Energy expert Kathryn Vince-Odozi recently outlined both the opportunities and challenges the sector faces as well as the role edge computing will play in what is shaping up to be a massive digital transformation initiative.

Speaking at the recent Edge Computing World Europe 2021 conference, Vince-Odozi, energy field director at Dell Technologies, said the industry is faced with a challenge on two fronts:  It needs to power up as the world demands more and more energy, but it also needs to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change.

“And while we know that renewable energies are the answer to both these problems, (it) requires a new solution to integrate and manage this growing energy production and consumption at the edge.

“Utility companies need to continue to balance the grid, but with a more complex distributed data architecture, low latency, application autonomy and the ever-growing threat of cyber-attacks, there is a need for real time data capture and analytics closer to the point of consumption.”

Vince-Odozi, who holds a PhD in geology, added that from a macro level, the single biggest challenge is that an “additional 1.3 billion people will become energy consumers over the next 10 years. All while the energy industry is driving towards low carbon generation to meet a goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

What that is doing, she said, is not only driving growth in renewables, but rewriting how data is generated and “causing an increase in operational complexity for distribution system operations.”

As a result, “energy generation, entity management and, of course, consumption is all being driven to the edge.

“But this move to the edge is not unique to the energy industry. Of course, this is a global business trend,” she said. “In fact, Gartner predicts that 75% of all enterprise generated data will be created and processed outside the data centres by 2025.

“And in their worldwide IT 2020 predictions, IDC forecast that there would be an 800% increase in the number of applications at the edge by 2024.

“With this increasing OT/IT convergence and the growth of application deployment at the edge, businesses need to store, process and analyze more and more data at the edge. In fact, in an edge study commissioned by Dell Technologies in 2020 it was found that 55% of machine and device data is analyzed where it is created, and we expect that number to continue to rise.

“In essence, what we're really witnessing across many industries is a migration of data and workloads out of the data centre to bigger edge compute deployments.”

Business intelligence, said Vince Odozi, is moving closer to the data course and will continue to do so over the next several years.

The impact that trend will have on the energy sector is expected to be immense and much of it has to do with what she described as “changing consumption patterns.

“It wasn't long ago that we would get up in the morning and just use the kettle and toaster for breakfast or maybe turn the radio or the TV on, then switch them all off and go to work in our petrol or diesel fueled car.

“Now we are working and studying from home needing power for multiple devices. We want apps that show us how much energy every appliance in our home is using and we want to be able to remotely control when it starts and stops.

“As consumers, we want the flexibility to choose an energy tariff that’s personalized. Personalized for how many electric cars we have, whether we have solar panels on our roof or an air source heat pump in the garden.”

All this additional complexity, she said makes it much harder for utility companies to accurately predict and manage demand response for a balanced grid, which is why “transforming and modernizing at the grid edge is at the forefront of utility operational objectives.

“Furthermore, if we look to the sustainable low carbon power system of the future, we can see that the convergence of OT/IT at the grid edge in substations and wind farms and connected mobility charging points, for example, will facilitate this data driven energy transition.

“This will move the intelligence closer to the data source and enabling real time analytics, predictions, control and automation.

“As the edge is rapidly becoming a more significant part of every enterprise IT landscape and essential to the world's data driven transformation, the key to this effective transformation is extending trusted IT grade infrastructure to the edge so that OT can be efficiently deployed managed and supported,” said Vince-Odozi.

Paul Barker