Telecommunications Issues


Harnessing All the Data of Smart Integrated Infrastructure

The Landscape of Critical Human Infrastructure – Energy, Water and Telecom – Is Getting "Smarter," and It's More Data Driven and Interconnected.

A Black & Veatch growth platform, Smart Integrated Infrastructure (SII) is designed to help clients take advantage of the opportunities to improve performance associated with an ever-greater integration of vital functions for critical infrastructure.

Solutions magazine discussed Smart Integrated Infrastructure with three Black & Veatch executives: Martin Travers, President of Black & Veatch’s telecommunications division and the overall leader of the company’s SII initiative; Rick Azer who heads up SII’s Integrated Infrastructure business line; and Scott Stallard who heads up SII’s Smart Analytics business line.

What is Smart Integrated Infrastructure and how does it fit in with the concept of smart grid that we’ve been hearing so much about?

Travers: SII combines Integrated Infrastructure and Smart Analytics solutions to improve a utility’s efficiency, reduce the cost of operation, increase reliability and enhance the overall quality of service. We look for opportunities to integrate and coordinate infrastructure systems to provide performance improvements – whether that’s integrating energy and water, or energy and water and telecom, or water and telecom, or energy and telecom. The smart grid movement is very much in line with SII.

Azer: Black & Veatch is a leader in telecommunications, networking and utility automation. Our collective domain expertise around these areas helps us drive innovation in Integrated Infrastructure and Smart Analytics solutions for our clients. Our SII vision is one of awareness, intelligence and active control.  These are key conceptual elements of the smart grid.

Does SII take disparate information streams and combine them into one integrated system?

Stallard: Yes, for example smarter electric grids provide a major step in making infrastructure intelligent by providing a wealth of new data about usage, loads and power quality, in addition to providing critical data to utility business systems. By deploying additional sensors and taking advantage of available telecommunications networks to stream data from power stations, renewable energy projects, substations and other distribution assets, you start to get a much richer and complete picture of the overall integrated energy network. Black & Veatch’s Asset360 Platform is a cloud-based data management and analytics system that enables the capture, structure and integration of huge quantities of data within a single framework. You can get additional insights by analyzing the collective set of data and providing a “single source of truth” from which to make decisions. Smart Analytics allow you to measure the performance of systems in real-time so you can make informed decisions about improving the performance of that infrastructure. Smart Analytics let you take digital information and translate it into actionable intelligence.

Let’s take a step back. Where does all this data originate?

Stallard: The data sources are widely distributed sensors and smart devices. In the energy industry, for example, data comes from the generating stations where specialized systems provide real-time views of performance, generation capacity and operational risk. There are also sensors on the transmission system for flow and grid stability, and at substations and on other distribution devices, such as capacitors, to better manage localized power quality. Smart meters are installed in customers’ homes, gathering customer-use information and key performance data. Instead of reading a meter once a month, the utility now has access to usage data in 15-minute intervals or less as needed to manage its distribution network. It is increasingly important to be able to draw a complete picture from the generating plant down to the end-user.

Azer:  Over the past couple of years, the ease and ability to gather data from the field has vastly improved. Component and transport costs have rapidly decreased; integration and application development capabilities are growing, all contributing to a massive proliferation in the Machine to Machine (M2M) market. In addition, new low-power communication protocols have been standardized, increasing deployment options in which field devices become data-enabled. Public carriers have embraced the concept of incorporating high-density, low-volume M2M communication plans into their rate structure so that the marginal cost of additional devices is minimal. The evolution of “Big Data and Analytics” is fed by these infrastructure systems. All of these factors lead to increasing adoption rates of data, which we can capitalize in meaningful ways for our clients.

How is the development of SII progressing? How long have you been working at this?

Azer: We’ve been in the AMR business (remote automatic meter reading) for 15 years. And the advanced meter infrastructure (AMI) two-way communication has been evolving over the last 10 years. Black & Veatch works hard to stay on top of emerging trends to ensure our solutions are based on a healthy balance of proven and advanced technologies.

Travers: That’s right. Many aspects of SII are very much operating in the real world. We have a good strong résumé of projects in the smart grid marketplace. Scott Stallard and his team have been leaders in data analytics associated with power generating stations for more than 25 years. We want to take advantage of the fact that communications technology has continued to improve and become more cost-effective. Higher-speed networks are being deployed, thereby enabling the performance monitoring and diagnosis of a lot more infrastructure systems today than you could previously.

Is SII applicable to water and wastewater systems?

Travers: Yes, the concept is also compatible with water utility operations. These organizations have large amounts of data and information spread throughout the enterprise, so they’re using analytics to come up with key performance indicators. In many cases, though, it’s a manual time-consuming process. We want to see utilities try to do more of this in real-time.

What is the opportunity for a water utility?

Travers: SII touches all aspects of the industry, from water and wastewater plants to water distribution, collection, reuse and flood management. From a Smart Analytics perspective, it can be as simple as providing better data visualization so utilities can spend less time gathering data and more time analyzing and acting on it. Analytics can also be applied to address more complex asset management and energy management issues to extend the life of aging infrastructure and reduce the cost of operations. 

Azer: We’ve found that water utilities in particular see our Smart Integrated Infrastructure solution portfolio as a mechanism to vastly improve efficiency across their systems. It’s enabling them to make proactive choices about system operation, in real time.  For example, in a storm situation, through interpretation of information about wastewater levels and flows, an operator can make more effective decisions about what to treat and what to divert, and then understand the implication of the actions.  Analyzed sensor-based data can also aid in the understanding of water utilization and distribution, helping to identify and minimize non-revenue water losses.

Will the components of SII be able to smoothly integrate renewable generation to grid operations?

Stallard: All of the systems will have to work together when renewables become a larger part of the generation mix and, with their intermittency, become a bigger issue. The better we understand, the better we can plan, operate and adapt the system to extract maximum value of renewable and energy storage assets. In the next four to five years, we’ll see a wide array of creative solutions evolving to address this integration problem and a wide variety of systems and tools to manage the complexity.

Azer:  In certain parts of the country, renewables are already a measurable fraction of grid capacity and each week more and more distributed systems are getting attached to the grid. And with the growing base of electric vehicles, there are new patterns of demand as well as generation. Virtually all of today’s distributed systems are IP-enabled (Internet protocol) with the ability to produce information and receive control instructions. With emerging products such as distributed stationary storage, there will be even more opportunity to manage and maximize grid operations via an intelligent, integrated infrastructure.

So, is it all pulled together where you have this one integrated system, or is that still being developed?

Travers: There are various pieces and parts being developed. There’s not going to be a big bang type of moment in this arena. As with most things, this is more evolutionary rather than revolutionary. So it continues to evolve, and we’ll continue to improve the systems and technology. It won’t have a defined start/finish date. As technology changes, business requirements also change, as does computing power. Eventually, this will create a radically more distributed, resilient and efficient production, delivery and consumption network.

Azer:  Exactly. We see this developing over time, organically, system by system. One key is to develop a platform that can coherently grow as more system end points become data enabled and network aware.  We want to see a scenario where the marginal cost of adding intelligence into the system steadily declines, which allows the model to proliferate. The net result becomes a Smart Integrated Infrastructure system with a positive return on investment through demonstrated operational savings.

If a utility executive came to you and asked you to explain SII in a nutshell, what would you tell him?

Travers: Through the deployment of technology and the use of analytics, we believe the performance of their systems can be greatly improved in ways that help reduce costs, boost reliability and enhance environmental performance – the same key issues facing utility management each day. The SII vision is encapsulated by the smart community concept, in which water, energy, telecommunications, transportation, public health, safety and other systems are unified through smart networks, devices and data analytics. This greatly enhances operations of infrastructure within the community.

Have many utilities jumped into this?

Travers: Almost all utilities have some activities going in the smart grid arena. Many have implemented pieces and parts over the last 15 years. Our opportunity is to demonstrate to them the value in integrating these types of improvements and demonstrating how they can get the most out of the system.

How are utility executives generally responding to the SII initiative, especially with all of the moving parts to it?

Azer:  Generally speaking utility executives are onboard and supportive. They are proponents of the strategy, but they’ve seen their operations overwhelmed by the vast amount of data being collected.  They are interested in taking the next step to turn that data into relevant, actionable information. They seek the operational efficiencies that these systems have advertised so they can clearly demonstrate the value resulting from their smart utility initiatives. They want their infrastructure systems to work together cohesively. And as they see more and more results, they get very excited about the prospects of a more deeply integrated system. Solutions like our Asset360 Platform provide the unified framework these executives seek.

Do you have any way of quantifying what the cost savings might be or the financial benefit?

Stallard: There are definitely substantial savings to be realized. In power generation alone, we have seen as high as a 7 to 1 payback on Smart Analytics investments just from improving operating efficiencies and more rapidly identifying and addressing equipment health issues.

Azer: We’re starting to see some numbers from the AMI and smart grid side of the house, and from the generation side as well. There are cost savings on the labor side and efficiency savings on operations. AMI can eliminate thousands of service calls due to its ability to remotely connect/disconnect and by enabling automatic meter reads. That’s the obvious savings, but there are many efficiency and operations savings that can be demonstrated as the underlying systems get leveraged across additional systems and applications.

Where are all of the data collection, analysis and improvements going to lead us? Paint a picture of what Smart Integrated Infrastructure will look like for utilities and the public 10 years, 20 years from now?

Travers: Likely in 10 years, definitely in 20, I believe that everything that can be connected will be connected. With that connectivity, smart infrastructure will look much more efficient than today. The losses in distribution of utility resources (energy and water) will be reduced. The reliability of these utility networks will be improved, and the time to restore these systems after unplanned outages will be reduced. In that time horizon, I anticipate that utilities will have discovered new solutions to improve their efficiency by way of effective integration of what today is a waste product of their base operation. In this manner, these utilities will improve the environmental and financial efficiency of their operations.

Azer: The trend toward distribution of electric utility systems will continue. The grid will become a mechanism for the connection of these distributed assets. The ability for these remote assets to communicate with one another and to respond and adapt to conditions will become apparent. The business model of utilities will transform as well in response to the manifestation of non-utility owned generation systems. The complexities associated with these disparate systems will require the utility to develop solutions which recognize and adapt to changing conditions, be it the intermittency of distributed renewables or demand response. The utility’s communications network will become a critical operational element that ties it all together. There will be lots of new applications that take advantage of the resulting pervasive communications framework. Smart municipal lighting, intelligent transportation, waste management, wastewater and public safety will all make great strides in adaptive planning and operational efficiency. One aspect that I don’t believe will change is the constant requirement to do more with less. That’s why we are building service offerings that will enable harvesting and leveraging of the data that the Smart Integrated Infrastructure will provide.
Stallard: I see a vastly distributed, intelligent and collaborative energy and water system, one that provides unique capabilities to manage resource requirements at every level. Smart Integrated Infrastructure will be ubiquitous, and we will see much more collaboration between traditional utilities, unconventional service providers, customers, municipalities and businesses in making it all work.

  Subject Matter Experts:
Marty Travers,
  Rick Azer,
  Scott Stallard,