Securing Digital Distributed Energy Infrastructure

Open Energi Engineer

The Internet of Things (IoT), a term used to denote the digital infrastructure where any digitalised asset, no matter how small, can connect to an invisible mesh of other assets through the internet, has recently become synonymous with security breaches and exploitation. This is true not just in a domestic setting, where flaws in Samsung’s ‘Smart Home’ let hackers unlock doors and set off fire alarms[1], but also in industrial IoT systems, where hackers were able to change the levels of chemicals being used to treat tap water[2]. While security breaches in websites are common, with credit card details frequently stolen, breaches to industrial systems connected to the internet are fewer and more recent, as such systems were previously isolated from public networks.

In the world of Demand Side Response (DSR), security is one of the priorities of most asset owners. DSR assets have a core purpose other than helping to balance the energy system, so a DSR provider must be able to demonstrate that they will never prevent the safe and correct operation of the asset, be that treating wastewater in a sewage treatment facility or refrigerating food in a supermarket. This condition must hold even in the presence of bugs in the DSR provider’s software, and even if their own systems are penetrated by hackers. The usual practices of data encryption, strong access controls and network segregation only provide part of the answer, as they still don’t guarantee safe operation under all possible failure modes.

This condition may seem unreasonable, but in critical systems development it is crucial. A nuclear facility operating normally is run through a software system, but all safety-critical checks are duplicated in hardware interlocks that take over should the software fail in any way[3]. These interlocks are immutable and thus immune to hacking or software bugs. In space missions, NASA has since the Challenger and Columbia incidents started to use consensus of multiple software systems developed by several independent teams to control rocket operation to eliminate the possibility that a single bug could affect the mission[4].

As the DSR industry progresses towards standardisation and common best practice guidelines, a key safety requirement must be safe operation of the asset under any failure mode. Open Energi on-site controllers are always supplemented by independent hardware or software interlocks that cannot be modified by us, creating an orthogonal layer of control required to operate critical assets. For example, on asphalt sites, we supplement our own controls with hardware interlocks to disable our control should the temperature of the tank increase beyond a safe limit. On water sites, we augment our controls with independently developed PLC code that checks that the asset is still within its control parameters and disables our control immediately if not. This dual layer of security means that even if our systems are compromised by an attacker, the DSR assets will continue to operate safely.

Michael Bironneau is Technical Director at Open Energi.

[1]     Wired Magazine. May 2016. ‘Flaws in Samsung Smart home let hackers unlock doors and set off fire alarms’. https://www.wired.com/2016/05/flaws-samsungs-smart-home-let-hackers-unlock-doors-set-off-fire-alarms/

[2]     The Register. March 2016. ‘Water treatment plant hacked, chemical mix changed for tap supplies’. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/03/24/water_utility_hacked/

[3]     L.J. Jardine and M.M. Moshkov. Nuclear Materials Safety Management, Vol 2. 1998. See eg. p.151.

[4]     Organizational Learning at NASA: The Challenger and Columbia Incidents. 1989. J. Mahler. See eg. p.63.

VIDEO: Optimising data architectures for IoT & Cloud

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Rapid data growth from a wide range of new data sources is significantly outpacing organizations’ abilities to manage data with existing systems. Today’s data architectures and IT budgets are straining under the pressure. In response, the center of gravity in the data architecture is shifting from structured transactional systems to cloud based modern data architectures and applications; with Hadoop at it’s core.

Join this live and on-demand video panel – featuring Open Energi’s Head of Technical Development, Michael Bironneau – as they discuss how the landscape is changing and offer insights into how organizations are successfully navigating this shift to capture new business opportunities while driving cost out.

Open Energi Harnessing the power of IoT for cleaner, more efficient and affordable energy

David Hill, Business Development Director at Open Energi speaks to theCUBE about how Open Energi is harnessing the benefits of connectivity to bring customers more efficient, more affordable and, ultimately, cleaner energy.

“We were an IoT company before we even knew what IoT was,” said David, discussing how Open Energi was founded pre-Hadoop. Becoming Hadoop customers was a “huge leap,” and Hortonworks Dataflow services are enabling much more cost-effective integration that has Open Energi extremely excited about the future.

David spoke to theCUBE whilst attending Hadoop Summit 2016, Dublin – http://bit.ly/1qIrgEN

Powering a Virtual Power Station With Big Data

Michael Bironneau, Data Scientist at Open Energi, discusses powering a virtual power station with big data.

At Open Energi in order to prove that we’ve delivered our Dynamic Demand service to National Grid and kept it running at optimum, we need to analyse large amounts of data relatively quickly. We’re also making our service smarter so that more assets will be able to participate in Dynamic Demand than before. This is where Big Data and Hortonworks Data Platform come in.

Big Data is a phrase that has been floating around companies like Google for the last two decades. It has never really had a precise definition, but when used casually it usually means that someone somewhere is running out of space for your data and/or computing power to analyse it, this can also mean that your data is so unorganised it is difficult if not impossible to analyse. Data is the most important asset when considering Dynamic Demand, it tells us when to flex certain assets, it proves we are providing a service and it allows us to better understand our portfolio.

Michael was speaking at the 2016 Hadoop Summit, Dublin – http://hadoopsummit.org/dublin/

The Challenges of Device Management in Energy

The Challenges of Device Management in Energy

1248 CEO Pilgrim Beart chats with David Hill, Business Development Director at Open Energi.

P: “David, tell us a bit about what you’re trying to achieve at Open Energi”

D: Open Energi is deploying ‘Internet of Things’ software within electricity consuming assets and paving the way for a new energy system; a system that is cleaner, cheaper, more efficient and more secure than the system we have today.

Our software is able to measure and monitor machine and appliance behaviour in real-time and subtly adjust electricity consumption in response to signals from the market, preventing fossil fuelled power stations from coming online and maximising our use of renewable energy, without any impact on consumer living standards or business productivity.

Every appliance or machine that we connect to using our Dynamic Demand software is another step towards removing power stations from the electricity system all together – and the money that would have been paid to those power stations is instead paid to British businesses.

P: “That sounds like a classic IoT application to me – making better use of a resource, with benefit to all the parties concerned – and helping address climate change too. What stage have you’ve reached in this ambitious goal?”

D: To date we have signed over 25 customers and deployed our software within over 1230 individual assets across 275 sites. Appliances range from Heating, Ventilation and Refrigeration Appliances in Sainsbury’s, to Water Pumps and Waste Management Equipment in United Utilities. The total power of all the devices that Open Energi interacts with is about 45MW, of which we currently bid about 15MW – around 30% – into energy markets operated by National Grid.

30% represents what is typically flexible at any given moment in time. The remaining power is being used for its primary purpose, e.g. heating supermarkets or pumping water. It is only by being able to identify flexibility on a second by second basis that we are able to provide this service.

P:”And can you give us some idea of the sort of challenges that you’ve encountered as you’ve grown in scale?”

One of the key challenges we face is being able to interface with different industrial and commercial processes – ranging from water pumps to bitumen storage tanks to refrigeration systems.  These systems operate in very different ways and generate different kinds of data, so a key challenge for us is being able to collect and view this data in a coherent way, and then understand how all these different processes are consuming energy. 

Overcoming this problem is an essential part of how we can provide a consistent and reliable service to National Grid from many thousands of individual assets.  Today many aspects of our interface with each of these processes inevitably become bespoke, which then leads to challenges in how we maintain and operate the software on all of our devices, particularly as we scale up.

P: “Your growing need for device management rings very true for us – it’s a common story as a connected service starts to achieve scale. We encountered something similar at AlertMe as we scaled from 1,000 to 10,000 devices, which is why we decided to focus on that challenge at 1248. Can you put some more meat on the bones for us?”

A key area for us is being able to simplify how we connect and exchange information with so many different control systems and processes.  Standards could play a key part here – both in terms of how we connect to other devices and what information we exchange.  This would ease the process of connecting and maintaining devices as we scale up and allow us to focus on getting the maximum value out of the energy flexibility that we’re tapping into.

For example, in the future we believe that all appliances with the ability to provide flexibility to the electricity market will come with those principles built in off-the-shelf, so that an air conditioning controller designed to maintain room temperature is every bit as used to responding to electricity market signals as it is to temperature, likewise with water pumps and bitumen tanks.

Device management is very important when trying to operate service based on very large numbers of connected devices; we can only understand and quantify energy flexibility if we have an accurate understanding of which devices are online, and whether they are functioning correctly. Moving from the world we are in now, to the future I just outlined, will need collaboration with companies like 1248.

P: “David, thanks so much for sharing this with us.”

This blog post was originally featured on www.1248.io

IoT technology meets UK’s energy grid needs faster than power stations

Aggregate Industries Moorcroft quarry

Research has found that Open Energ’s Dynamic Demand technology can meet the UK’s crucial grid balancing requirements faster than a conventional power station. The paper published as a result of ongoing collaborative research by Open Energi, National Grid and Cardiff University, titled Power System Frequency Response from the Control of Bitumen Tanks, looked at the feasibility of DSR providing a significant share of frequency balancing services.

Bitumen tanks (containing the glue that binds our roads together) equipped with Dynamic Demand were used in combination with National Grid’s model of the GB transmission system to investigate the capability of industrial heating loads to provide frequency response to the power system.

The conclusion is that Open Energi’s Dynamic Demand technology, deployed at scale, can contribute to grid frequency control in a manner similar to, and, crucially, faster than that provided by traditional peaking power generation. Field tests showed that full response could be provided in less than two seconds, as compared to 5 – 10 seconds for a thermal generator. Large scale deployment of Dynamic Demand will reduce the reliance on frequency-sensitive generators and ensure that the grid stays balanced in a cost-effective, sustainable and secure manner.

While a lot of focus has understandably been given to tight capacity margins between supply and demand, the real threat could come from generators being unable to respond within the required window to balance instantaneous shifts in supply and demand. With more renewables and decreased thermal generation, ‘inertia’ on the Grid will decrease, making frequency more unstable. Dynamic Demand can help to counteract this effect by providing faster response, helping to future proof the Grid.

The paper was published in the IEEE Transactions on Power Systems Journal. Download a copy here.

Future proofing London: Regeneration in the age of IOT

Storage London Skyline of Gherkin

July 2015: David Hill, Business Development Director, Open Energi

Planning for the redevelopment of London’s Old Oak Common is now in full swing with the appointment of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) board. What lessons can the team behind the project learn to ensure the scheme is futureproofed and can meet the needs of Londoners for generations to come?

In February 2015, London’s population reached a new high of 8.6 million people, exceeding the previous record set back in 1939. The city’s population is set to continue to expand, with current estimates predicting it will reach 11 million by 2050.

There is an urgent need for new housing in the UK capital to help manage this growth. The Greater London Authority (GLA) has outlined ambitious investment plans to improve the capital’s infrastructure which could require £1.3tn of spending from now until 2050, most of which needs to go on housing and transport.  As part of one of the largest regeneration schemes in London for decades, plans are now fully afoot to transform brownfield land in Old Oak Common and Park Royal into a sustainable New Town close to the heart of the city.

At present, the Mayor of London’s office suggests that development in north-west London will create up to 24,000 homes and more than 55,000 jobs. According to the GLA, the scheme will be an exemplar in accessible, high quality and ‘smart’ regeneration which, over the next 20 years, will strengthen London’s role as a global city.

Within this wider regeneration project in the currently underutilised region of west London, plans are also being drawn up by the London Sustainable Development Commission (LSDC) to create a world-leading clean tech hub. LSDC, which advises the Mayor on the city’s low carbon economy, hopes the hub will attract forward-thinking start-ups and large green companies from across Europe, especially once major planned train lines open, including Crossrail and HS2.

Accordingly, the GLA’s Draft Old Oak and Park Royal Opportunity Area Planning Framework (OAPF), which was produced with contributions from Transport for London (TfL) and the London Boroughs of Brent, Ealing and Hammersmith & Fulham sets out an ambitious vision to ensure that the Old Oak and Park Royal area is an exemplar of low carbon development.

The GLA has already committed to achieving the highest standards of energy efficiency and low carbon technology and, to this end, has pledged to produce an Energy Strategy and subsequent Energy Masterplan for the area.

The Mayor has set a target for London to self-generate 25% of all electricity consumption by 2025 to improve system resilience and reduce the cost of transmission. Local energy in London includes solar power and heating networks supplied by plants which are close to where energy is used and which generate heat and power at the same time.

The problem with these approaches is that they require space, which is already at a premium in London. Added to this, not only is gas for combined heat and power (CHP) tied in to volatile global energy prices, but it is also carbon emitting – a particularly problematic scenario for a city which is already struggling with an air pollution crisis. The city is in urgent need of a high-tech energy solution and, as this swathe of London begins its transformation, it is essential that the GLA fully embraces the huge opportunity for system change to ensure the scheme is futureproofed and can meet the needs of Londoners for generations to come.

Cutting edge software and an Internet of Things approach to energy-consuming assets are enabling advanced forms of demand response technology to be rolled out across a range of equipment – including heaters, pumps, chillers, refrigerators and air conditioning units – turning them into smart, automated and autonomous devices that can react instantly to changes in electricity supply and demand across the network to free up capacity, while also delivering new revenues for consumers in return for this improved grid resilience.

The UK has historically tried to deal with capacity issues by increasing supply rather than addressing the root of the problem but, to illustrate the potential scale of success, we should look to the US, where the use of demand response technology has already shaved off ten per cent of the country’s peak energy demand.

In the UK, National Grid urgently needs more flexibility from the demand side to support intermittent renewable use and meet rising energy demand, and has already announced targets to increase demand side balancing capacity from 700MW to 3GW by 2020. In London alone, there is around 250MW (equivalent to five per cent of peak demand) of flexibility in our energy system that could be easily utilised using demand response.  This would effectively remove one whole peaking power station from the grid. Of the £1.3 trillion OPDC infrastructure plan, £150 billion of spending is slated for energy. If we apply the five per cent flexibility logic above, this equates to instant savings of £7.5 billion.

Demand flexibility resides in a range of city areas. For example, eighteen per cent of London‘s energy consumption comes from commercial buildings, of which at least twenty per cent is flexible.  Two per cent of power consumption comes from the water sector, of which eighty per cent is flexible.  In aggregate, this flexibility can provide London with a ‘Virtual Power Plant’, meeting the needs of the growing population without the need for any new infrastructure.

The business case for demand response already exists without any need for intervention or support – and is already being applied effectively by organisations from National Grid to energy intensive corporates, such as Sainsbury’s. From a sustainability perspective, too, demand response makes sense in enabling businesses to move beyond their own footprint and supply chains to help deliver system-wide change.

As development progresses, the Old Oak Common and Park Royal project is a prime candidate for smart grids and demand side response at both building (new and retrofitting existing) and aggregate levels to optimise capacity investment, reduce energy demand, balance local energy supply and demand, including peak energy across the site, and reduce the need for network reinforcement.

HyperCat City’s work in promoting IOT standards, and then involving these in planning and design phases already provide OPDC with some of the crucial tools needed to deliver real cost reduction benefits.

As London expands there is a huge opportunity to capitalise on power demand flexibility to drive major cost and carbon efficiency benefits for the city. To achieve that we must first create a comprehensive map of where flexibility currently resides in the system which will show the level of generation actually required to power new build projects, such as Old Oak Common and Park Royal.  Those new build projects present the opportunity to map demand flexibility at a highly granular level, i.e. by building, which will creates a true image of where capacity lies, as well as building in resilience from the ground up.