Building the Internet of Energy

Getting to the point of the digitalization of Energy in a holistic way, not piecemeal as in the past is going to take a massive mindset shift within the energy industry. We need a dedicated internet of energy that brings energy together in ecosystem designs and platform delivery.

There are so many pressures to invest fresh capital to replace existing aging infrastructure, to adapt energy sources increasingly to accommodate renewables, and to build out the resilience within the energy system, adding new storage options and reduce the variabilities and demand fluctuations.  

You can go on and on in need to invest in a very challenging, changing environment for energy. Layering-in digitalization on top just adds to the need for change, we need to fully integrate it as a core necessity.

Having a greater insight and understanding of the management of energy is going to prove crucial in the future and “going digital” provides the essential energy transformation we need, being connected up.

I certainly feel we are on the cusp of a new digital era in energy. Digital technology has been involved in the energy system for decades but its time is now to be central to any new energy management system. We need to manage not just individual assets but manage the ‘connected’ energy system from the supply, through transmission into demand.

Digitalizing the energy system can provide much of the understanding of where, when, and what to invest in and validate the why in the relevant data supporting. We need a clear line-of-sight and data needs to deliver transparency and insights to all involved in managing or providing and consuming energy.

I want to first step back here in the post to frame why the digitalization of energy is of critical importance. This ‘where, when, why, and what’ I will cover in a series of posts in the coming months that will be grouped on a new posting site, specifically dedicated to digital and energy. More on that later.

Here I want to provide an opening context on Digitalizing the Energy System, building the why

What is new, is the pace of digitalization occurring through technological innovation, providing solutions that enable the energy system to be transformed?

Digitalization across the energy landscape is determining the system-wide changes of connectivity; it is linking, monitoring, aggregating, and controlling assets to help resolve a fundamental “blurring” between who and what supplies and who consumes energy to provide a greater ‘line-of-sight to energy management for all who need to know.

Having a reliable energy system is one of the enablers for economic growth and social well-being.

We are presently shifting away from a total reliance on an all centralized power system into distributed solutions and flexible options in fuel inputs and their management.

The old paradigm of central grids will undoubtedly continue to provide the energy infrastructure backbone in years to come, it will remain central to keeping the balance within the electricity transmission network.

The changes are occurring more ‘down the line’ in designing distributed systems. There will be significant differences at the local level ( variable inputs and final point of supply) to trade and deliver energy through different grid edge designs and services.

Digitalization brings us closer to the end-user – knowing your grid edge and how to respond

The closer in proximity to end-use (homes, business, vehicles) is the grid edge as the hardware (things we can touch and see) such as solar panels, meters, energy storage systems, thermostats, appliances, and building controls. These “things” are being designed to connect and combined with grid edge software that triggers demand and optimization.

We are achieving through software the ability for greater data analytics or planning information that allows for a new form of aggregation. This gives us all a greater engagement in managing our energy consumption and begin to sell surplus electricity through the management of their own personal energy system.

What we do need to undertake as basic initial steps were nicely outlined recently in a Siemens Middle East Energy Week by Beatrix Natter, the Executive Vice President, Transmissions at Siemens.

Beatrix Natter outlined very succinctly some of the opening steps before we can see any platform for the Internet of Energy or achieve some investment value from any digitalization investment

Firstly we have to digitalize the product, each point that can provide valuable data so as to enable them to produce real-time data. This is her physical to digital step currently being undertaken, this gives the first chance to understand the operating conditions of the machine or connecting point. This delivers improved asset management.

Then the second step is to build the same digital capability into substations to understand the edge of grids. This gives options to manage power and continuity within the system

Thirdly to make connections beyond two points to begin to turn this into a dynamic data system. It is then the automation of energy flows and intelligence becomes the value of these (essential) investments from the digital investments required.

In the future, there becomes the opportunity to build a physical and digital twin that mirrors and takes all the connection points into optionality and scenario planning to plan the existing system and build-out for reducing gaps and variance in the future one.

Digitalization gives choices to all to build out a most robust model

Not only does the digitalization of the energy system provide “data understanding” and the potential for real-time information and insights, but it can also give the building blocks to validating and scenario building required to narrow the gaps between demand and supply.

To achieve this you need “line of sight” and having a fully connected digital energy system can give real-time potential and the ability to improve predictability and the different “switching” opportunities to respond in fat more timely and focused ways.

Today the energy system is planned more to be overbuilt, to power up generation rapidly to offset sudden (ofter unpredicted and surging) demand as understanding is limited to past history.  Much of the predictive understanding is based on individuals insights or data crunching, based on spreadsheets and limited estimates.

Capturing real-time data does not take out all the anticipated demand estimates that still will be judgments but more on real-time data that can give a greater richness of understanding to make more informed decisions.

The digitalization and innovation of this grid edge will transform the electricity industry as it can give a choice to the end-user on preferences, what they chose to connect into (power consuming connected devices), and give them a greater awareness of what makes up the energy chain.

The end-user can begin to demand electricity sources that are fuelled by renewable energy; they become more interested in their carbon footprint and become prosumers where they achieve higher interactions, growing expectations they are in reliable systems, and offered protection and security in what they engage within.

Digitalization can become the catalyst for engagement and connectivity within the energy system.

Its value is to provide safety, productivity, accessibility, reliability, transparency, resilience and offer sustainability and growing confidence that ‘our’ power is readily available 24 x 7.  The digitalization of the energy system provides the background in the new architecture of the energy system that interconnects and drives our energy solutions.

As more and more deployment takes place, providing new connected technology, we see autonomous cars, home systems, and connected smart buildings offered as new end-user solutions. It is the data that is allowing AI and machine learning that are giving us this new form of digital intelligence.

The application of digital technologies is widely impacting end-use.

Today we are seeing increased sensors and use of devices that are optimizing process controls, providing industrial automation, give us smart thermostats, autonomous cars, and trucks, for example.

Digitalization is shaping our industries, our transport systems, and making our buildings more intelligent. Having greater knowledge through data insight makes us smarter to manage what we have.

Digitalization Of Energy 

The goal needs to be that the digital technologies we introduce need to help us become more connected, intelligent, efficient, by having, resilience, reliability, and sustainability built into the energy system we are designing.

Energy systems are changing significantly; we are all becoming plugged into a progressively digitally renewable world. The internet of energy is way overdue to manage the changes in much of our energy transformation to reduce its complexity.

Author: @paul4innovating

A transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems, and digitalization for the energy and IIoT systems

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