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Web Exclusive | July 2019

Breaking the IT/OT silos in the power industry to drive smart grid adoption

Once impenetrable to technological advances, the power industry is in a state of churn. The entry of newer generation sources renewable energy, aging infrastructure, increasing privatisation of the grid and supply constraints in the face of heightened demand for power have promoted utilities to explore new technologies to remain cost effective and cost competitive. Significant changes are disrupting the traditional business models of power generation, supply and distribution, compelling utilities to adapt and innovate rapidly.

What deployment of IT and OT looks like in a utility
Technology is deployed in the power sector in two layers – the enterprise end (IT) and the operations end (OT):
IT – Enterprise Layer

  • Primarily designed humans as end-points
  • Focus: Cost, Productivity, Compliance, Overall-efficiency, Logistics
  • Characteristics: Long-term data retention, analytics, workflow, open

Key functions:
Business process management
Resource allocation
Financial transitions
Compliance to regulations

OT – Operation Layer
Primarily designed for “Things” as end-points
Focus: Magnitude/size, alarms, events, plant/equipment productivity & efficiency, safety
Characteristics: Mission critical (24X7), Reactive, proprietary data and data exchange formats (closed)

Key functions:
Monitoring and Control
Safety regulations

The convergence of technologies from both these layers can unleash benefits across the power value chain. While IT-OT can help reduce unplanned downtime and optimise plant maintenance for electricity generation, during transmission, integrating technologies can enable real-time decision making and enable the grid to become more ‘smart’ and ‘agile’ to fluctuating power demands.

Utilities can reap the best advantage on the distribution side, where IT/OT integration can drive increased revenues, lower losses and enhance customer experience through bespoke, easily accessible and omni-channel solutions.

Developing countries are interestingly taking keen interest in technology adoption for utilities, particularly the trend of IT/OT convergence. For instance, in India, the state discoms receive significant support from the government through flagship schemes, such as the IPDS (including the erstwhile R-APDRP), the DDUGJY and the National Smart Grid Mission, to deploy new technologies. ADMS, PMU, AMI, Advanced OMS, feeder monitoring, WAMS and several new smart grid technologies are being introduced by utilities in pilots and towns covered under these programmes.

Another key area of interest for utilities is deploying solutions that enable real-time, remote control or predictive maintenance to extend the life cycle or operating efficiency of assets. Utilities are also slowly warming up to the adoption of new and emerging technologies such as IoT, big data and cloud as digital transformation gains momentum. The transmission segment is also steadily making its way up the technology curve.

Why utilities are getting smart
With the proliferation of smart cities, the web of interconnected technology defining every service sphere is inevitable. According to a Frost and Sullivan Report, driven by AI, the market value for smart cities is expected to touch a whopping $2 trillion by 2025, with Europe leading the way. AI, or for that matter, any edge technology like IoT cannot be implemented without a basic synergy of IT and OT operations. This convergence is the first step that will unlock the potential for utilities to become more than just power companies – emerging in a sense, as technology providers.

Utilities are driving IT/OT integration since the same is a key enabler to leverage benefits of smarter grid by seamless integration and availability of information. . Growth of the digitally enabled grid is resulting in the deployment of potentially millions of new intelligent grid devices into a distribution network— including smart meters, line sensors and on-load tap changers—all generating valuable information across all parts of the business. The increasing complexity of managing distribution networks is driving utilities to look for improved approaches to optimize their systems, such as incorporating real-time weather information into distributed generation management and automated rule-based control of assets.

New business models are yielding services that can only be delivered when business data and operational decisions are brought together, such as the purchase of network services from third-party storage operators. Regulators are pushing utilities to do more with less. At the same time, in many mature countries, overall energy consumption is flat or declining while peak demand remains constant or is increasing—thereby further straining distribution assets while undercutting traditional energy consumption-based cost recovery models.

Challenges to IT/OT integration
Breaking the technology silos in IT and OT are easier said than done. Apart from the need for heightened investment, which utilities may be wary of, like the case of challenges in digital transformation elsewhere, the biggest barrier comes from within – where organization structures and cultures prevent the smooth transition to a newer and more efficient form of functioning. For instance, this report quotes an IDC Energy Insights research, which reveals that while more than 90% of the utilities in the survey claim to have deployed IT/OT integration, only 46% of the respondents admit to have installed basic initiatives like GIS network modelling and meter and analytics, and force field apps. Utilities in the developed nations are not growing in the generation sense nor able to justify new power plants and rate cases through customer demand. That demand is stagnant, but customers do want new services that help control costs. Regulators are increasingly open to approving incentives for meeting those efficiency, demand response and grid reliability benefits.

However, utilities need not be view IT/OT convergence as a calamitous development. There is no disruption here, but streamlining of operations through the application of organizational software that cuts across all aspects of the utility’s functioning.

Despite the prominence of technology in the description of IT/OT integration, the solution is not primarily systems-based. IT/OT cuts across the traditional boundaries that have largely whether between operations, business and IT or between the control center and the field force, IT/OT integration is fundamentally about making information available where it has the greatest impact and benefit, irrespective of the organizational silo responsible for that information. And with those new forms of information comes the requirement for new talent, with new skills likely to be very different to those distribution companies have attracted and retained in the past.

At the implementation level, it boils down to the problem of interoperability and seamless data exchange between different software applications in the OT and IT layer. During the last two decades of experience in power industry, QuEST has acquired expertise in all relevant technologies, such as power system modelling and integration standards (IEC61970[CIM], IEC61968, MultiSpeak), industrial automation application level protocols (OPC-UA, OPC-DA, OPC-A&E, MODBUS), power system specific automation and telemetry standards (IEC61850, DNP3.0, IEC60870-5-106, T101/104) and smart grid and DER standards (OPENADR, IEC61850-7-420). These protocol and modelling standards knowledge combined with domain knowledge make QuEST an ideal partner to address the IT-OT integration requirements of many major players in power domain.

About QUEST Global
QuEST Global is a trusted engineering services and solutions partner to many of the world’s most recognized Fortune 500 brands in aero engines, aerospace & defense, automotive, medical devices, oil & gas, power, hi-tech, industrial and rail with 10,000+ associates. For more than 20 years, QuEST has been a trusted partner providing comprehensive support across the complete engineering lifecycle to help our customers improve efficiency, increase quality, create new products and open new markets. Through a collaborative and customized approach, QuEST enables its customers to manage traditional engineering requirements as well as convergence of digital and mechanical technology to help them create safe, dependable and high quality products and services

About the author: Manoj Vivek, General Manager and Technical Solutions Leader- Power and Industrial automation, QuEST Global

Manoj Vivek has more than 30 years of diversified experience in engineering software and industrial automation segment. His expertise cuts across sales, business development, delivery management, development & implementation of large scale DCS and SCADA systems for industries like Power T&D, Smart Grid, Petroleum Refineries, Power Plants, Fertilizers, Paper Mills etc. His experience include 16 years of building offshore software development centers supporting world leaders in the power segment.

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