The efficient management of energy sources is a problem for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Having different energy sources and providers in a strongly competitive market is a theoretical advantage which should lead to the reduction of costs and the provision of energy of superior quality. However, individual companies are rarely able to follow the energy market trend nor have the necessary information to manage energy efficiency in real-time with respect to actual needs. Typically, the problem is simply solved evaluating e.g. every two years the new offerings on the market and then deciding – if considered valuable – to change energy supplier.
This process is rather static and does not allow any type of optimization linked to different operating conditions of the plants, which normally show variable energy consumption profiles at yearly, monthly, weekly and even daily level. The scenario gets more complicated by the fact that the alternative energy sources are becoming cheaper and easy to install.
Companies already started to exploit proprietary energy generation plant (both wind and photovoltaic) that help to reduce energy dependency on conventional sources: companies then become both energy consumer and producer, thus contributing to change the traditional paradigm of electrical networks that now become usable in both directions, to pick up and deliver energy. For a company it is very difficult to control the energy balance between energy production and consumption, and it is nearly impossible (unless in specific cases, as for e.g. big consumers) to have an effective bargaining power to negotiate the most favorable conditions.
It is therefore necessary to develop new solutions to allow the distribution grids to respond and / or adapt themselves in real-time to the complex interactions that exist between all energy market players and then provide advanced information to their stakeholders, so as to facilitate their business and support their marketing functions (e.g. real-time delivery of new services). In addition, it is necessary to enable new actors, such as load and production aggregators, to enter the market and provide, among others, next-generation grid services. For example, the new figure of the energy broker is supposed to negotiate on behalf of third parties the best energy supply available on the market and to procure energy in near real time to the needs of associates. To be able to perform this tasks at their best, brokers must be able to rely on updated and accurate information on energy needs for each company. Furthermore, brokers must constantly know how much energy (and with what quality parameters) is produced from alternative sources so as to be able to maintain a precise and accurate energy balance able to exploit market availability.
The approach to the optimization of energy costs must therefore take into account the measures on energy demand (consumption, plants) and the possible supply-side actions (purchase contracts). ICT come strongly into play to fix the current lack of “intelligence” of distribution networks and deal efficiently with new technological and organizational challenges. Based on this idea the SIMONE project intends to provide an open environment in which all stakeholders interested in new generation distribution grids interoperate in a transparent manner.
SIMONE (Integrated System for Monitoring the Production of Electric Energy) will provide an innovative approach to address the new challenges of power distribution networks determined by the significant growth of distributed energy production from unconventional sources, such as solar and wind power plants, and the need to have more efficient and flexible mechanisms of energy supply.
In fact, the current distribution networks were not designed to handle distributed energy generation, but only to manage energy distribution and use.
The new generation distribution networks (smart grids) pose new technological and organizational challenges such as managing user side management and coordination of distributed production sites.
SIMONE will develop innovative mission-critical services such as load matching, request management, self-healing, real-time or near real-time monitoring, as well as scheduling and forecasting of operating performance. These services will be consistently orchestrated in order to allow a dynamic composition of new applications.
SIMONE includes a sophisticated, scalable and self organizing ICT architecture, providing the basic infrastructure on which applications and value added services can be run. Basic principles of software oriented architecture (SOA) will be adopted and important aspects such as compliance with standards, security of the entire information flow and direct control of the physical components will be managed efficiently.
From a technological point of view, the project involves the use of sensors distributed throughout the system, able to constantly monitor information on the operation of individual plants. The information collected is sent via wired connections (powerline) or to a wireless control structure capable of monitoring, alerting situations of load variation and therefore of interacting with the energy producers to “align” the level of energy input on the network.
DSO, suppliers and end-users (consumers and producers) will thus be part of an online system, suitable for a liberalized market, in which a set of new services will be available, actively contributing to the take up of small renewable energy production units.
The layers that make up the architecture of SIMONE are:
- At the lowest level there are different Sensor Networks able to get data on generation / consumption for specific user / company (sensors will be able to perform a first high-level processing of the information collected).
- At higher level, the system is based on a distributed Virtualized Cloud Computing Environment in the form of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) (the advantages of of such infrastructure derive from the fact that it guarantees computing capacity and storage flexible high performance)
- At the highest level, the Middleware layer, thanks to a series of interfaces, is responsible for collecting the data from the various heterogeneous networks, standardizing and making it available to the level of business intelligence.
- The level of Business Intelligence is responsible for processing data, implementing the actual logic business architecture (at this level, through a series of algorithms, different complex problems are resolved to support monitoring and management of industrial energy plant or territory in general).
- The highest architecture level is, finally, represented by the Application Layer that takes care of building interfaces for user interaction with the system.