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Our VP of Energy and Operations, Tim Burke, looks at how IoT could be the key to moving forward with the inevitable green energy transition.

There’s no question about it – the world is going green. The transition to renewable energy has been in the works for a while, but the recent wildfires in the US and Australia coupled with a renewed focus on cleaner air due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has really focussed minds. But before we can comprehensively move away from fossil fuels and into a majority renewables energy market, we need to be able to truly understand the unpredictable nature of renewable energy generation to ensure a stable power supply – after all, the sun isn’t always shining! Could IoT (Internet of Things) be the key to moving forward with our green energy transition? And how does IMS Evolve fit into the race for green energy?

Digitally Monitoring Renewables

Many utility companies are already using digital solutions to monitor the supply and consumption of renewable energy. However, this data often isn’t then being effectively used to help manage it – it’s all well and good knowing how much electricity you’re producing, but to enable a truly effective and stable supply, utility companies need visibility on grid requirements to know when there is a grid demand for energy, or when it would more beneficial to supply electricity directly to a consumer. This is where IoT can play a key role. The future of a stable renewable power supply is bi-directional, where renewable energy sources use IoT to communicate with both the grid and consumer devices in order to understand where power is needed and avoid inefficiency in supply. To avoid disruption, renewable energy supplies will require connection to three key areas: consumer goods, high-capacity energy storage and the grid.

Bi-directional communication would first establish a connection with the grid, either local or national, to determine whether there is a central demand for energy. In Hawaii, we’ve recently seen a situation where renewables are producing so much energy that consumers are being asked to switch on lights in the middle of the day just to ensure that electricity has somewhere to go. This is highly inefficient, and counter to everything we’re trying to achieve by moving towards more sustainable alternatives and practices. The problem of over-supply can be solved by connecting sources of renewables generation to the grid and feeding real-time information to determine whether or not there is a demand.

If the grid is already coping with demand, IoT devices can then redirect power to either high-capacity energy storage or directly to a local consumer. We could have a situation in the future where renewables are connected via IoT to local infrastructure, where entire towns are supplied with electricity directly from a solar farm, rather than relying on a central grid to redirect enough power to match demand.

An IoT-Enabled Renewable Future

So, IoT clearly has a role to play in our green transition. It can help solve the challenges of helping utility companies understand when energy is needed, where it’s going to be sent or stored, and exactly how it ends up being used to help improve infrastructure and response times. All of this sounds great, so why do we not yet have a fully connected energy sector?

The answer is cost and compatibility – two hurdles holding the energy sector back from realising the true value of digital transformation. However, innovations in controls-agnostic technology, such as those already rolled out in major supermarkets by IMS Evolve, could mean that these hurdles are about to be overcome. 

So, what is controls-agnostic technology and how does it solve the problems of cost and compatibility?

Machines and infrastructure with different OEM’s will all speak their own ‘language’. This has traditionally meant that two controls systems by different vendors are incompatible, leaving utility companies without the ability to properly connect their renewable energy solutions with the grid, battery storage or consumer devices which use different software. In reality, this means an energy sector that is efficient and connected cannot be realised, as energy generation, storage and demand will all be siloed based on what controls system they are using. Theoretically, every utility company could invest in the same IoT solution, but the reality is that many suppliers simply cannot afford to constantly upgrade their equipment to enable the latest connected solution.

Here’s where IMS Evolve’s controls agnostic solution comes in. By layering a controls system over the top of any existing infrastructure, utility companies can connect their power supply with the grid, energy storage or consumer devices without the need to upgrade their infrastructure. This plug-and-play approach allows connectivity between almost any controls system, regardless of age, cost or application. Need to connect your solar farm to a local supermarket in case of grid over-supply? Now you can, without the need for costly infrastructure and software upgrades.

The future of renewable energy, like so many other sectors, is digital. If energy companies are able to overcome the final hurdles to digital adoption by using controls-agnostic solutions, we will be well on our way to realising a cleaner, greener future.