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The Magazine

The Internet of Things

Are you listening to your grid?

A new cloud-based operating system translates data from the Internet of Things into business revenue. Thomas Zimmermann, CEO of Siemens’ Digital Grid Business Unit, explains how – and why he thinks Siemens’ in-depth knowledge of domains and end-to-end solutions is as important as reaching out across industries.

The Internet of Things is about to change the energy world as we know it, and with it the business models of successful energy enterprises. “Billions of devices will soon be connected to the Internet of Things, offering a gold mine of data, but so far less than 0.5 percent of that data is being used,” says Thomas Zimmermann, CEO of the Digital Grid Business Unit at Siemens. “In this fast-changing energy system driven by decentralization and decarbonization, digitalization is a key enabler to create additional value.” For Zimmermann, this enabler has a name: MindSphere, the open, cloud-based IoT operating system presented at this year’s Energy Utility Week in Amsterdam. “MindSphere connects edge devices, the power grid and electrical infrastructure assets quickly and easily for end-to-end use cases, thus monetizing the revolutionary impact of the Internet of Things on the energy industry,” he explains. 

Billions of devices will soon be connected to the Internet of Things, offering a gold mine of data.
Thomas Zimmermann, CEO Digital Grid Business Unit, Siemens Energy Management Division

Smart meters have been the first step, already installed in many countries around the world. They provide transparency about consumption, prevent nontechnical losses and bring utilities and consumers closer together. “Smart meters are just the beginning,” Zimmermann says. “Many more are coming: photovoltaic inverters, decentralized storage units, e-cars amongst others.” To successfully integrate all these devices into one operating system, one has to have a deep knowledge of the assets installed in the power grid and the electrical infrastructure, as well as of grid edge devices. “Siemens has this deep domain knowledge, given that alone around 25 million existing smart devices have already been installed by our customers – with millions more to be added in the years to come.” The data from these devices is being analyzed and interpreted using EnergyIP applications, and Siemens is currently partnering with the energy industry, assisting them to make the transformation to the cloud-based MindSphere, offering new opportunities and efficiency gains which were impossible before. Such deep knowledge, Zimmermann emphasizes, is crucial to guarantee reliability.

Billions of devices will soon be connected to the Internet of Things, offering a gold mine of data, but so far less than 0.5 percent of that data is being used.

A potential gold mine

The data delivered by billions of devices with their own IP addresses bears huge potential. “While smart meter data in most settings is so far just used for billing, this data could be used to stabilize the grid, which becomes more important with the rise of decentralized power generation from renewable energy sources, causing fluctuations and potential instability.” Energy efficiency is a promising field of application that could be tackled with data from existing smart meters and new sensors in the grid. Another upcoming challenge is e-mobility, requiring far more fast-charging stations than supply lines have been made for. The choice utilities have here is to either physically build new supply lines or use smart data analytics to optimize demand and supply.

“This is where Siemens comes in, not only with our deep knowledge of the domains, but additionally with our broad knowledge for end-to-end solutions,” Zimmermann beams. MindSphere is not an operating system for the energy world alone. It reaches across industries, connects energy appliances with building technology as well as industry or mobility solutions, enabling value chain optimizations, sector coupling or whole city platforms. “We know all these sectors very well, and MindSphere is being introduced there too – giving our energy customers the opportunity to benefit from that connectivity to create end-to-end solutions and thus additional value through the cloud.”

Without the grid, nothing will work – but to generate revenue with this grid in the future, utilities will have to change their mind-set.
Thomas Zimmermann, CEO Digital Grid Business Unit, Siemens Energy Management Division

Up in the cloud

Energy management applications currently available on the EnergyIP smart grid application platform such as EnergyIP Meter Data Management or the EnergyIP Analytics Suite will steadily be made available on MindSphere. The cloud-based structure facilitates quick solutions in a highly dynamic environment. Siemens will be creating new so-called MindApps continually and offers third-party companies the opportunity to do the same. “MindSphere is an open platform for scalable, global IoT connectivity and application development,” says Zimmermann. “An ecosystem with an open connectivity, an open API and an open partner network.”

Only recently, Energy IP Data Management has been listed on the SAP price list as SAP Meter Data Management by Siemens. Openness and the use of standard protocols are necessary to provide the best solutions quickly. DevOps, development and operations combined, enables MindSphere users to have new use cases ready for market within a couple of weeks, compared to months or years in the classical energy era. MindConnect offers a secure plug-and-play connection to third-party products and equipment. Guaranteeing safe connectivity and cybersecurity is a key issue on the MindSphere platform, and Siemens offers to assist utilities to gradually move their critical infrastructure to the cloud. “We will however continue to offer on-premise solutions that can be seamlessly integrated into the cloud-based platform once the client wishes to do so,” Zimmermann promises. Thus an investment made in an on-premise solution today is protected for the future.

Designed as an open OS for the Internet of Things, MindSphere allows utilities to take advantage of data by optimizing operations and creating new business models.

New business for established players

For those who use MindSphere to mine the grid data for gold, Zimmermann foresees potential new business opportunities. “Software is first of all a productivity tool, also in the IoT world, and many customers have payback rates of less than one and a half years using an application to automate their processes,” he says. “But it’s the new value-added services that provide utilities the most opportunities – for instance, energy-efficiency consulting.” For example, virtual power plants can combine separate, decentralized power sources into one virtual entity. “This helps to stabilize the grid, and there are again new business cases, for example, if you sell the bundled power at the Energy Exchange.”

For the growing number of prosumers feeding power into the grid, MindApps might create and manage virtual energy accounts with mobile meters, including e-car use and other energy transactions far from home. Another powerful use case already in place today is fraud detection, reducing nontechnical losses and generating additional revenue. Or improved outage management, higher grid efficiency, predictive maintenance – the opportunities seem endless. In Singapore, Siemens even runs a digitalization hub to increase efficiency and smarten the whole city state. “The target is to build end-to-end use cases for public transportation, grid management, generation, building and industrial automation, again with MindSphere as the underlying operating system,” Zimmermann says. It’s a whole new world, and Zimmermann especially urges established utilities to take advantage of the opportunities it offers. “They have a huge asset, which is the grid: Without the grid, nothing will work – but to generate revenue with this grid in the future, utilities will have to change their mind-set.”

Marc Engelhardt reports from Geneva on the UN and business news.
Picture credits: Armin Schieb, Siemens AG