Cloud Nine

The new frontier of data management

With the growing installation of internet of things (IoT)-based digital components across the grid, more parameters will be monitored in real time, making data acquisition immensely granular and specific. The exponential growth in requirement for data storage and processing will be met by transitioning to cloud-based IT systems that offer massive processing capabilities. Cloud-based supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems are operationally superior to distributed SCADA systems at handling, analysing and storing a vast quantum of data at a lower expense. Hence, it is vital for power sector utilities to shift to cloud-based IT systems, as they will enable transmission companies to massively improve their operational efficiency, enhance the durability of ass­ets, increase customer engagement and handle grid volatility more reliably. Furthermore, shif­ting from traditional warehouse-based IT systems to cloud-based IT systems provides outsized benefits, financially and operationally.

Business drivers stimulating the transition to cloud

Scalability: Applications have varied load requirements which experience spikes and dips in capacity utilisation of IT infrastructure, making it necessary for the IT infrastructure to be scalable enough in order to cater to the load requirements. In a traditional on-site IT system, capacity/load requirement is estimated, often inaccurately. Moving to cloud gives transmission companies the option of defining load scaling policies in advance via data analytics, enabling the transco to scale up when the load increases.

For example, there could be a sudden surge in ev­ents due to fault in an high voltage (HV) line which implies that the applications should be scalable enough to handle the increase by automatically scaling the compute resources. Simi­la­rly, customers can start pilot projects with sm­a­­ller compute requirements on cloud and later scale up to expand the project scope, such as an IoT-based asset monitoring project started with a few hundred devices and subsequently scaled to cover thousands of devices a few months or years later.

Replacing capital expenses with variable expen­ses: A traditional IT-system entails significant investment in real estate and regular expenditure on the physical security of the establishment, cooling equipment, digital network systems, electricity, etc. In cloud-based systems, the trans­co needs to budget resources only for the period of performance testing, before terminating them. The customers only pay for the period of usage instead of investing capital expenditure on compute resources.

Safety: In a cloud environment, customers will have control over where data is stored, who can access it and what resources are being consuming at any given moment. Fine-grained identity and access controls combined with real-time security ensures that information is stored safely. The cloud environment also inherits global security standards based on third party validation for thousands of global security compliance requirements. The cloud provides services and solutions that can be leveraged by customers to define security posture, including in the areas of threat detection, network security, filtering malicious web traffic, investigation of potential security issues, etc.

Better processing speed: In a cloud computing environment, new IT resources are only a click away, which means that organisations can redu­ce the time required to make those resources available to developers from weeks to just minutes. This results in a dramatic increase in agility for an organisation, since the cost and time it takes to experiment and develop is significantly lower.

Areas of deployment in transmission

The advantages offered by cloud-based processing technologies are useful for accomplishing a variety of goals, making it operationally justifiable and even necessary for transmission utilities to deploy cloud-based IT services across different areas.

Common cloud storage for Central and State Tra­nsmission Utilities: Central and state transmission utilities have implemented systems to monitor the transmission network and manage operations. On-premise data warehouse implementations typically hit road blocks in terms of storage capacities, leading to customers purging old data that could otherwise be valuable in analysis. Implementing a data storage system on cloud enables expansion of storage and compute capacities in order to cater to large data sets, which can be a mix of structured and un­str­uctured data. Transmission utilities should im­plement state-level data cloud systems that can house data from multiple systems within the utility. This cloud-based IT system can be used for basic reporting as well as advanced analytics spanning the use cases of multiple departments and correlation analysis on data from multiple applications. Furthermore, the data and learnings gathered from one utility could prove to be useful data sets for other state transcos in planning their operations.

IoT-based asset monitoring: Electricity transmission utilities are asset intensive and the av­ailability of these assets is important to avoid un­planned outages. Hence, monitoring of critical assets such as transformers using IoT sensors for non-electrical parameters such as temperature and oil levels, and generating alarms for threshold violations will help transmission utility take preventive maintenance actions well in advance. Usage of open protocols such as message queue telemetry transport or REST APIs and scalable IoT platforms will enable transmission utilities to have a unified platform for IoT-based asset monitoring.

Scheduling, Accounting, Metering and Settle­ment of Transactions in Electricity (SAMAST): Electricity transmission utilities are implementing solutions for the SAMAST framework for energy accounting and financial settlement. Utilities can implement cloud-based advanced metering infrastructure solutions to receive meter data from interface meters, which is an important data point for settlement. Similarly, accounting and settlement solutions can be implemented on cloud instead of spending ca­pex on implementing these solutions at on-pre­mise data centres. With implementation of these solutions on cloud, transmission utilities can gain the flexibility to integrate this data into utility-wide data lakes and run basic reporting, as well as advanced analytics for use cases such as network losses analysis and corridor/line loading analysis.

Advanced analytics: The vast amount of data gathered from field devices such as special energy meters, SCADA/EMS and phasor measurement units as well as energy flows (scheduled and actual), schedules and their revisions, etc. can be used to run advanced analytics us­ing machine language (ML). Storing the data on cloud will give an utility the flexibility necessary to feed this data to ML-based systems and perform complex analysis. Additionally, these AI/ML systems on cloud have presets custom-built for the same purpose by other parties whi­ch can be consequently used by all utilities on the cloud. Cloud provides the environment re­quired to run advanced analytics, which typically demand higher performance processors and high speed networking infrastructure.

Computer vision-based asset health inspection: While there are IoT sensors that can be installed on critical assets and condition monitored there are more ways to assess the condition of assets, including computer vision. The source data re­quired for computer vision-based inspection can be static images or video feeds from cameras at fixed locations or drones. Electricity transmission utilities can apply these technologies to as­s­ess the health of critical assets. Their use cases in transmission utilities include identification of fire in switchyards/substations and corrosion in assets, movement detection in unmanned substations, and aerial survey of HV/EHV transmission lines using drones. The image and video feed sources can publish data on the data lake and customers can choose cloud-based servi­ces for image analysis or video streaming analysis of this data, deriving insights.

Transition to cloud

The transition will be undertaken in three phases: assessment, mobilisation and modernisation. In the assessment phase, the transmission utility will assess the current readiness for operating in the cloud, identify business outcomes and develop a business case for migration. The second phase, mobilisation, requires the transmission utility to refine the business case and chart a roadmap that helps prepare the organisation for the system-wide change. In the third phase, migration, each application is designed, migrated and validated. For many applications, the best approach is to rapidly move to cloud and then re-architect using cloud services.

Net, net moving to cloud-based systems from on-site data centres will increase accuracy of scheduling and capacity planning and improve network stability as well as network availability by enabling and empowering SCADA. It will also aid in upgrading internal communications through better implementation of organisation-wide IT systems as well as improving asset and workforce management and metering.

With inputs from ISGF’s White Paper on Cloud Adoption in Electricity Transmission Utilities