How Designing for Uncertainty Builds Better Energy Resilience in Utilities

Uncertainty has become a part of life for energy utilities. Volatile supplies and extreme weather events have brought energy resilience to the top of the agenda. An increasing shift towards renewables and rapidly changing energy system mean uncertainty is here to stay.

To build resilience in this environment, utilities must be able to leverage data. But with increasing types and volumes of data that is no easy task for IT/OT teams. That’s why it’s time for a fresh look at IT infrastructure. And why utilities today must Design for Uncertainty.

In this article we’ll:

  • Take a look at what ‘Designing for Uncertainty’ means
  • Explore the different types of energy data and why it’s forcing utilities to re-examine their IT architecture
  • Outline the 3 elements of an architectural approach that is Designed for Uncertainty and how they help build energy resilience
  • Summarize the technical components that are needed

What is ‘Designing for Uncertainty?

Design for Uncertainty is a key IT architecture principle for organizations undergoing digital transformation.

In this approach enterprise architecture and system integration are designed to manage uncertainty, enabling utilities to react quickly and smoothly to changing requirements. It helps them easily adapt to new market opportunities.

The energy transition is gathering speed. Renewables accounted for 71% of new US power installations in the first six months of 2022. A series of extreme weather events around the world have heightened awareness of the potential impact of climate change. Volatile energy supplies have raised concerns over energy security.

As energy prices rocket upwards, and concerns over service interruptions grow, consumers are more interested in how they’re using energy. They may even start producing energy to use or sell back to the grid, or seek to become involved in demand flexibility programs.

Designing for Uncertainty empowers utilities to handle the fluctuations in volume and types of energy data these changes are delivering.

With this approach, utilities can react to evolving conditions, whether those are delivered by extreme events or unexpected changes in regulations.

Energy Data and Uncertainty
Utilities are facing a massive influx of data from the Grid Edge. Data from prosumers, e-mobility and charging infrastructure, sensors, behind the meter resources, and Decentralised Energy Resources (DERs) are causing a paradigm shift for electricity production. By 2050, a majority of households in the EU will be both suppliers as well as consumers of energy. In the U.S. it’s estimated that Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) will help drive 175 GW of distributed energy and flexible demand potential over the next five years.

The data utilities now need to manage and balance the grid is spread across the entire network.

Here are some of the ways this uncertainty is translating into energy data:

  • Data volumes are rising, but by how much is impossible to predict.
  • Utilities now have to enrich energy data with data from external sources, for example using meteorological information combined with data from wind farms. Utility IT must be able to handle constantly changing sources of data and new types of data.
  • As utilities combine different data sources, it has to become more integrated and reusable.
  • Data volumes are dynamically scalable. Meaning utilities have to manage constant fluctuations in the volume of data they need to process. In the event of extreme weather, the number of messages may shoot up dramatically, only to fall back after a few hours.
  • Data is more distributed. It may come from the grid edge, grid devices and sensors or shared resources like a national data hub.
  • As more intermittent renewables are brought online, utilities need to process data in real time to balance the grid. Utilities must also leverage real-time data so consumers can manage their energy use through apps and services.

The Energy Transition Is Accelerating: It’s Time for Utility IT Architecture to Catch Up
To handle these changes and the uncertainty they bring, utility IT architecture needs a new approach. It must be:

  1. Distributed
  2. Use a Platform approach
  3. Use Composable Systems and Data

The 3 Elements of an IT Architecture that is Designed for Uncertainty

A Distributed IT Infrastructure for a Distributed Energy System
The energy system has now shifted to a distributed model.

In this system, data is spread across the network. Every node is both a producer and consumer of energy…and data. To manage this system effectively, data must be analyzed in as close to real-time as possible.

But while the energy system is distributed, utility IT Infrastructure hasn’t caught up.

Many utilities are still trying to manage a distributed system with a monolithic, centralized IT architecture. An architecture designed for a one-way, top-down system and more certain environment.

How this Delivers Resilience:

  • Managing a distributed system, powered by intermittent renewables, using Distributed Energy Resources is a constant balancing act. Energy data is essential for delivering a reliable supply.
  • To balance a distributed energy grid, utilities need real time energy data. A distributed IT architecture enables the grid edge analytics that generate real-time insights, essential for a distributed system.
  • Real-time insights can help to deliver the flexibility needed for a grid powered by renewables.
  • These insights can also be used to effectively deliver information to end-users for demand response.

Platformed Thinking, Platformed Utilities
Today’s utilities need to move fast. Becoming a platformed utility is the only way utilities can react quickly enough to their rapidly changing sector. The ability to ‘plug and play’ with this architectural approach means:

On an infrastructure level, new grid edge technologies can be plugged in easily, whether that’s EV charging or a new solar array.

On an integration level, new data sources can be up and running quickly as different sensor data, OT data and DER are brought online.

Recent studies found that 89% of companies struggle with data and system integration. 88% said that key integration gaps are slowing down digital transformation. A platformed approach helps to overcome these issues.

How This Delivers Resilience:

  • With a platformed approach utilities can integrate energy data across the value chain and with other types of OT/IT data. This enables them to deliver better services and reliability to end-users.
  • As new renewable energy resources proliferate, a platform approach makes it easier for them to be plugged in and start contributing their power to the grid.
  • It also means utilities can keep up with constant change that is part of today’s sector and be at the center of this new energy ecosystem. This may include e-mobility schemes and charging infrastructure, battery storage facilities, grid-edge innovation, microgrids and innovative new market entrants.

Composable Systems and Data
Today’s utilities need analytics-driven innovation. This is the only way utilities can rapidly react and thrive in an uncertain environment. This is what Composable Systems and Data deliver.

Composability is a modular approach that maximises flexibility. Systems and data sources can be easily plugged in or unplugged from your IT architecture using low-code or no-code integration. They can also be aggregated (composed) to reach a specific goal. Component modules are selected, arranged, and rearranged to meet specific objectives.

For example, grid edge and OT data can be composed with weather, customer information, and other big data. DER data can be aggregated with data from substations, SCADA and other OT systems to monitor the network status or optimize grid maintenance and investment strategies.

It is this composing of data sources that is key to driving innovation.

How This Delivers Resilience:

  • Research and consulting firm Gartner identified Composability as a key data and analytics trend. Composability gives utilities the flexibility and scalability to handle ever-increasing quantities of energy data and its unpredictability.
  • As data becomes more integrated and reusable, composability helps utilities easily combine different data sources.
  • Composability helps utilities manage the enormous fluctuations in data volumes that renewable energy sources or extreme events bring.
  • To thrive with today’s levels of uncertainty, utilities need to move fast and innovate. The ability to compose different types of data brings the analytics-driven innovation that utilities now need. And it’s this innovation that drives digital transformation.

The Technical Capabilities of an IT Architecture Designed for Uncertainty

How can we start to build an IT architecture that is distributed and delivers a platformed approach? What enables the composable data and systems that today’s utilities need?

  1. Cloud Native Technologies give you the flexibility to deploy anywhere, helping you to handle uncertainty in infrastructure.
  2. Distributed and Hybrid Architecture means you can produce, consume, and process data anywhere. You can leverage cloud when you need it, but keep sensitive data on premise or in a private data center. If there are sudden changes, for examples in data privacy regulations, utilities can quickly adapt.
  3. Elastic Scalable Infrastructure means that utilities can handle increasing volumes of data AND dynamic fluctuations in data volumes.
  4. An Event Driven Platform delivers flexibility, scalability and helps utilities tackle increasing process complexity.
  5. Fast Data Processing delivers the real-time insights utilities now need.
  6. Secure Data Sharing and Exchange is increasingly important as data protection becomes a priority for end-users and governments around the world.
  7. Seamless Digital Integration means that more data can be integrated in a holistic way.
  8. Open Interfaces and Managed APIs improve data sharing both within organizations and between partners in an energy ecosystem

As electrification and the shift to renewables continues, the rapid pace of change and upheaval in the energy sector is here to stay. Managing uncertainty will continue to be part of life for energy utilities. The decisions utilities make in designing their IT infrastructure today can help them thrive in this environment in the future.

Greenbird’s Utilihive iPaaS was designed with utilities in mind. It brings the distributed architecture, platformed approach and composable data and systems that are essential components for Designing for Uncertainty.

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.

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