Information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) systems are useful to help gain control over equipment and machinery for asset monitoring and remote operations. IT systems look at the business function side, using hardware, software, communications or other facilities to input, store, process and transmit data in the required form. OT systems look at the business functions, using hardware and software in real time to monitor, automate changes and control various device process and events in their respective areas.
IT-OT systems enable having a common head-end system for data acquisition so that the data can be further analysed and used for predictive maintenance. Asset management and remote monitoring solutions reduce the defect rate of equipment and devices, the unplanned downtime of equipment and devices, annual energy costs, breakdown attending time and new product introduction cycle time, that is, procurement of new assets, as well as improve equipment effectiveness and ease of asset tracking. Proactive optimisation can be achieved through preventive maintenance, condition-based maintenance, predictive maintenance and breakdown maintenance.
Eastern Power Distribution Company of Andhra Pradesh Limited (APEPDCL) has adopted various IT and OT solutions, which have helped it function more efficiently. These solutions have improved the efficiency of the system as well as helped increase revenues. Improved data collection and analysis have also helped provide better service to consumers.
Asset management solutions
Asset management strategies to enable remote monitoring of assets include asset tracking and hierarchal mapping, digitalisation of assets, predictive maintenance, geofencing and identification of key performance indicators of the asset. Mapping of assets can be achieved through potential transformers, circuit breakers to the respective substations, distribution transformers to the respective feeders and consumers on the respective transformers. The assets can be digitalised using mobile apps and geographic information system (GIS) web applications (through which every asset can be viewed in the GIS map). Predictive maintenance can be done using inputs from outage management system (OMS) modules, based on the number of interruptions on the feeder. The KPIs for each asset are identified for auto generation of notifications and alerts.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the importance of remote monitoring of assets was realised and dependence on it increased significantly. To minimise asset breakdowns, real-time monitoring of asset health through different monitoring solutions such as integration of GIS with standard network analysis tools and to the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system was focused on. Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) tools emerged as key technologies for analysis of data and identification of anomalies. However, to leverage these technologies fully, enterprises need to have a good knowledge of IT and OT convergence solutions and should plan to implement internet of things (IoT) for their assets.
Eventually, we are moving towards a process of convergence between IT and OT. Initially, OT was mechanically driven. However, over time, with the injection of IT-based technologies in OT (such as ML) and evolutions in machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and IoT sensors, OT has evolved. This has led to a narrowing of the gap between IT and OT. There is now ample space for innovations with regard to the management of physical devices. An important evolution in OT has been the ability to monitor and control physical devices remotely. In many fields where OT plays an important role, proprietary protocols are being used and communication plays a key role in IT-OT implementation. Using OT along with IT has given real-time visibility of data.
The IT solutions adopted by APEPDCL include systems applications and products (SAP)-ERP for plant maintenance, OMS, real-time data acquisition systems (RT-DAS), GIS and line staff mobile apps. The OT solutions adopted by the utility include distribution management systems (DMS), modems at 11 kV feeders and high tension (HT) services, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), distribution automation (DA), and distribution transformer failure management.
APEPDCL has achieved almost 100 per cent mapping of assets and real-time feeder monitoring. All its assets have been digitalised using in-house developed mobile apps and GIS web applications. Predictive maintenance of feeders is undertaken using inputs from the OMS module. Hierarchy-wise geofencing of assets has also been achieved.
Additionally, modems have been installed on all the 3,862, 11 kV feeders of APEPDCL and interruptions are monitored in real time using the OMS application. Whenever there is a breakdown or scheduled maintenance on a feeder, SMS alerts are generated and sent to the respective consumers tagged to that feeder, thus improving consumer satisfaction. All the substations and feeders are geotagged.
An application has been developed with the OT data and published on the web portal through which consumers can view their feeder status online. SCADA has been implemented in 28 substations, with 145 ring main units (RMUs). To improve internal and system efficiency, system average interruption duration index (SAIDI) and system average interruption frequency index (SAIFI) calculations are done through the OMS application using the OT data. Operational efficiency has increased, reducing system costs.
APEPDCL has also installed modems for 3,783 HT services for which load is monitored and HT bills prepared based on the readings from these modems. Using OT technology, manual intervention for taking readings has reduced and timely meter readings are achieved more easily. This has improved the efficiency of the system as well as revenues. Based on the available OT data, mobile-based IT applications are developed for HT consumers to view their load graphs, the maximum MD reached time, date, etc., along with a voice assistance feature. All HT consumers can view their feeder data, pre-schedules and interruptions on their connected feeders.
The way forward
The pandemic has led to many challenges for all sectors of the economy. The major challenge faced by power utilities is manpower management. If any asset breaks down or stops functioning, the movement and repair of that asset have become a challenge owing to the unavailability of adequate manpower. This has made such tasks more time-consuming and led to a revenue loss for the utilities.
With OT systems replacing proprietary tools and adopting more IT-like open protocols and operational practices, a key challenge that utilities are facing is cyberthreats. Well-known IT threats are emerging as new concerns for OT as well, and the systems are becoming more vulnerable. Cybersecurity is becoming a major challenge. Previously, IT systems were exposed to the outside world whereas OT systems were static. With IT-OT usage, OT systems too are controlled by third-party tools, thus making them vulnerable to security threats.
Other challenges relate to asset mapping and delta changes in IT-OT integration, communication and networking equipment monitoring, connectivity options, standardised protocols, cost of sensors, and scalability in IT-OT platforms.
Power utilities are embracing IT-OT technologies for improving their services, increasing process efficiency and streamlining operations. The traditional networks are becoming smarter, there is the emergence of prosumers, and greater integration of renewables and intelligent devices. AI, ML, big data analytics, cloud computing and predictive maintenance tools are emerging as key trends in the technology space.
Given this background, adopting IT-OT technologies, bringing together numerous applications and creating a unified data stream could be the way forward. Effectively integrating and deploying IT and OT across the sector to reduce costs and drive efficiencies will be critical for navigating both, the immediate effects of Covid-19 and the long-term implications.