Nikhil Ravishankar, chief digital officer at Vector, sees Auckland as “the petri dish for energy innovation.”
“It is one of the fastest growing cities in the Western world. If you can create an energy platform in this city, you can export it anywhere in the world,” he says.
Speaking at the first AWS Transformation Day in Auckland, Ravishankar talks about how cloud is helping Vector create this “new energy future”.
In particular, he talks about Vector’s work with AWS in the ‘Internet of Energy’, which covers not only elastic storage and compute, but also security.
“We have access to AWS core security resources, giving us the confidence to put critical infrastructure management in the cloud which is something you don’t do lightly,” he says. “This is a system that lives and breathes, and is constantly building new services.”
Auckland is the petri dish for energy innovation
In an interview with CIO New Zealand, Ravishankar explains how working in the cloud has optimised their Distributed Energy Resource Management System (DERMS), which is an online management system that will be able to manage and control various parts of the electricity network.
The latter includes the traditional distribution network of power lines, transformers, and other infrastructure, alongside new technology like solar panels, storage batteries, and energy stored in electric vehicles – on a single platform.
“What we are seeing more and more is the advent of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) and these are anything that is at the edge of the network that can either generate or store electricity,” says Ravishankar.
What DERMS does is it connects all of the different DERs into the main energy system in order to optimise the overall system.
Every physical DER in the network has a digital twin, he explains.
So the grid, which is represented in the operational SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) system, is integrated with the DERs on the Internet of Energy (IoE) platform, with each DER being represented on this platform by its ‘digital twin’.
“For example, we might want to reduce the peak load on the overall network when demand for electricity is high, because high-level of load can strain the critical infrastructure on our network distributing that energy.
“Or, we could use this capability to optimise outage management to minimise customer disruption,” says Ravishankar.
“Thus, if we’re able to manage the DERs connected to our network and the network itself as a single interconnected, open and intelligent IoE platform, then we and other third parties such as energy startups and other players in the energy sector, can utilise this platform to deliver more choice, control, and potentially lower cost outcomes for end consumers, our communities, and businesses, while also utilising this platform to delivery better electricity distribution network outcomes.”
He explains the digital twin talks to the actual physical endpoint so the algorithms can say, for example, ‘discharge a grid scale battery by 20 per cent’, and that message is sent to the digital twin.
The digital twin has an integration to its physical asset which is the actual battery, which is discharged by 20 per cent.
All of the digital twins are built on AWS using their elastic storage and compute services, as well as their security and continuous development services.
“If we go from 10 home batteries to 50,000 home batteries in Auckland, then we can use the elastic capability to just scale up and scale down depending on what the use case is.”
One of the added benefits is security.
“We keep each individual DER ‘digital twin’ in its own cloud so to speak,” he explains. “From a security perspective, you can ring-fence that and if there is any security issue with one type of DER, you can ensure it does not affect the whole system.”
Ravishankar explains that in May 2017, Vector had set its digital strategy, part of which is being “cloud first”.
Cost was not the biggest driver, it was access to innovation, he says.
“For us to be able to quickly assemble products and services on the IoE platform, we need to build on the shoulders of giants,” he says.
He says many of these services are in the public cloud.
“It was a no brainer, and we needed to start shifting our platforms to the cloud to access the innovation that will make a real difference to us.”
“The shift from old IT to digital means becoming less about managing infrastructure or networks and/or configuring or customising business applications,” he states.
“There is always going to be an aspect of that, but [it is about] shifting more to a model where the focus is on assembly of services to deliver end customer or business outcomes.”
He points out Vector had a big focus on retraining existing staff on these new exponential technologies, methods and mindsets.
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