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Three Best Practices for IT/OT Convergence in a Distributed Energy World


Ten years ago or so, when utility workers first started talking about IT/OT convergence, the conversations revolved around the wealth of data streaming into utility offices from advanced metering infrastructure and remote sensors.

With AMI, for instance, utility engineers could suddenly see consumption in 15-minute increments, allowing them to leverage that data for things like load studies and distribution-system transformer sizing. Utility managers could use the blink counts from advanced meters to direct the tree-trimming crews, letting them know there was a pretty good chance wayward branches were causing momentary outages on a feeder. Or, they could use the last-gasp signals to more quickly triangulate an outage and dispatch restoration crews more efficiently.

IT/OT convergence is what happens when IT and OT drop the silo walls to unite systems such as outage management with front-end, field technology, such as advanced meters or distribution system assets. But, IT/OT convergence has begun to expand, as generation assets begin to to proliferate behind the meter, and IT systems will be needed to help accommodate and control these assets. The convergence is becoming more complex and all-encompassing, so here are a few pointers for utility mangers to keep in mind:

Harness collective wisdom: You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s worth repeating. Every department involved in systems and process changes must have a representative at the table to discuss them. That’s just table stakes in any new systems game. Without a cross-functional approach, you might pursue a path that can’t really be implemented, design something that causes more problems than it solves or create a system people won’t use.

Avoid all-encompassing goals: Scope creep in IT projects is a killer. Add in a bunch of players who all come from different utility departments, and it’s also highly probable. Make your project scope do-able and consumable, not mythological. Don’t try to solve all the world’s problems with one project. Focus on security … or reliability … or carbon cutting … something with clear measurements and parameters. Pick that one thing, whatever it is at your utility, design a system or process to fix it, get it right, and then use your success as a model for other problems.
Allow panoramic vision: Even though you want to limit project deliverables to one or two things at a time, you don’t want to limit your thinking. There’s no reason to in the IT/OT world of distributed energy resources management systems (DERMS).

In fact, with DERMs, you should always be thinking about how you can leverage the technology to harvest multiple value streams. DERMS platforms can provide frequency regulation, renewables firming, capacity for substations, peak management, volt/VAR control and more. At the same time, it can provide financial gain for utilities, energy service providers and their customers alike through energy market participation.

Thinking about multiple streams of value isn’t necessarily something that happens naturally when utility IT and OT teams work in their own silos. But, in the converged IT/OT world, broader thinking is becoming the norm. Example: In the OT world, utility mangers see a transformer that needs to be replaced or upgraded. Now that OT is working with IT, they add sensors to the new or upgraded transformer, so that they can monitor the dissolved gases that accumulate as insulating oils break down in the equipment. That way, utility staffers know when those oils have broken down to a degree that they now pose a fire or explosion risk, and they can replace them before a catastrophe like the Indian Point explosion in New York occurs.

It’s a different way of thinking, a more expansive approach, and it’s the way utility managers should be now looking at things like distributed energy resource management systems or even simple load control. Such technology has evolved to a point where it can offer multiple benefits. Have you evolved your thinking to take advantage of them?

Photo Credit: deanoakley via Flickr

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