What Is Integration? Integration and System Integration in Power Utilities

Dev Tales, Blog posts

Integration is becoming increasingly important for the day-to-day operations of power utilities. But what does ‘integration’ mean? In this article we’ll:

  • Look at what is meant by the term, ‘integration’.
  • Explore why it’s becoming more and more important for the energy sector.
  • Outline some utility industry use cases and the role integration plays.
  • Examine what the future holds for integration in the industry.

Integration Defined

At its simplest, integration is the process of combining two or more things. Together, they become more effective. For utilities, the term integration often refers to software or System Integration. This is when organizations bring multiple business and operational systems together to drive daily OT/IT processes more collaboratively.

Integration Overcomes Spaghetti

Over time, cutting edge becomes legacy tech. IT systems evolve as utilities adopt new systems to drive core operational processes. As more systems are added to the IT stack, a complex tangle of ‘spaghetti architecture’ develops. One vendor’s solution often struggles to communicate with those supplied by others. All too often, this results in siloed data.

Enter integration. Integration allows data to be shared between connected systems. Some examples in a utility setting include:

  • Requesting information from IoT or Smart Devices.
  • Sending and receiving information from operational systems.
  • Connecting energy data in Meter Data Management systems (MDM) to Customer Care & Billing systems so that meter to cash processes can be automated. 

Integration is now a Priority for Utilities: Here’s Why   

Integration is no longer ‘a nice to have.’ The energy system is growing increasingly complex and reliant on renewables. Global renewable power capacity is expected to grow by 2,400 GW by 2027, the equivalent power capacity of China today. The sector is also seeing a surge in prosumers as customers become more involved energy consumers. As the energy landscape transforms, integration has become essential for day-to-day utility operations.   

Here are some examples:

  1. Coordinating Complex Systems 
    The generation, transmission and distribution components of the grid are often owned and operated by different entities making coordination challenging.  

    Add distributed energy resources into the mix and an already complex system becomes even more so. These resources could help our energy system become more flexible and reliable, but only if they can be coordinated with other parts of the grid. 

    How Integration Helps
    System Integration connects and coordinates component parts of the grid, enabling power utilities to manage the flow of electricity and maintain grid stability and reliability. 

    As intermittent renewables provide a greater share of our energy, this coordination will be essential for day-to-day operations and grid balancing.

  2. Increasing Operational Efficiencies
    System Integration enables utilities to automate processes. This cuts down time-consuming manual tasks, improving operational efficiency.

    How Integration Helps
    By integrating different systems and technologies, utilities reduce data errors, streamline workflows, and optimize energy usage. This leads to cost savings, but also improved performance.

  3. Making Better Decisions
    When data is integrated throughout the organization and across utility operations, you achieve an end-to-end, ‘big picture’ view. Utilities can make better, more informed decisions.

    How Integration Helps
    System Integration enables utilities to leverage real-time data and analytics. Utilities can not only spot emerging trends and patterns but react to them AND at the speed today’s energy landscape demands. System Integration enables utilities to make the data-driven decisions demanded by a rapidly evolving energy market.

  4. Providing Better Customer Service
    Because System Integration gives you access to more data, you can get a clearer, more complete view of your customers. The result? The potential for improved customer service.

    How Integration Helps
    By integrating customer data with operational data, utilities get more accurate insights into customer needs and preferences. With the recent energy crisis and rising bills, consumers are more interested and active participants in energy services. System Integration enables utilities to develop more personalized services, tailored to customer preferences. 

  5. Integrating Renewable Energy Sources
    Intermittent, renewable energy sources such as PV and wind power are providing a growing share of the energy mix. In 2022 solar and wind generated a fifth of Europe’s electricity. This is combined with a drive towards electrification in transport and buildings. These two trends make balancing the grid increasingly complex. Without System Integration, it becomes almost impossible.

    How Integration Helps
    Once again, System Integration brings visibility and a holistic view of utility operations. By integrating renewable energy sources into the grid, utilities can balance their supply of electricity using advanced forecasting tools and by leveraging flexibility services.

Integration Use Cases for the Energy Sector

Use Case 1: Integration for Smart Metering 

Smart meters have become a core part of the energy system. Almost 77% of European consumers are expected to have a smart meter for electricity by 2024. They can provide information into market processes, helping utilities to develop new products and services. But for utilities to access and fully leverage this valuable data, System Integration is key.

Here’s how:
The Head End System (HES) is integral to Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). It schedules, acquires, validates, and processes data collected from meters installed in homes or businesses. or third-party systems or devices (such as gas meters).

Utilities that have a Meter Data Managements System (MDM) use it to validate, clean and process large amounts of incoming data. They can then share this with other applications such as customer care & billing systems like SAP, and solutions for billing, analysis and reporting.    

Integrating HES and MDM systems allows utilities to automate and manage the growing volume of data generated by Smart Meters and IoT devices. This is vital for effective end-to-end management of Smart Metering processes and for meter-to-cash processes as well as smart grid insights. Once utilities can unify and access the data, it can be harnessed to make utility operations more efficient and create new value streams.

But combine System Integration with a modern system architecture and you get a solution that delivers high-speed data processing and low-cost scaling. This not only transforms operations but creates a more reactive organization that is better able to handle change. 

Utilihive for AMI

Use Case 2: Integration for Grid Operations

Coordinating a highly complex system like the power grid is incredibly challenging. Distributed energy resources, transmission lines, substations, distribution networks – all must work together seamlessly to provide a reliable electricity supply.

To make things more complicated these assets are often owned and operated by different parts of the utility organization or even different entities. Integration addresses these challenges. It offers an effective way of connecting and coordinating the different systems operating of the grid.

There are more demands on the power grid than ever. With a growing shift towards electrification and more frequent weather events, resilience has become a core driver for utilities. System Integration plays a vital role in building this resilience. It allows utilities to effectively manage the electricity supply and demand, whilst maintaining the stability and reliability of the grid. They can respond more quickly to disruptions, emergencies, and unplanned outages.  

Here's how:
A common integration for utilities is between a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS) and Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) systems. The benefits of this integration are improved outage management and fault location, isolation, automation, restoration and insights into the grid all the way to the grid edge. It also offers utilities a tremendous advantage when it comes to effectively responding to unplanned events and grid disturbances. The result is a reduction in downtime and improved customer service.

Another example is using System Integration to optimize the way utilities use renewable energy resources. By integrating data from solar and wind power resources, utilities can improve planning and balancing these volatile assets within the energy mix and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels as a balancing power resource. 

Use Case 3: Integration for Automating Processes 

By integrating different data sources, utilities can automate tasks and reduce the need for manual labor. It also lays the foundation for utilities to build integrated digital services. 

Utilities are increasingly relying on big data from multiple sources, including customer consumption information, weather data, and energy production data. Historically, utility employees manually collected, verified, and processed this data. Not only is this hugely time-consuming, it’s also highly error prone. With data integration, information can be automatically collected and processed, cutting the risk of errors, and freeing up employees for other tasks.

Once automated, data integration improves the accuracy of systems and the value they produce. By integrating data from a wider range of sources, utilities have more accurate and reliable inputs. More data points lead to better insights and decision making, optimizing energy usage, and reducing costs. This data can be used to create actionable insights or develop innovative, consumer-focused digital services, improving customer service.   

Future Trends for System Integration in the Energy Sector

As utilities become technology and data-driven organizations, System Integration will be essential for managing and optimizing their operations. As new trends emerge and the energy sector evolves, System Integration will help utilities adapt quickly to these changes.

Here are some key technology trends in the energy sector. They all rely on System Integration to be leveraged effectively: 

  1. Advanced Analytics
    Working with our utility sector clients and partners, we see the use of Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Analytics exploding. These technologies help utilities analyze large volumes of data integrated from diverse sources. Once applied, they can identify patterns and insights that improve planning and decision-making, enhance operations, and reduce costs. 
  2. Internet of Things (IoT)
    IoT and the next generation of smart meters allow valuable real-time data to be gathered, shared and leveraged when integrated into utility processes. Utility assets are often spread across a wide geographic area. These smart devices are invaluable in gathering data for monitoring and controlling the various grid components for predictive maintenance and asset health at substations, transformer stations, and at the grid edge.
  3. Cloud Computing
    Cloud computing makes a wealth of resources more accessible to utilities. It also enables them to store and process large volumes of data. System Integration allows utilities to collaborate with other organizations and add information from different data sources which can then be accessed by Advanced Analytics and AI tools.
  4. Integration of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs)
    DERs such as solar panels, wind turbines, and battery storage systems are becoming central to the modern energy system. As electrification grows, System Integration will be critical to effectively managing DERs, helping utilities to balance supply and demand with flexibility services in an increasingly complex grid.

We’re rapidly moving to a distributed energy system powered by intermittent renewables. To manage this environment and provide a reliable, resilient energy supply, power utilities must become data-driven organizations. System Integration is a fundamental part of this. It enables the use of Advanced Analytics, IoT, cloud computing and the ability to leverage real-time data. This combination of emerging technologies, data and System Integration will be essential for optimizing renewable energy resources, improving customer service, and managing the power grid of the future.

About Greenbird

Greenbird is an international solution and technology company with roots in Norway. We simplify the complexity of Big Data Integration to help organizations unlock the value of their data and mission critical applications. Our flagship innovation, Utilihive, is a cloud-native platform combining enterprise integration capabilities with a data lake optimized for energy use cases. We founded Greenbird in 2010 with a mission to revolutionize how the energy industry thinks about enterprise system integration. Today, Utilihive is used by utilities across Europe, Middle East and Asia serving more than 50 million consumers. Greenbird is headquartered in Oslo and has around 50 employees, comprising primarily of senior developers and consultants and specializing in technology development and customer onboarding of the Utilihive platform. To learn how you can unleash the value of data while removing silos, explore Utilihive accelerators here.