Much is being invested in the renewables sector in the UK and September saw the opening of the vast Walney Extension in Cumbria – what is, for now, the world’s largest offshore wind farm.
With 87 turbines, the 659 megawatt project capable of generating power to 0.6 million UK homes is only part of the picture for majority shareholder Ørsted, whose total operating capacity in Barrow alone is 1.5 gigawatts and which controls 11 offshore UK sites.
More than most companies operating in the energy and utilities sector, the Danish firm exemplifies the transformation that is taking place. Until 2017 it operated under the name of Dong (Energy) – an acronym for Danish Oil and Natural Gas that referenced its origins in the 1970s North Sea boom.
In a few short years the company has not only divested its inconvenient name (rechristening itself in honour of the Danish father of electromagnetics) but also its extensive gas and oil holdings – most recently to Ineos – in favour of renewables. The object being the wholesale transformation “from a black to a green energy company”.
It’s now possible to manipulate how we consume energy in a very predictable, reliable and unobtrusive way to shift large amounts of power and align patterns of demand with renewable supply
David Hill, comercial director, Open Energi
Much of this is centred on the UK, where MyGridGB’s snapshot for the electricity mix for a single period (10 October at 1am) reveals wind accounted for 17.6% – topped only by nuclear at 24.5% and gas on 32.7%, with coal on 0%. And, overall, new renewables have seen their share of electricity generation increase fivefold in eight years.
For the process industries and associated sectors which have traditionally been interdependent with the fossil fuels market – or in the case of oil and gas synonymous with it – the changing energy mix represents both challenge and opportunity.
In a seminar earlier this year to specialist media, Adrian Timbus, ABB technology and solutions manager – Smart Grid & Renewables, outlined the central role that digitalisation plays in energy transformation; and with it the demands upon companies that want to be part of the network or exploit it fully.
Power systems, he says, are characterised increasingly by their complexity and larger ecosystem, increasing both demand and new approaches. The smart grid, combining electricity with IT infrastructure to connect all users, provides the means to balance supply and demand in this network.
Given that energy remains one of the prime operational costs for industry – which accounts for 25% of UK electricity consumption – boosting its efficient use should be a priority.
Ambiguity, organisational silos and other role-related issues are slowing down the operator’s ability to manage cybersecurity risks, at a time when massive infrastructure changes are needed
Jason Urso, chief technology officer, Honeywell Process Solutions
Centrica (Distributed Energy: Powering the future of industry) estimates that if just half the country’s manufacturing businesses adopted new energy technologies such as battery storage and solar, UK productivity and growth could be boosted by close to £14 billion Gross Value Added and savings of £540 million on costs.
David Hill, commercial director at renewable distributed energy consultants Open Energi, references obliquely the so-called ‘energy trilemma’ – the need to address sustainability, but also affordability and security – when highlighting the benefits to process companies.
“It’s now possible to manipulate how we consume energy in a very predictable, reliable and unobtrusive way to shift large amounts of power and align patterns of demand with renewable supply. Doing nothing just results in a prohibitively expensive system,” states Hill. “Unlocking flexible capacity from existing assets is smarter and cheaper than investing in new infrastructure. Open Energi analysis suggests there’s a huge amount of untapped demand flexibility in industrial and domestic markets, around 6GW, which is equivalent to over 10% of UK peak demand.
“As EV uptake accelerates we’ll see a massive new source of flexibility become available – 11GW by 2030. In parallel, subsidyfree, merchant risk renewable developments, such as corporate PPAs, are an emerging trend.”
In other words, not only the chance to increase efficient and economic use of one of the prime sources of expenditure in a plant; also an opportunity to develop a new revenue stream.
An indication of how this might happen better is Open Energi’s Dynamic Demand 2.0 platform, which makes use of automated intelligence to allow process and other businesses to coordinate energy resources and even trade back to the market.
Materials producer and supplier Aggregate Industries began using the system for the 40 bitumen tanks it operates at 10 UK sites, in order to optimise its electricity use.
Dynamic Demand 2.0 connects to the tanks, using a panel that houses the Dynamic Demand algorithms to monitor power consumption in real time, temperature and control variables. Information talks to Open Energi’s Cloud platform which checks grid conditions and power prices.
The rise of renewables can increase unpredictability and create challenges in aligning demand and supply levels, hence the growth of the electricity wholesale and imbalance market. Hill cites initiatives such as BM light and project TERRE, plus supplier products such as Price Pilot and Renewable Balancing Reserve offered by Aggregate Industries’ electricity supplier – Ørsted. This has allowed the firm to reduce its own demand in real time for three half hour periods daily, providing 4.5MW of flexibility to the National Grid and Ørsted, plus a 10-15% increase in value for Aggregate Industries’ pilot sites, says the company’s energy manager Richard Eaton.
For process industries, the smart grid is an opportunity to reduce energy costs by 10-20% and create value in a completely invisible and automated way, insists Open Energi’s David Hill. Those companies with limited flexibility in their processes can still gain significant savings by optimising other technologies (battery storage, solar and CHPs) with demand.
The smart grid both provides additional resilience but also opens up more opportunities for an adversary to attack and penetrate that grid
Lord Harris of Haringey
Energy security, however, is not limited to matters of supply and storage. Connectivity has created opportunity for far greater data-driven insights but increased potential vulnerability to ‘hostile actors’ – whether economically or politically motivated.
Jason Urso, chief technology officer at Honeywell Process Solutions, encapsulates the dilemma thus: “If you don’t have insightful data from across your smart grid, you may spend years and millions developing services that customers don’t want. Yet if collecting that data is left open-ended without security measures in place, someone will certainly disrupt your operation and you’ll completely miss the benefits of the connectivity.”
For a business, the consequences of cyber breaches, notes Schneider Electric (Powering an ‘always on’ world; how smart infrastructures work) can be sixfold: possible regulator penalties, safety issues, outages, reputation loss, higher insurance rates and loss of profits.
For companies seeking to maintain or establish a place in the energy and utilities sector, the transformation to smart grid connectivity has to take place in an environment of legacy equipment, ageing infrastructure and outdated working practices. Schneider likens the process to “changing the wheels on a car without stopping”.
Cautions Honeywell’s Urso: “Ambiguity, organisational silos and other role-related issues are slowing down the operator’s ability to manage cybersecurity risks, at a time when massive infrastructure changes are needed.”
This issue is most pronounced in the relationship between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). Digitalisation and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has transformed the automated machinery of the OT realm into connected products capable of generating data and delivering smart analytics – creating a convergence with IT.
While Schneider notes that it is the OT utility component that requires the most attention, Urso [pictured left] cautions against applying a ‘one size fits all’ approach. “Specialisation in securing OT environments will always be part of the picture, even as IT and OT converge. You simply cannot take the risk of applying only IT knowledge in settings where there are significant environmental and human safety consequences.
“For example, some companies are already placing IT networking equipment, such as routers and switches, across their operational environment. This instantly requires OT-specific security measures. Yes, the IT solutions can be helpful for standardising some infrastructure. However, all of these solutions come with known software vulnerabilities. They need system hardening as soon as they are implemented, and patching on a frequent basis.”
And although IT is inured to regular replacement of equipment, machinery upgrades are much less frequent in the OT sector – often dangerously so, suggests the 2018 UK manufacturing survey on obsolescence conducted by ERIKS UK and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).
Yet without addressing the three essentials of cyber security – process, products and people – it is unlikely today’s legacy players in the energy sector and those businesses hoping to contribute will secure their place.
Lord Harris of Haringey, advisor to the international Electric Infrastructure Security Council in Washington DC, recently briefed defence think-tank the Royal United Services Institute on the dangers posed to utilities via the electricity network.
Speaking to Process Engineering, he was forthright about the risks involved and the need for increased coordination between industry and government: “The smart grid both provides additional resilience but also opens up more opportunities for an adversary to attack and penetrate that grid.
“There is no question in my mind that hostile state actors will not only seek to penetrate an adversary’s electric power network but probably have already done so. The only question is whether the existing compromises have been identified and sanitised.
“I would hope that all utilities would take advice from the responsible state agencies on the risks associated with any partnering arrangement.”