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Using gaming to better understand the management of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs)

image credit: Image courtesy of LiveData Utilities

Can gaming help your workforce better understand how to manage the complexity of the brave new world of Distributed Energy Resources? Admittedly, applying gaming mechanics may not be an obvious choice to ensure the safety and reliability of the grid. However, we have all been gamified to incent some sort of behavior. In our own lives we try to earn frequent flyer miles and points in loyalty programs. Even in the power industry we are starting to see the application of game mechanics when our smart thermostats encourage us to change our home heating and cooling or when utilities send us reminders of how much energy we consume compared to our neighbors. This led my colleagues and me to explore how game mechanics might be applied to help with the challenge of the ever-growing numbers of resources being connected to the grid.     

The challenge – Understanding why new architectures are required to manage DERs

The number of distributed energy resources (DERs) connecting to the grid continues to grow daily. This makes the grid increasingly complex as well as the jobs of system architects, engineers, and control room operators who work to provide safe and reliable power. We have had many conversations in which we heard the power industry recognizes this evolution as it works to integrate, manage, and control a constantly changing mix of DERs, systems, data, and their various communication protocols.

Traditionally, when new assets are integrated to the grid, they have required expensive, custom coding to allow their data to extracted, transformed, and loaded by the other assets with which they interact. The requirements of each asset’s specific protocol further complicated the custom coding.  

Figure 1 Adding a new asset typically requires expensive custom coding for several connections to legacy assets.

Figure 1 Adding a new asset typically requires expensive custom coding for several connections to legacy assets.

A Solution – The Operational Technology Message Bus

In response to this growing challenge, system architects increasingly employ OT-centric middleware software patterns such as the Operational Technology Message Bus (OTMB). As seen here, OTMB acts as the critical bridge, providing data throughout a utility’s network of Operational Technology systems, devices, and Information Technology. This platform approach reduces integration time, cost, and maintenance while providing for future integrations. When configured to do so, the OTMB can offer a utility sheer visibility have across its enterprise as well as operational control of its assets.

Using an OTMB software pattern, adding an asset to a utility’s enterprise requires a single connection with the new asset’s native communication protocol. This approach vastly reduces the need, cost, and maintenance complications of customized programming. 

While many Operational Technology architects, have an intuitive understanding of the need for new integration architectures to manage the complexity created by a constantly growing sea of DERs, many stakeholders in energy organizations do not.

Fig 2. The Operational Technology Message Bus software pattern requires one connection using the asset's native communication protocol.

Fig 2. The Operational Technology Message Bus software pattern requires one connection using the asset's native communication protocol.

The Gamification Experiment - Utility Commander

In order to help utility organizations understand the need for new software patterns like OTMB, some vendors are using gaming to overcome the inertia required to introduce new architectures to an industry that is inherently resistant to change. One such example is Utility Commander, a web-based game that places the player in a control room scenario.

Fig 3. Utility Commander – a computer game to educate and collaborate about the energy industry

Fig 3. Utility Commander – a computer game to educate and collaborate about the energy industry

Utility Commander has 3 primary objectives.

  1. Fun and Engaging – A gaming approach is used to amplify an existing industry experience and to foster engagement and collaboration around the growing industry challenge of DER integration.
  2. Demonstrate the value of OT-centric middleware in today’s power industry -  While these software patterns have been used for many years in many other industries, the adoption rate has been slower in utilities.
  3. Education – While most people use the power every day, they have little knowledge about how their electricity gets to their light switches. Today’s consumers are increasingly interested in understanding how their choices impact the world around them.

Fig 4. The Operational Technology Message Bus software pattern is scalable, facilitates integration, and saves cost

Fig 4. The Operational Technology Message Bus software pattern is scalable, facilitates integration, and saves cost.

Game Mechanics – How to Gamify

Whether you enter the control room in Greendale and become a Utility Commander, or set out to create a gaming experience of your own, here is the list of attributes we believe are necessary to ensure an authentic and engaging gaming experience.

Mechanics

Description

Utility Commander

Badges

Evidence of accomplishments

Progress to higher levels of complexity and achievement

Competition

How I’m doing compared to others

Multi-player scenarios tbd

Collaboration

Accomplish a goal working with others

Feedback channel to hear from and collaborate with the industry

Community

A context for achievement

Compare score to potential maximized score

Fast Feedback

Immediate feedback or response to actions

Real-time and cumulative scoring, playback to analyze performance

Goals

Short and long-term goals to achieve

Each level has individualized goal and maximum potential score

Levelling Up

Status within my community

Levels become increasingly complicated with additional assets and tools

Onboarding

An engaging and compelling way to learn

Novel approach to visualize power demand and generation

Points

Tangible, measurable evidence of my accomplishments

Scoring based on the profitability of your power generation

Transparency

Where everyone stands

Hall of Champions tbd

 The Conclusion - We want to hear from you

Do you think gamification has a role to engage more stakeholders in adopting new systems and architectures? Did you get a chance to play Utility Commander? What did you think? Let us know if you think this has a place in the power industry and what applications would you like to see. Good luck and have fun!

 

Allison Salke's picture

Thank Allison for the Post!

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 27, 2019 2:57 pm GMT

Ooh I'm a sucker for these kind of ideas, thanks for sharing it with the community Allison. I do think it's true that the gaming model can provide a non-trivial educational and even optimization potential for looking at solutions. I've long thought if you added an energy/utility aspect to a game like those in the Civ series, you could show the challenges of making changes and how those challenges get worse the longer you wait (such as with decarbonization).

Do you have any examples or stories of note to how playing with this game helped to modify how players/students/professionals thought about the energy industry?

Allison Salke's picture
Allison Salke on Aug 27, 2019 3:40 pm GMT

Thank you for your comment and great question Matt. We just released this beta version of Utilitiy Commander. I hope to share with the community players/students/professionals thoughts and our learnings.   

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 28, 2019 1:49 pm GMT

Excellent-- please do report back!

PS you might enjoy a tongue-in-cheek article I wrote on retrofitting popular video game series with messages about clean energy & climate change!

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