Globally, smart grid technology has emerged to help utilities deal with challenges such as increased reliability, the need to reduce non-technical losses, distributed renewable generation, and electric vehicles, but for small to medium utilities, access to IT resources limits their ability to implement smart grid solutions. Back in 2010 McKinsey was already seeing AMI vendors starting to look at options for providing AMI services using a "software as a service" model. Now power industry IT vendors and service providers are increasingly offering managed services solutions, referred to as smart grid as a service (SGaaS).
I blogged previously about Burlington Hydro, a small utility in an affluent part of southern Ontario that is integrating into an intelligent network many aspects of what is typically included in smart grid including intelligent network devices, self healing networks, smart meters, distributed generation, electric vehicles (EV) , factory ride-through systems (enables factories to continue functioning through outages), battery-based electric storage, bidirectional communications network linking the intelligent devices to the control center, and dramatically increased volumes of real-time data. Burlington Hydro has been working with a local IT consulting company AGSI to develop systems to manage their smart grid deployment in a real-time, big data IT environment. But what about small utilities who don't have the in-house skills or the revenue stream to support bringing in an outside IT consulting company ?
Back in 2012 at an annual Geospatial Information and Technology (GITA) Pacific Northwest Conference, Terraspatial Technologies gave a presentation on a hosted or SaaS (software as a service) solution for small utilities.
What struck me as as so unique about what Terraspatial offers and which is so valuable to small utilities is that it is a hosted solution. Basically, all the utility needs to install at its site is a browser, everything else is running in the cloud. The most important benefit of a hosted solution like this is that it has the potential to provide a high level of IT security without the need to increase the level of IT capacity that the utility needs to maintain in house.
Terraspatial's hosted solution is called PlantWorx for electric power utilities. The design goals of the solution that Terraspatial developed are very relevant to small utilities.
- Hosted, which means that the utility does not need to own or manage servers or software.
- Secure because it relies on the security of a major cloud hosting provider such as Rackspace or Amazon that can provide a level of security, including protection from internal tampering, role-based access by users, protection from external threats, the latest encryption, redundancy and back-ups, ISO certified data centers, and mirrored servers for persistent backup, in other words a much higher level of security than the average utility network is capable of.
- Accessible from the office and the field
- Integrated solution that supports staking through to accounting and reporting with interfaces to CAD, GIS, customer information systems, accounting and billing systems, materials management, and other systems
Now according to Navigant Research the growth in cloud-based services has increased the awareness of SGaaS. Offerings are available for a host of smart grid applications in several categories, including home energy management (HEM), advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), distribution and substation automation (DA and SA) communications, asset management and condition monitoring (AMCM), demand response (DR), and software solutions and analytics.
The complexity of smart grid deployments, systems integration, spatial analytics, real-time big data and cyber security and limited internal IT capacity are some of the drivers behind a growing market for SGaaS. Navigant Research forecasts that the global SGaaS market will grow from just under $1.7 billion in 2014 to more than $11.1 billion in 2023.