Placed on – 5 July 2023

IoT and the Digital Transformation in the Energy Sector

IoT and real-time monitoring in the energy sector boost operational efficiency and ROI.
Digital Transformation in the Energy Sector

In recent years, the energy sector has witnessed increased adoption of IoT solutions, driven by the desire of many to generate their own energy, ensure a reliable power supply, control their energy costs, and decrease their environmental footprint. 

Our colleague Shoaib Ali was invited to speak last week at the Global Digital Transformation in the Energy Sector Forum to share his perspective on the use of IoT (Internet of Things) as a real-time monitoring solution in the energy sector. Here is what he told us about the topic during an interview with him.  

Index 

Why does the Energy Sector need real-time monitoring?  

When deploying systems in factories or industries, it becomes necessary to have on-site troubleshooting capabilities. However, given the scale of these installations, such as having more than 100 solar panels, it becomes humanly impossible for a person to individually troubleshoot each one. This is where remote troubleshooting and real-time monitoring comes into play. 

The advantage of real-time monitoring lies in its ability to track the performance of these panels as they are being set up in the industry. While a person is physically present in the field, addressing issues with the solar panels, there may already be other systems facing problems that require attention. Managing a wide range of systems simultaneously poses significant challenges for individuals and companies. 

Real-time monitoring allows us to gain immediate insights into the present state of the energy systems. This is crucial because prompt actions are often necessary to rectify any issues. Neglecting or delaying actions can lead to system failures or malfunctions, which could have a detrimental impact. Energy systems, including solar panel installations, are designed in a way that requires immediate intervention at the source of the problem. If an issue arises with an inverter, for example, it needs to be addressed promptly at that specific location without allowing the problem to spread throughout the entire system. 

By implementing real-time monitoring, companies can proactively identify and resolve problems, ensuring smooth operations. This proactive approach helps prevent system-wide shutdowns and ensures efficient functioning. 

What are some examples in which real-time monitoring is being used in the Energy sector? 

Real-time monitoring is being utilized in various instances within the energy sector. One example of its application is in the development of zero energy houses. To achieve this, solar inverters, smart meters, and sensors related to energy generation need to be monitored. For instance, monitoring the incoming energy from the grid and the energy consumed by the house is crucial. In a specific project, our client requested the use of advanced energy meters to facilitate parallel monitoring and data analysis. 

In addition to monitoring electrical systems, solar panels are also integrated into these zero energy houses. Real-time monitoring is essential in this case because in the Netherlands, there are time slots when excess energy generated by the solar panels is fed back to the grid, for which the customer is charged. For companies committed to providing zero energy houses on a large scale, real-time monitoring becomes vital. This use case involves monitoring more than 500 houses, and aggregating and analyzing data from these houses helps address energy fluctuations and consumption patterns. 

Monitoring several locations and individual devices of diverse types is also part of the real-time monitoring approach. Data from appliances and sensors is collected and analyzed to determine the energy consumption from the grid or solar panels at specific times. This continuous monitoring and analysis are crucial in ensuring the concept of zero energy is effectively realized. Algorithms and machine learning techniques are employed to process the data and identify price fluctuations that warrant redirecting energy to alternative power supplies, saving both money and energy. 

In that sense, organizations involved in monitoring multiple houses face the challenge of individually monitoring each house to achieve their goal of zero energy consumption. They, therefore, require an IoT system that enables real-time analysis and alerts, minimizing the need for human intervention. This approach helps in effectively managing energy usage, reducing costs, and saving time. 

Can you provide an overview of how the use of IoT and real-time monitoring solutions has accelerated in the energy sector in recent years, and what are some key drivers behind this trend? 

In recent years, the energy sector has witnessed a significant acceleration in the use of IoT (Internet of Things) and real-time monitoring solutions. One key driver behind this trend is the growing emphasis on green energy and sustainable practices. This focus on clean energy sources that have minimal negative environmental impact has gained attention. Countries like the Netherlands have placed significant importance on generating energy from renewable sources, moving away from fossil fuels. 

The COVID-19 pandemic further amplified the importance of environmental concerns, leading to an increased exploration of energy solutions. Solar panel systems have gained prominence in several countries where environmental consciousness is evident through the rising use of bicycles and the adoption of electric cars. People are becoming more conscious of environmental pollution and are seeking alternatives that align with their values. Shifting towards renewable energy sources has become a priority for many. 

Moreover, the energy crisis has played a role in driving the adoption of real-time monitoring solutions. The fluctuations in gas prices, along with concerns about energy billing, have motivated individuals and industries to invest in clean energy solutions. People are interested in creating autonomous energy systems, generating power through solar panels, and utilizing surplus energy to power other appliances. By generating their own energy, they aim to reduce dependency on traditional energy sources and lower their bills. 

How do out-of-the-box IoT connectors contribute to the growth of IoT implementation in the energy sector? Can you provide specific examples of how these connectors have lowered the threshold for implementation? 

Out-of-the-box IoT connectors, such as EVALAN’s BACE, play a significant role in facilitating the growth of IoT implementation in the energy sector. These connectors contribute to lowering the threshold for implementation in several ways, providing specific advantages and simplifying the process

In the energy sector, various machines and devices utilize the Modbus protocol. However, many available gateways in the market that support Modbus lack connectivity with other protocols like Bluetooth or the ability to send data to the cloud. Adding to this limitation which makes them less practical, they are often also expensive. EVALAN’s BACE product addresses this challenge by supporting multiple protocols out-of-the-box, including Modbus, making it a suitable solution for the industry’s requirements. 

A specific example highlights the effectiveness of BACE in resolving implementation difficulties. A customer initially used a DIY gateway device that required external USB support for Z-Wave, in addition to Modbus. The complexity and additional requirements of the said gateway led to multiple problems. Consequently, they replaced it with BACE, which supports various protocols, including Z-Wave, Zigbee and Modbus, out-of-the-box, and also facilitates cloud transmission. This transition proved smoother and easier for technicians working on-site. 

Furthermore, BACE offers a cost advantage compared to competitors in its price range, making it an attractive choice for users. Its seamless integration and ease of use, particularly with Modbus devices, make implementation straightforward. With BACE, the installation is quicker and more efficient. For example, we once installed over 50 BACE devices in a single day within three to four hours, which shows the efficiency and ease of implementation. 

Compared to some DIY gateways in the market, which involve -for this use case- complicated wiring and the risk of missing wires within a group of multiple wires, BACE offers a more streamlined and user-friendly installation process. The BACE devices feature five Modbus terminals in junction boxes, simplifying connections and enhancing installation efficiency. 

To sum up, out-of-the-box IoT connectors like BACE contribute to the growth of IoT implementation in the energy sector by addressing connectivity challenges, providing support for multiple protocols, and simplifying the installation process. By offering a cost-effective and efficient solution, these connectors lower the threshold for implementation and facilitate the adoption of IoT technologies in the energy sector. 

Could you highlight some notable case studies or success stories where the adoption of IoT and real-time monitoring solutions in the energy sector led to significant improvements in operational efficiency and increased return on investment (ROI)? 

This use case is ideal for a company that wants to maximize energy use based on hourly price fluctuations to make profit. For companies with a solar installation that includes battery storage, optimizing the system based on time-of-use rates is a profitable way to shorten their payback period and boost ROI.  

Optimizing the solar installation entails having a smart system that:  

  • Charges the battery and stores energy while costs are low. 
  • Resells electricity to the grid during times of high costs to maximize profits. 

Since time-of-use pricing is normally handled by energy traders on the wholesale market, while most businesses and consumers pay fixed tariffs for the energy they use, not everyone is aware of its existence. However, it is more common to see energy companies offering dynamic contracts to businesses and households these days. This makes it possible for them to take part in energy arbitrage on a smaller scale. 

Time-of-use rates work in the following way. Energy prices vary throughout the day (usually by hour) based on demand. During peak periods, such as in the morning and evening when people are waking up or returning home from work, energy prices are higher due to increased demand. Conversely, during off-peak hours, such as late at night or the middle of the day, energy prices tend to be lower.  

EVALAN’s IoT solution can assist in daily energy price monitoring and adjustment of charge/discharge periods. This means that the system can recharge the battery and store excess energy while prices are low and sell excess energy back to the grid when prices are high to maximize profits, leading to a significant increase in ROI. 

Similar success stories can be observed in industrial settings. For instance, an industrial bakery installed an IoT real-time monitoring system without having a solar installation. By closely tracking energy consumption, they could optimize their operations and identify opportunities for energy-saving measures. This resulted in substantial cost savings and increased operational efficiency. 

Moreover, it is not just large-scale industries benefiting from IoT and real-time monitoring. Small-scale businesses and shops are also adopting solar panels and energy monitoring solutions. Although with solar panels the initial investment may be perceived as costly, the long-term savings and sustainability benefits make it a worthwhile choice. By monitoring energy consumption, these businesses can make informed decisions, manage costs, and optimize their energy usage. 

In the energy sector, the importance of big data analysis cannot be overlooked. With real-time monitoring systems in place, companies can collect and analyze vast amounts of data. By applying machine learning algorithms, they gain insights into energy consumption patterns, identify anomalies, and make data-driven decisions to optimize their operations. This approach enables more efficient use of energy resources and cost reductions. 

Overall, the adoption of IoT and real-time monitoring solutions in the energy sector has proven to be a catalyst for operational efficiency improvements and increased ROI. From residential installations to large-scale industries, the ability to monitor, analyze, and optimize energy usage has resulted in substantial savings, environmental benefits, and a shift towards sustainable energy practices. 

In your opinion, what are the main challenges or obstacles that companies in the energy sector face when implementing IoT solutions? 

Implementing IoT solutions in the energy sector poses several challenges for companies. One significant obstacle is managing the vast amount of data generated by different energy assets such as solar panels and heat pumps. Manually handling this data or relying solely on meter readings and sensors is impractical and inefficient. Companies require an automated system that can collect and monitor data while adapting to fluctuations in energy consumption. This is where out-of-the-box IoT connectors come into play

Out-of-the-box IoT connectors offer a solution to overcome these challenges by facilitating machine-to-machine communication and leveraging machine learning capabilities. They address the need for interoperability by supporting multiple protocols and communication standards used in the energy sector. These connectors enable seamless integration and data exchange between diverse devices and systems, eliminating the complexity associated with manual data management. 

Moreover, by offering pre-built integration capabilities, these connectors lower the threshold for adopting IoT solutions in the energy sector. Companies can easily deploy and configure connectors like BACE without extensive customization, reducing implementation time and costs. 

For more information 

If you are interested in leveraging IoT technologies to enhance your energy infrastructure, monitor energy consumption, and implement more efficient energy management strategies, send us an email to info@evalan.com.  

Or book a meeting with an IoT expert here.  

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