Despite the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, state governments and corporations alike continue to look to renewable energies to power our future. Similarly, the European Union has adopted a series of initiatives aimed at cutting greenhouse gasses, improving energy efficiency, and producing more power from renewable sources by 2020 to meet its climate and energy targets. Even in developing countries strapped for resources, solar panels now line rooftops of buildings in a drive to combat reliance on imported energy and oil.
But whether managing a wind farm in the North Sea or capturing solar energy in the Nevada desert, utility operators keep running into the same challenges — availability of renewable sources, asset maintenance, and device security.
It is simply impossible to manage the fluctuations of Mother Nature. The availability of sun- and wind-based energy may be more abundant than ever, but they are not constant. So, energy providers must be able to accurately forecast, store, or redirect energy usage at a moment’s notice.
Asset Maintenance is Key
There are also significant costs associated with operating and maintaining the assets that produce and direct renewable energy, which are vital to ensuring sustainability. The constant revolutions of a wind turbine and the continuous exposure of solar panels to extreme heat result in the eventual erosion of these systems. If not properly maintained, the costs of repairing or replacing such critical assets can be formidable.
For these reasons, reliable power transmission and asset upkeep are top priorities for energy providers. As the energy sector looks to cap costs and find new ways to create flexible power grids, they are doing so with the help of a new wave of technology — edge analytics.
Edge analytics involves capturing, monitoring and analyzing data to proactively recognize patterns, providing companies with useful information to better manage their connected operations. By incorporating analytics processes at the “edge” of networks (or the point where data is produced and collected), companies get information in real-time from connected devices and reduce the amount of data they traffic to the cloud. This helps save money on data transmission, assists with overall bandwidth concerns, and speeds up time to insight.
The biggest promise of edge analytics may be its ability to offer energy providers with insight into what is likely to happen to any given asset at a given time, thereby enhancing the ability to perform predictive maintenance. Buying and maintaining equipment is a significant investment for any company, but repairing or replacing energy-producing assets after they malfunction can exponentially increase operating expenditures.
In asset-intensive industries, determining what went wrong after the fact may be too little, too late. Edge analytics platforms are now available to help companies detect patterns instantly, forecast when failures may happen, and shut down field equipment before it fails. By integrating edge analytics into systems like hydropower plants or wind turbines, operators are able to monitor issues in real-time and reduce generation disruptions and overall costs, as well as optimize field service operations.
Edge analytics also enable energy providers to more accurately forecast how much energy should be redirected into power grids or stored for later use. To ensure higher yields as environmental conditions vary, existing infrastructure can be outfitted with edge analytics so that utilities can integrate more renewable energy into a power grid, helping to reduce carbon emissions while improving clean energy output.
What About Cybersecurity?
But as the energy sector undergoes a digital overhaul by implementing an ever-expanding network of sensors, big data, and grids that fuel the transmission of renewable energy, they are also left vulnerable to new types of security challenges that could lead to the loss of control of key equipment.
Energy companies are taking the threat of infrastructure breaches seriously. According to findings from the Marsh-Microsoft Global Cyber Risk Perception Survey, “76 percent of energy executives cited business interruption (BI) as the most impactful cyber loss scenario for their organizations, highlighting not only the growing threat cyber presents for the energy industry, but also the increasing effect any business interruption could have on production and revenues.”
By utilizing its capabilities for pattern recognition and anomaly detection, analytics at the edge can detect and mitigate abnormal network traffic, and alert energy providers to an attack. Now that companies are more connected than ever, it makes sense to capitalize on edge analytics as a line of defense against malign actors.
Due to advances in technology, a sustainable energy future is well within reach. Edge analytics capabilities will be paramount to success for companies looking to increase the reliability of renewable energy generation, cut costs and improve overall system security.