Today, Saas, IaaS, PaaS, DaaS, DRaaS has become commonplace for an IT executive to outsource a wide range of services to the cloud to reduce costs and complexity. Software, Infrastructure, Platform, Desktop, and even Disaster recovery are the norm. Even with the constant concerns over Cyber Security, the bottom line as much as business processes often drives requirements to optimize. If something happens, it’s cheaper to rebuild the trust of your client base than warehouse these back office systems and deal with the costs and associated risks. We all still shop at Home Depot and Target.
“Modern SCADA systems were now referred to as EMS (Energy Management Systems) and contained applications going far beyond the basic SCADA data”
This paradigm is much different and more complex for Electric Utilities due to the regulatory landscape as well as the nature of the infrastructure itself. The Purchase Card Industry (PCI) security standards pale in comparison to Critical infrastructure Protection Standards (CIPS). The energy policy act of 2005 put in place reliability and critical infrastructure protection standards which are a significant challenge for most utilities to meet. This is even more so for the medium to small utility. Failure to comply can have significant financial penalties associated with it. Enter a new technology service space I refer to as EMaaS (Energy Management as a Service).
The Genesis of the ICS technologies in the modern age
It is difficult in given state of modern technology as it exists today to remember that a mere 30 years ago how basic the systems were which managed and protected the modern power grids we depend on. Not to mention to number and diversity of the utilities involved. As late as the mid 1980’s, these systems consisted mainly of electromechanical relays coordinated and timed in a delicate ballet to ensure system reliability all while protecting costly grid infrastructure from catastrophic failure.
For moderate to large utilities, these systems were typically large mainframe based systems adapted and customized to gather, store and present data to the control room operators and were complex, costly and manually intensive to maintain. This could typically be in the 100’s of millions for full deployments.
Walking into the modern data centers, substation control rooms and Dispatch centers of today is a very different story. Old protective relay technology is now replaced with compact computer controlled digital relays interconnected and telemetered to provide a wealth of near real time data to central dispatch centers where the information is presented to operators using feature rich situational awareness and data presentation and analysis applications on massive video walls.
Modern SCADA systems were now referred to as EMS (Energy Management Systems) and contained applications going far beyond the basic SCADA data. These systems now ran on LINUX or Window on office rated servers that required significantly less physical space, special environmental support systems, and staff. The data provided by these systems are no longer confined to air gapped networks where only power system engineers and operators used it. These now provide critical data to the enterprise for everything from account and customer billing through modern ERP financial and system planning, forecasting, customer service representatives, and customer portals.
Lifecycles are now measured in months not decades. Rapid advances in technology have reduced lifecycles to less than 6 months in some cases which can be nearly impossible to keep up with by any seasoned IT executive. Add to all of this an aging workforce and lack of control system engineering students in the pipeline.
What’s a CIO to do? Outsource it of course.
The Collision of IT & OT
The model for supporting these OT systems is much different than traditional user desktop support and represents a significant challenge for traditional IT. Even today about 1/3 of utilities maintain an OT organization separate from IT which is dedicated to supporting these systems. IT and OT collide in both security and process but business needs transcend both. Data must flow securely between these enclaves all while ensuring the lights stay on.
To add to these challenges are the emerging technologies which will be the standard for the future. Smart Meters and Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI), Micro Grids, Distributed Generation, Load Aggregation, Demand Response, Electric Vehicles (EV’s) and smart chargers, Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS).
Moving it to the Cloud
EMaaS service providers are in operation today. This has become a viable alternative for the small utility operations, Generation asset owners/operators (typically Wind in this space), and Municipality/Load Serving Entities (LSE). Rather than standing up a dedicated computing assets and control center operations, managing and maintaining these and the associated security and staff(s), as well as the burden of the compliance requirements; having this service provided virtually is very attractive. Energy scheduling service providers have been around for a long time to give the smaller players access to complex energy markets to buy or sell power. The skill sets required to do this are the same as for a single utility but are now scaled up to provide services to multiple entities from a single “Control Room” environment.
What does this mean for the utility executive looking for opportunities to reduce cost and risk?
A good value in most respects. Though this service sector is young and the opportunities for disaster are large as with any solution where “all your eggs are in one basket”.
What about the average consumer?
Most likely nothing since power delivery (or IT in general), it goes noticed until it fails. Certainly any cost savings won’t materialize on your utility bill.
What about Grid Reliability?
A great deal if the done right and the emerging technologies are well thought out and integrated into these systems in the future. Certainly the business opportunities in this space are huge and the challenges are not trivial but if system and software vendors, which are scrambling to include advanced features and data integrations to other systems and data sources both open and proprietary are successful, the future looks very bright indeed…