Tomi Kyllönen, Director, Services & Software: The revolving AMM is more flexible, more efficient, and more user-oriented
Extreme weather events! Power shortage! Denial-of-service attacks!
Keeping the energy system – and the society as a whole – on track seems to require an ever-increasing ability to react quickly and take remedial action on a daily basis. To stay up to date on the situation, you need more real-time and more accurate data to automate operations and make your operations more efficient. At the same time, the mainstreams of technological development are constantly changing the foundations for accessing, transmitting, and storing information.
What impact will this comprehensive change have on energy metering, and more broadly on the entire distribution network industry? I identified six things that are present here and now. Call them trends, phenomena or driving forces – instead of trying to avoid their influence, rather engage in open reflection and discussion about the opportunities they offer and how to apply them to your own activities.
1. AMM is IoT
AMM systems have long been at the forefront of industrial IoT (Internet of Things) solutions, although not always immediately perceived as such. Even though the systems have traditionally slightly resembled industrial automation with silo-like solutions and purpose-selected technologies, the IoT’s idea of a widespread sensor network and control capabilities through information systems has been present in AMM from the outset. There are few other similar industrial solutions that already have millions of sensors in the field and deliver significant economic benefits. It is unlikely that meters will be plugged directly into the internet for a while; however, in the spirit of IoT, standard internet technologies will come to the fore to displace special solutions for AMR. This can be seen in the communication protocols as well as in the security and information system solutions that are already built using the standard internet components.
Distribution system operators benefit from the use of standard solutions: they enable more solution options and come with a guaranteed continuity of technologies; the internet itself is not likely to disappear any time soon. Also characteristic of IoT solutions are automated control functions in the devices itself, the so-called edge applications, enabled by the increasing performance of the devices. This development is clearly visible in metering.
2. Power from the cloud
The idea of utilising cloud services in the field of metering has warmed up rather slowly. Security is a particular concern. At the same time, the efficient and flexible possibilities of the constantly evolving platform, especially for data processing, remain unexploited.
However, the choice does not have to be black and white, but solutions can be implemented in a hybrid model: have critical information and controls clearly separated and handled by secure communication solutions, while harnessing cloud services to facilitate the processing of large amounts of data. As the amount of metering data increases in the future, the scalability and flexibility of the services will be much needed. Many of the systems in use by distribution network companies are already today available as SaaS versions with the aim to enable the aforementioned benefits.
It is also worth challenging the service providers maintaining their own servers to compete with the leading cloud service providers in terms of both process and data security capabilities as well as the physical security of data centres.
3. Tools according to need
Traditionally, AMM solutions with the related tools or systems are quite heavy, costly, and monolithic giants offering a wide range of functionalities, of which only a small portion is utilised by users. Yet they pay for the entire package.
Just as internet technologies become the foundation of systems, so will standard software and applications replace heavy, customised software as daily powerful tools for users. What if generating a new report was just a click away with PowerBI, Qlik, or a similar visualisation tool, and further development would then be under user’s control?
Because the needs of different actors are different, it is difficult to tailor one solution perfectly to each need. Therefore, one should be able to choose for oneself. The tools used must also be modular in function, so that the customer can choose what to use and what to pay for.
4. Streaming at work
Although metering in automated systems is a continuous, live activity, the available metering data is still utilised mainly “batchwise”, with quite rare collecting and processing. It is quite natural for the aforementioned internet and cloud technologies that the information is transmitted for utilisation in a continuous, almost real-time flow. The interfaces and communication mechanisms are tuned for the transmission and immediate processing of large amounts of data, which enables the formation of a real-time view of, for example, the state of a low-voltage network. The information produced by the meter is displayed in the user’s favourite tool as a continuous stream of data that is transmitted over modern streaming interfaces. This makes the decision making and management of everyday situation easier.
It is also not always advisable to push all the raw data available from the meter as such into information systems. With the aforementioned edge applications, the meter can perform observation-based operations automatically, for example, based on an algorithm trained by means of machine learning. Alternatively, the meter transmits only a packet containing valuable information compressed by the algorithm.
5. Information security is a day-to-day job – not a one-time audit
Security threats are often talked about as a major challenge for the future. This is wrong. Security issues are present in our daily work, in almost everything we do – or what we fail to do. Security cannot be outsourced and is not an issue that is acknowledged in the context of budgeting or in a quality review repeated every couple of years. Information security is a holistic challenge that should be considered in all processes, and the resources required for its implementation must be set aside. Of course, it is good to use experts here, but the ultimate responsibility is always yours.
Authorities are active in information security issues and are increasingly imposing new responsibilities on market players. It is our common task to meet the challenge with solutions that fulfil these requirements and go further in the implementation of information security, and do so in a purposeful and pragmatic way, still enabling smooth daily working.
6. Sustainable development – what do you leave to your grandchildren?
Sustainability has become to the core of business. Even if it is accompanied by glorious-sounding goals, the concrete is still often thin. In the end, however, the concept is easy: the question is in which condition do we leave this planet for future generations.
Like security issues, this is not a separate concept exercise in development days, but something that goes along with all of our choices, including what kind of solutions and operating models we will use in the future. I dare to argue that steering operations in a sustainable direction, for example by utilizing new technologies and intelligent solutions, also leads to financial savings – not additional costs, which can often be the anticipation. At the same time as making sustainable and business-friendly choices, it also builds a trust base for those future generations who, in a few years, will be your customers and employees – but only if your actions resonate with their values.