management
d)Demand management
e)Energy audits
f)Network efficiency improvements
g)Reliability of the network

The information logged on the behaviour of the network equipment and status of the network integrated with the traditional ERP systems not only help to know the status but will help in forward planning crew dispatch to the field along with predictive analysis.

One of the primary differentiators between SCADA and DCS is the purpose that the control system is used for. In general DCS is used to control processes within a confined area eg: Power plants. Control equipment are directly connected and the control takes place in real time.

SCADA systems primarily control and monitor equipment in a geographically dispersed area and it relies on various communication medium to send and receive data.

SCADA in Utility
The SCADA system is the heart of any electricity transmission or distribution utility and the requirement needs to meet many challenges like high availability, handling large data volumes, low or no latency and very accurate resolution time.

Traditionally, SCADA solutions look at the following key things:

a)A workstation as HMI
b)Traditionally the systems had been UNIX/VMS / LINUX based
c)Adequate redundancy
d)A robust operating system
e)A large point counts and multiple tags per point – RTU's
f)And a highly capable application layer

The other point to be considered is the communication and protocol that these systems used.  The convergence of IT and OT to a large extent was hindered by the fact that operation systems used to run in custom crafted chips and proprietary networked infrastructure. This has been the case for asset intensive industries like utilities.

Over the last few years proprietary sensors and transducers, automation controllers and remote terminal units used for distributed system and process control over SCADA and telemetry networks are now based on popular PC chipsets, rather than custom-crafted devices. Web browsers are routinely used as front-end applications. The increase in convergence of the two technologies and platforms is making things easier to move towards the direction of IT and OT integration.

SCADA systems have gone through a series of changes from the olden day monolithic systems which were not networked to systems over LAN. The radical change came in the next version of SCADA where open standards and protocols were used across the wide area networks. The present day SCADA system aspires to and has many features which help in the creation of corporate dashboards, supports business reporting and analytics. Needless to say that with the boundaries and mode of operation, cyber security becomes a very important aspect of the entire setup.

Challenges in the IT/OT Integration
SCADA systems (barring the new open source systems) run with multiple standards and proprietary protocols with multiple utilities across the world and follow different national frameworks as opposed to a much standardised global open architecture of the IT systems. The real-time data exchange puts in an extra step of caution in the architecture design. All corporate cyber security systems must cover both IT and OT standards though it may be in different domains. The organisational divide of OT is generally under the engineering part of the organisation whereas the traditional IT sits with the IT department.

The Business case
The convergence of IT and OT brings along with it many facets. The focus of present-day IT systems revolves around agility, innovation, virtualisation and clouds the focus of operations technology which is more around reliable asset operations, optimisation of equipment functions, plant automation and so on. In recent times, the focus has shifted due to a number of initiatives like the smart grid, optimised asset operations, distributed generation and so on. The SCADA systems are extended to collect field information so that more informed decisions can be taken. So in order to increase operational efficiencies, better manage outages or to carry out a predicative fault analysis, it is essential that IT and OT systems converge to give maximum benefits. Managing demands in real-time has no alternative other than to use real-time systems.

SCADA will play a big role in future smart grid operations. The data obtained from SCADA will help in analysing the state and condition of network assets. It will help in optimal load flow analysis and reduction of transmission and distribution losses. In case of outages, the entire dynamics of the grid can be managed using SCADA systems in operation. While for fault and incident management we may use traditional asset management and mobile solutions, but pinpointing or predicting the fault comes from SCADA inputs.

The Emerging Concept of Esb
The concept of an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) is catching up in the utilities. ESB is an architecture that exploits web services, messaging middleware, intelligent routing and transformation. ESBs act as a lightweight, ubiquitous integration backbone through which software services and application components flow. We are potentially looking at a situation where information flow happens across the systems and uses an ESB backbone. This however is not as simple since there are standards and protocols that need to be followed for seamless integration, eg: IEC 61850, which is mostly followed for information exchange across substation devices.

For utilities the aspect of integration brings in enormous benefits. However, the amount of integration and to what level we proceed will depend to a large extent on the maturity level and future plans of the organisation. The IT systems and policies in place and the OT system in operation to a large extent dictate the future. Every utility is different in its own right and if we consider utilities across the globe, they operate under different regulations and objectives. However, it can be said that the common goal has been observed to be similar across the globe.

Presently, ranking fifth largest globally in terms of generating capacity, India's total installed generating capacity is little over 170,000 MW. Despite this, the country's demand for electric power outstrips supply by about 10 percent and almost one-third of the country's population has no access to electricity. The electric power industry, responding to the grim situation, is working on strategies to hasten the commissioning of new plants. Apart from increasing the generating capacity, the country's electric power industry will also witness significant investments in expanding its T&D assets. In addition to augmenting investments in generation, T&D capacities, the industry must invest in enabling technologies such as advanced process controls, SCADA systems, optimisation controls, smart and micro-grid technologies to improve its performance. This will also pave the way to the country to harness RE sources and adopt the path of distributed generation. Rajabahadur V Arcot , VP and GM, ARC Advisory Group, India
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