How to Apply ICT to the Power Grid: OSIsoft’s Way — Part 1

Smart grid is where power, IT, and communications meet. In this blog, IT and communications technologies are grouped as ICT. These days, most industry areas have become so complex that we cannot cope with problems without applying ICT.

When smart grid was first introduced, Cisco declared that the power grid would be much bigger than the Internet. From the data point of view alone, the amount of data produced and processed on the power grid is on a scale that none of us has experienced before. And with more-sophisticated monitoring technologies, the volume of data will even increase. The data collected may include equipment health, power flow, and quantity of power consumption. Simply collecting data does not do much good. We need to process what we collect—make heads and tails of it—to produce useful information for better operation and maintenance. This is the Big Data problem that is getting a lot of attention these days in ICT and other segments.

Usually, Big Data problems are due to the proliferation of SNSs, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. But with the advent of low-power and low-priced, yet very sophisticated, end devices and sensors, different kinds of Big Data problems are emerging, such as the one I just mentioned.

There are several companies that apply their software systems and tools to solve Big Data problems in a particular vertical market, such as the power industry. When I was covering data centers and their energy efficiency, I visited OSIsoft at its San Leandro, CA, headquarters in 2009. They collect data sent by end devices like sensors and their equivalents and store, analyze, and visualize the collected data to take appropriate actions for improving operations. Since that visit, my focus has expanded to include the power industry, which is only one of the markets OSIsoft addresses (see the other markets here).

Recently, I had an opportunity to attend their users conference in San Francisco.

I listened to several representatives of utilities and others in the power industry talk about their use of OSIsoft’s PI system. I also talked to Dave Roberts, Fellow and market Principal – Smart Cities, who is an expert in the power industry.


Dave Roberts

The following is my summary of our discussion, with my comments.

Some power grid basics

I am targeting this blog to very, very IT people and not to power people. So I think very simple, basic information is useful. The power grid is a big connected network of power lines. The power grid consists of two types of grids: transmission and distribution. Generated power is transmitted at a very high voltage via transmission lines to neighborhoods of consumers. Then the high voltage is transformed to much lower voltage, and power is delivered to consumers like you and me via the distribution grid. Because power must be consumed as it is produced, demand and supply need to be balanced all the time. Power on transmission lines is managed by each utility or by organizations called ISOs/RTOs (independent of utility companies) to make sure the balance of demand and supply is maintained—to keep the lights on. Also, as with computer networks, it is important to know the health and status of each device and all the equipment hanging from the grid. As in computer networks, such information is collected from multiple places in the grid. The number of collection points grows as more technologies are developed.

What OSIsoft does


Although from my conversations with other OSIsoft people, I knew what business they were in, I just wanted to make sure who they are and what they do. They provide a software infrastructure system called PI to connect remote devices, gather/collect/aggregate data from them, and store and retrieve the collected data for further analysis, such as data analytics and visualization. They do not provide end devices like sensors or analytics engines. In other words, PI is one of the important components of the Internet of Things, M2M, or intelligent systems. Different people define the Internet of Things, M2M, and intelligent systems slightly differently, and the terms are often used interchangeably.

Here’s an oversimplified view of PI architecture.

My view on the conceptual view of PI architecture

PI is not an operating system but there is some analogy between PI and Windows. Windows provides a base operating environment for applications to run in. Microsoft in general does not provide any applications packages but provides this base plus some tools/utilities and libraries via APIs. Third parties exploit this platform to write applications. PI is similar and does not provide applications, including data analytics packages. So PI can be said to be a general platform and applications area agnostic.

This will continue to Part 2.

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

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