Find a German translation of this article here.
Stefan Hartleib, IT Consultant and Max Mueller, IoT Developer from Stadtwerke Leipzig GMBH write for The Device Chronicle. Edge devices with OTA software updates are playing an increasingly important role in municipality energy management as our experts from the Leipzig City municipality explain.
The secure supply of electricity, gas, water and district heating to the population is one of the most important fields of application development and deployment for IoT and edge device solutions. Solutions that improve the quality of life in buildings, public places or entire cities are increasingly on the rise. In addition, there are many other arenas such as public transport, renewable energy production, waste disposal or fleet management that benefit from IoT solutions. In addition to optimising existing use cases, new innovative IoT solutions also open up new business opportunities in the public sector for municipal utilities.
Energy transformation and the digital twin
More than 1000 municipal utilities operate in the German electricity market and strongly shape the local energy market. The energy market is increasingly influenced by the topic of energy transformation or the “Energiewende”. Part of this energy transformation pivots off decentralised generation plants in the private sector that use renewable energies to generate electricity. In order to be able to manage the growing number of decentralised generation plants, data technology with the help of IoT solutions are being used to create virtual power plants to mirror the physical ones. A virtual power plant requires a lot of data from the generation plants. With low-cost edge devices, this data from the plant can be collected directly in the field.
Virtual power plant and the digital twin
With its IoT platform, the Leipzig municipal utility has built a virtual power plant that contains data from power plants that generate and consume electricity. Small, low-cost edge devices collect data from the plants, analyse it locally within a digital twin model and send the data efficiently to the municipality’s IoT platform. The swarm of decentralised plants can be monitored and controlled via the edge devices. Lower-cost plant control and monitoring make many new products possible. The main reason for the success of edge devices is the IoT platform in the background, which is the basis for the entire construct. It ensures the secure connection of edge devices and external data sources, corrects any errors that could occur, keeps the software on the edge devices up to date; and processes the large amounts of data collected from the field.
Increasing options, increasing possibilities
There are more and more providers for edge devices on the market, which means that the possibilities are increasing and the prices are falling at the same time. From a technical point of view, edge devices are not a new technology, but for many use cases in the public sector, their use is still seen as novel and innovative. This does not always make it easy to integrate IoT into corporate processes with high security and data protection requirements. The new Industrial IoT applications must adhere to the same strict guidelines as SCADA systems and critical infrastructures, especially in German public utilities. Mostly, companies build compliance requirements in an agile fashion in parallel to the ongoing development of the IoT solution.
Big data analysed in real time with digital twin, ML and OTA software updates
A key trend is that Industrial IoT solutions generate a lot of data, some of which can only be analysed in real time. A second trend is the ever-increasing computing power of edge devices. Combining both is almost a necessity and normality in 2021. The use of machine learning, for example, in the detection of hazards or the prediction of energy consumption and generation is becoming more and more widespread in applications in the public sector. The public sector is following the trend that other sectors in the economy are also following. The use of machine learning on edge devices makes it necessary to have Machine Learning Operations(MLOps) and requires the use of OTA software update solutions such as Mender.io. More and more functions that used to take place on a platform in a data centre can now be done very easily locally on the edge device. The basis for this is that software can be deployed on an edge device at the same speed and with the same security as in a data centre. The increasing trend towards containerisation of applications makes this easy.
Advantages of OTA software updates
OTA software updates keep products “fresh”. Users today have become accustomed to the fact that software evolves and they regularly receive improvements and new functions. This trend exists in industry as well as in the public sector. Another advantage of OTA software updates is ensuring end to end security of the products and integrating the security with corporate and public sector security policy for compliance. Updates are an indispensable feature when products are based on increasingly complex software. Increasing pressure to innovate ensures that new solutions are quickly put to use and perfected over the course of their life cycle. The product matures with the user and their behaviour has an influence on the further development of the product. The basis for such a daring approach is a solid and secure OTA software update. OTA software updates also reduce the time required to distribute new software to edge devices. It takes just a few mouse clicks to determine which devices will receive new software. If errors occur, the last functioning software version is automatically used. This reduces the workload of the development teams, since in the event of a faulty OTA software update, the device is restored to a usable state and error analysis can be carried out.
The municipalities are using IoT, edge devices and machine learning for edge computing to provide better services for the citizens under their remit. Better power management through a digital twin between physical power plants and virtual power plants is a great example of this. Edge devices with robust and secure OTA software updates are playing a key role in securely delivering and updating the machine learning models to conduct the required data analysis locally. We can only expect IoT, edge and artificial intelligence to become more pervasive to enable better outcomes in public safety, quality of life and economic efficiency.