IOT – The Path to the Intelligent Grid

IOT is a set of devices, sensors, and actuators included in physical devices.

When combined with connectivity and software – both embedded and remote – IOT will increase the magnitude of managed devices and applications for all types of business: Medical and Healthcare, Transportation, Manufacturing, Energy Management, Media, and more.

Smart meters, used by the utility industry, were precursors to IOT (see previous article: However well intended, this led to a generation of devices unable to reap the benefits of IOT. Fortunately, smart meters should be able to capitalize on the next steps of IOT innovations, to be developed within the next 10 to 15 years.


In today’s utility industry agenda, the smart grid is one hot topic. Due to increases in the percentage of distributed renewable generation and  the subsequent need for storage, the distribution network needs to move to a more robust, agile, and swift solution.

This problem will become even more acute as electric vehicles and micro grids continue to grow and expand.

IOT technology provides the necessary ingredients such as communications, acquisition, local and central processing, and big data analytics for constructing an Intelligent Grid.

Communication is the first layer of IOT. It provides all forms of communication protocols based on need: actuator (relays, switch) or sensor (meter, intrusion detection, temperature) in a substation via Utility WAN, power line monitoring or wholesale meters through Telco WAN, distributed generation, storage monitoring through LowPAN. IOT will also have the ability to communicate between devices or with smart gateways, a key element in IOT infrastructure.

IOT’s acquisition platform will be able to manage all necessary protocols for old RTUs or new devices designed as IOT components, all while providing a mediation layer. SCADA already offers some of these features but on a limited scale. IOT, however, manages them all on a larger scale (due to all new components to monitor on the grid). The auto-activation and reconfiguration features of objects in IOT will simplify acquisition management.  One of the added advantages of IOT will be the inclusion of smart meters both in the acquisition process and in infrastructure in order to reduce costs. With distributed processing both at a local level (via embedded intelligences in devices or smart gateways) and central processing next to acquisition, IOT will provide a full range of capabilities that do not exist today as a part of the global system in utilities infrastructure. It will enable utilities to manage real-time processing on a large scale. Even today’s advanced systems like DMS or OMS are unable to do this. IOT represents the redundancy necessary for reliability and robustness.

Last but not least, big data represents another side of IOT. Collecting data is meaningless without the necessary analytics to generate long term processing. With more data and availability of modeling engines such as demand or response management, activities such as forecasting, predictive maintenance, and asset utilization would be simplified. It would also allow for additional value generation through both incorporated data and nascent AI benefits.

Nevertheless, security is the key for IOT and requires the highest attention from utilities. This will need to be highly investigated. A breach within the management of power distribution via communications could cause significant damage and lead to severe disruption. Security, an important element of communication, will need to be closely monitored. End-to-end solutions should be developed, including object manufacture and software/firmware updates.

An additional point of utilities in relation to IOT lies in the need to cope with the interoperability of multiple devices and solutions providers through the definition of layer-based standards (communications protocols, data models, and processes). Unlike Telco companies, major utilities will have to pay attention so as not to be highly dependent on their technology providers.

In conclusion, IOT paves the way for establishing an intelligent grid able to cope with the upcoming increase in the complexity of the utilities industry. This path will need to take into account highly secured communications and well-defined standards for interoperability.

IOT will heavily affect all existing systems. It is therefore fair to say that the borders between evolution and revolution are sometimes very thin.

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