Digital Utility Group
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OT/IT convergence as catalyst for the energy, mobility, and heating transition
- May 19, 2023 7:42 pm GMT
The #decarbonization of the #energy system (#electricity, #mobility, #heatingand #cooling ) has significant impact on the underlying digital technologies used to securely operate and maintain the supply and consumption of energy. The convergence of operational technology (#OT) and information technology (#IT) is a key area of such impact and evolution.
OT refers to assets used to control, monitor, and automate fuel sourcing, power generation, transmission, distribution, and the consumption of energy. Examples of OT systems include supervisory control and data acquisition (#SCADA) systems, distributed control systems (#DCS), and programmable logic controllers (#PLCs) embedded in energy assets along the value chain. A new #IoT device asset class is emerging and being relevant from an energy usage perspective (in businesses, homes, and infrastructure). IT refers to assets and services used to manage and process data (e.g. clouds, databases, applications, AI, ERP and more).
Traditionally, OT and IT have been separate domains, with different technologies, standards, and protocols. For #security reasons these two domains are often physically separated. Air-gapping (isolation of systems or networks) is used to prevent unauthorized access and protect OT systems against #cyberattacks, to the extent possible.
Decarbonizing energy is amongst the biggest challenges of the 21st century. OT/IT convergence can contribute significantly as a catalyst for change to the better. The goal of (data) integration from the OT and IT domain is real-time #data#sharing and enabling the monitoring and control of physical processes. This is combined with access to data and #analytics from other IT systems to enhance automation and optimization of energy operations. Data needs to flow seamlessly and securely across the domains and this is what OT/IT convergence is about.
What are the key drivers for OT/IT convergence in energy?
- growth of intermittent #renewable energy sources and challenging grid integration; OT/IT convergence enables real-time output monitoring, control, prediction, and management.
- emergence of #smart #grids relying on real-time data and analytics to manage complex and dynamic energy flows.
- demand for #AI and data analytics required to automate and steer decentral energy systems; OT/IT convergence unlocks the value of data by integrating data from different sources, such as sensors, meters, and a diverse range of energy assets.
- demand-side flexibility helping to overcome the structural supply shortage in most energy systems coming along with an increased electrification of everything; the OT/IT convergence helps to optimize energy usage on a device/micro-level, based on signals and commands from overlaying systems (e.g. energy aggregators, #VPPs, grids, and more).
What are the key benefits from OT/IT convergence for the energy industry?
- increased resilience of the energy system; a fully integrated digital data layer enables more supply/demand-side flexibility as well as faster response to disruptions caused by equipment failure, weather extremes or cyberattacks.
- increased efficiency and lower cost of energy; optimized operations and, reduced waste can reduce the cost of energy and the investment into grid infrastructure.
- improved experience for energy users/customers; enhanced transparency in energy consumption patterns and device-level steering enables optimized energy usage/lower energy costs, supports decarbonization ambitions of energy users and can deliver new value-creating opportunities (e.g. monetize flexible loads in energy markets).
The biggest challenge for OT/IT convergence is the increased risk of #cyberattacks. The integration of OT and IT systems increases the attack surface and therefore makes the overall system more vulnerable. Therefore, central data and security management are required, and robust cybersecurity measures must be implemented.
This includes using new innovations in OT #device protection (data and device identities) and additional protection layers for data ‘at rest’. New and highly secure software protocols (like Explicit Private Networking (#XPN)) can be embedded on devices and along the data lifecycle, securing the data, it’s identity and quality from the source up to the #cloud and AI.
Additional challenges stem from the increased volume and complexity of data energy companies must deal with. This requires innovative, interoperable data management systems and #platforms. These must provide data #sovereignty, govern data and its usage centrally also deploying new and efficient data access and data #interoperability approaches (like secure execution environments), enabling secure data consumption and AI.
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