Virtualization Technology News and Information
The case for using edge instead of cloud computing for smart grids

By Eli Daccach, Global Business Development Leader for Secure Power - Industrial Segments, at Schneider Electric

The key pillars of decarbonization include leveraging clean energy and optimizing energy usage. However, the variability of clean energy sources paired with the limitations of current energy storage technologies often make efficient use of clean energy difficult.

The U.S. Department of Energy, in its report on the grid system, highlights the department's concern. The power grid "will now need to manage variable power output, fluctuating and unpredictable load patterns, and bidirectional power flow, as well as enable novel grid designs." The report recommends smart grids as a way to preserve the resilience, security, efficiency and affordability of energy even amid uncertainty.

Smart grids: a welcome innovation in a complicated energy environment

Smart grids can help alleviate the complexities of today's energy generation and usage. But for smart grids to lead the charge toward decarbonization they must run on the appropriate infrastructure. 

The cloud has been a popular choice for smart grids. Technology, like smart meters, can save data to the cloud, and companies have at their disposal an array of cloud software solutions to help them monitor and manage that data.

However, the proliferation of connections from hardware, including IoT sensors, electric vehicles and even smart buildings, are pushing the cloud's capabilities to their edge - pun intended. Sending data from these sources all the way to the cloud results in higher latency and slower processing times. Moreover, each additional end point that uses a network also makes it that much more difficult to securely manage every connection.

The cloud is still a valuable part of any cyber infrastructure. But the cloud alone isn't sufficient for the evolving bandwidth needs of smart grids. Smart grid operators must turn to the edge to satisfy the computing, storage and networking needs of grids with increasingly complex and durable demand.

Smart grids by nature, help promote sustainability, since they incorporate renewables as one source of energy supply, but this is hard to accomplish without the added value of edge computing, which can predict demand and match it with the renewables' intermittent energy supply. One way to do this is to have ruggedized Micro Data Centers in key locations along the smart grid network in order to collect and analyze energy demand before adjusting supply in real-time.

The cloud alone cannot manage today's dynamic electricity demand

Supporting connected hardware is just one complexity of grid operation. Electrical grids are intertwined with other pieces of critical infrastructure, such as natural gas, oil and transportation networks. Grids must also support individual consumers along with energy producers, storage providers and infrastructure operators. The only way to monitor and manage all these moving pieces efficiently is to store and analyze data as closely as possible to where it is generated - at the network's edge.

By bringing compute power as close as possible to the source of data, the edge offers numerous benefits for grid operations:

  1. Not having to send data to and from the cloud, smart grid operators can receive real-time insights about grid operations. Lower-latency performance helps operators make proactive decisions, which is especially important during demand spikes and other performance anomalies.
  2. Processing data locally can also improve data security. By selecting which data they transmit to the cloud or the rest of the IT infrastructure, grid operators can ensure a smaller attack surface for would-be hackers.
  3. Data collection at the site reduces bandwidth demand on the larger network. Freeing up demand can lead to improvements elsewhere, such as in the forecasting and modeling required for long-term operational efficiencies.

Smart grid operations belong at the edge

The continued transition to the digital economy and convergence of critical systems is putting a heavy burden on electrical grids. Applying a digital infrastructure to grids to make them "smart" can help them transmit energy more efficiently, even in the face of increasing complexity. Yet, as more things connect to networks and grids, sending data to the cloud for analysis becomes untenable. Only by pushing data collection and analysis to the source can grid operators enjoy the benefits smart grids offer and even continue to evolve how we generate, transmit and consume electricity.  




Eli is currently the Global Business Development Leader within the Secure Power division of Schneider Electric, focusing on Industrial Segments.

He has been with the company since 2011, working in Canada for the Industrial Automation business unit, in various roles such as automation specialist, applications engineer and team leader for motion offers, before moving to the US and joining the Energy Management business unit as a Strategic Marketing Manager for Industrial Edge Computing and Data Centers.

Eli holds a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA in Marketing.

Published Tuesday, November 22, 2022 7:35 AM by David Marshall
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