In any country, the electric grid is something that affects all of us, so it’s especially exciting to be able to report on Internet of Things (IoT) advances in this area. During Intel’s IoT press event we announced that Westfalen Weser Energie, a large power and gas distribution grid operator in Germany, is developing and deploying Intel® intelligent gateways in its secondary energy substations. Ton Steenman, VP of Intel’s Intelligent Systems Group had also explained that “intelligent gateways are platforms Intel is bringing to market in a variety of price/performance points that allow our customers to connect existing devices with cloud services. The gateways provide integrated and pre-validated hardware and software from McAfee and Wind River, to ensure that the data generated by devices and existing infrastructure, can be shared securely.” This is helpful to remember and understand as we delve in further with Shahram Mehraban, Global Head of Smart Grid and Industrial at Intel, to find out more about this proof of concept (POC).
Val: So Shahram, how did Intel start working with Westfalen Weser Energie?
Shahram: E.ON is one of the world’s largest investor-owned power and gas companies. They approached Intel and proposed a joint Proof of Concept (POC) around instrumenting their secondary substation on the distribution grid to provide visibility around energy transportation for mid-voltage and low voltage. We were naturally quite eager for this opportunity to work with them and advise on various technologies to optimize their distribution network. A team of technologists and researchers across multiple teams started working closely with E.ON to understand the current situation and determine the best architecture to address their end user needs. E.ON then sold Westfalen Weser AG (its distribution subsidiary) to Westfalen Weser Energie in June of 2013.
Val: What are the primary challenges for integrating renewable energy into the grid?
Shahram: There are many challenges for integrating renewable energy into the electric grid, especially distributed, renewable energy like rooftop Photovoltaics (PV). The main difference between renewable energy and traditional bulk energy generation (coal, hydro, nuclear) involves power quality and intermittency. Due in part to various government incentives over the past decade or so, there is a high penetration of rooftop PV installations for residential consumption in Germany. On sunny days, a large percentage of residential electricity generation in Germany comes from solar, which is a good thing for the environment. But this also creates problems for electric infrastructure as excess power from each home flows upstream into the grid. The grid in Germany is not configured to handle such a large a number of distributed energy sources and overcapacity in the substations can cause brownouts.
Val: How are intelligent gateways helping Westfalen to better manage distributed energy utilizing legacy devices?
Shahram: Together with Westfalen we defined an intelligent gateway for their secondary substations that interact with various sensors on the distribution line to detect various parameters. These are at the neighborhood level and control energy flow to around 100 homes. These parameters are then aggregated and communicated to various control systems (SCADA) at the utility, which gives them visibility into what is happening in the distribution network. This allows Westfalen to control and load balance the energy across their network, avoiding any secondary substation overcapacity that could result in a brownout. Existing sensors on power lines communicate via a number of different protocols, so the gateways needed to interface with the sensors using these existing protocols translate the data into formats, and communicate securely with existing SCADA systems.
Val: What kinds of data are being collected and analyzed?
Shahram: The data set includes currents on the primary and secondary feeders, voltage and current on the primary and secondary side of the transformer, as well as transformer internal temperature. We are also collecting real time weather data to enable a much richer overall systems analysis.
Val: What sort of business optimizations are now possible for Westfalen?
Shahram: By making their secondary substations intelligent, Westfalen can now avoid costly brownouts caused by transformer overcapacity. Intelligent gateways reduce their OpEx and CapEx as well because Westfalen can better predict when to replace their older transformers and plan for upgrades in terms of both budgeting and downtime. Using Intel® AMT technology with the Intel® Core™ class gateway, they can also reduce any OpEx cost associated with maintenance of the gateways, by doing out of band remote monitoring and equipment maintenance. And without proper security in place, none of this is possible. Westfalen is securing their secondary substations by implementing state of the art embedded security technologies including McAfee Embedded Control.
Val: Thanks Shahram! Stay tuned for upcoming posts from Shahram in the coming weeks. You can continue the conversation with him on Twitter @Intel_Shahram. For more information on Intel intelligent gateways, visit: intel.com/iot.