The Four Key Integrations Powering the Energy Industry: An Exploration

Technology is changing our energy system and the power utilities that operate within it. Utilities are digitally transforming and adopting software solutions to manage core operational processes. But as the rate of change in the sector gathers pace, siloed software solutions hold the energy industry back. This is where integration comes in.

Whenever we need different data streams, systems, or software to work together in a unified, seamless way, we need integration. It enables the data sharing, automation, and communication that utilities now need in a rapidly evolving energy market.

In this article we’ll take a look at the four most common forms of integration and why they’re so critical for today’s power utilities and the energy industry.

What is Integration?

At its simplest, integration is the process of combining two or more things. Together, they become more effective. 

In the energy sector, the most common types cover four areas - data integration, system and application integration, business process integration (BPI) and API integration. Let’s take a closer look at these and why they’re so important for the future of the energy industry.

1. Data Integration and the Energy Industry

This is when you combine multiple data sets, from different systems into a single, unified view. For this to happen, data must be converted into a common format, validated, synchronized, and loaded into a system such as a data lake, data warehouse or data hub. This frees data from silos and makes it accessible across an enterprise or even between organizations.

While data integration combines data from internal databases and applications throughout the utility, it can also be used to share data with external sources such as data hubs or other energy market participants.

Why it’s important

  • When data is accessible throughout an organization, you achieve an end-to-end, big picture view. Utilities can leverage real-time data, advanced analytics and machine learning, helping them to make better decisions, accelerate innovation, and improve efficiencies.
  • As more of our energy is supplied from intermittent renewables, grid resilience and energy reliability have become hot topics. These can only be achieved by effective data integration and a holistic view of energy data, from smart meters, sensors and IoT devices.
  • With effective data integration, utilities can identify short-term trends, such as fluctuating demand or maintenance issues that could affect grid reliability and service to customers.
  • Data sharing has becoming essential for managing an increasingly distributed energy system, whether that’s through demand flexibility programs or managing distributed energy resources for load balancing. This is making data integration with third parties increasingly important.

2. System & Application Integration and the Energy Industry

Today’s organizations rely on an ever-increasing range of software systems and applications. To create a seamless workflow, they need to be connected. With system integration, data flow between systems can be automated. Organizations don’t have to rely on people to manually transfer and update data. This happens automatically across integrated systems, reducing the risk of mistakes and human errors.

Utilities depend on highly specialized, ‘best-of-breed’ systems for different areas of their operations. These include, Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI), Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) systems, Work Order Management systems (WOM) and other operational systems like SCADA.

While each of these systems has a specific role, integration gives utilities a more complete picture of their operations, helping them to make better decisions and improve efficiencies. Most utilities today understand that system integration is critical to achieving their strategic goals.

Why it’s important

  • Effective system & application integration works to prevent silos, delivering more accurate data which is consistent across the utility. This not only delivers operational efficiencies, but also enables measurable customer service improvements. When data can flow throughout the utility organization, it propels new product development and service innovation.
  • Improved reliability and resilience. Utilities can identify potential issues and head off power disruptions before they impact customers. They can quickly pinpoint outages, restore power and reduce downtime.
  • As the centralized energy model gives way to the new decentralized system, integration is vital for connecting and managing distributed energy resources and the component parts of the grid. System Integration is becoming vital for coordinating generation, transmission and distribution and grid balancing.
  • It enables automation. By integrating different systems and components, they can work together towards a set goal. This cuts down on many repetitive, manual tasks, reducing errors and freeing up employees for other tasks.

3. Business Process Integration (BPI) and the Energy Industry

Business Process Integration is when people, data, applications and business processes are connected to ensure day-to-day operations and business workflows perform to their full potential. When done correctly, utilities can automate and transform their business processes from cradle to grave. For streamlined workflows and processes, data from enterprise applications must be available throughout the entire enterprise providing a unified, end-to-end view of business operations.

Typical applications would include those for Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Information System (CIS), and Billing systems which are integrated to improve and streamline business processes.

Why it’s important

  • Utilities need a process integration solution to connect their business support systems and operational applications to ensure uniform access to quality, consistent data across all operational processes. A lack of business integration can have significant cost implications and leads to a loss of productivity.
  • With a global energy crisis and rising costs, consumers are more engaged in their electricity consumption than ever before. Business Process Integration gives utilities a better view of customer data, helping them to deliver more personalized services to their customers.
  • Many utilities view demand flexibility as a vital part of the energy transition and are trialling programs with customers. But these rely on consumer buy-in to work. The improved customer service delivered BPI helps to build trust and loyalty, forging the partnership that’s needed for successful demand response initiatives.
  • Utilities that move towards a distributed energy system must ensure an end-to-end process integration across all systems and market participants to leverage flexibilities that help improve grid and business operations.

4. API Integration and the Energy Industry

This connects applications through their Application Programming Interfaces. APIs are the protocols and tools used in building software applications and are the workhorses of modern software development. Because they offer a standard set of ‘rules,’ applications can be integrated and exchange information.

With API integration, software systems can communicate seamlessly, making data accessible.

Software developers can use APIs as building blocks instead of developing code and functions from scratch. APIs can be combined to create new applications, speeding up innovation.

API integration enables a modular approach, helping utilities to move away from monolithic, tightly coupled systems. One part of the system can be changed without affecting other parts, reducing down-time and increasing opportunities for scalability and innovation.

Why it’s Important

  • Utilities are handling more data than ever before, from sensors, IoT devices, and third parties. APIs speed up the data transfer process, making it easier to handle large volumes of data. They can also be used to give real-time access and leverage technologies such as machine learning and analytics.
  • The combination of the modular approach and access to data, fast-forwards innovation with different modules being developed and tested in parallel. This means APIs can help utilities with customization and innovation.
  • Utilities are facing seismic shifts: a rapidly evolving sector, changes to their operating models, exploding volumes of data and growing demands for energy. In this environment, digital transformation is a way of life. SaaS solutions save utilities from reinventing the wheel. Why replicate a solution that someone else has already perfected? APIs are vital for leveraging the SaaS solutions that can help digital transformation.
  • Data sharing is growing increasingly important for power utilities. API integration speeds up access to data from both within the organization and with third parties. Operational metrics, information from distributed energy resources, meteorological information, customer data – this information not only helps reliability, and grid balancing it will be vital for a system powered by intermittent renewables.
  • As customers become increasingly engaged energy users, API integration can give end-users access to their energy consumption data through mobile apps. APIs could enable consumers to then communicate with behind the meter technologies such as smart thermostats or EV chargers after evaluating their energy data.

Speeding up the Process: A next-generation integration-Platform-as-a-Service

Integration gives utilities end-to-end visibility of their processes and operations. It delivers more streamlined operations, improving efficiencies and business processes. It helps utilities to keep pace with change, innovate and grow.

But custom coding integrations from scratch takes times. And it’s time that utilities don’t have in a rapidly changing sector. The benefit of using a domain-specific iPaaS solution is that you can skip the time-consuming task of writing custom code and building orchestrations or APIs.

An iPaaS like Utilihive has been designed specifically for the energy industry and offers both integration and data lake infrastructure. Utilihive has pre-built, utility-specific building blocks and data integration accelerators, including adapters, data flows, orchestrations, data services, validation and estimation rules, analytics, dashboards and more.

The energy sector is seeing unprecedented change. In this environment, Utilities need to act fast, innovate, automate, and transform their businesses to keep pace. This can only be achieved through effective integration. A modern iPaaS solution, designed for the energy sector can accelerate integration times, enabling scalability, flexibility and boosting innovation.

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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