Who are the best candidates for application-specific EPMS over the cloud?
By: Allan Evora
In some situations, a full-blown EPMS may not be the best fit, but you might want to take advantage of some application-specific EPMS offerings. For example, you may want to gain valuable insight into electrical assets, such as:
- Understanding the quality of power that’s delivered to your facility
- Understanding the performance of your generators or UPSs
- Verifying utility bill accuracy with shadow billing
In order to do something like this in a building automation system, it would take a lot of customization.
The good news is, there’s a solution that fills in the gap between expensive EPMS and hard-to-customize building automation. A cloud-based EPMS system managed by a service provider (e.g., an OEM or system integrator).
What is cloud-based EPMS?
When you can invest in meters or instrumentation at your facility, but don’t want to incur the initial investment cost of computers and software that must reside in the facility, you are a perfect candidate for a cloud/managed service EPMS offering.
Instead of maintaining software on a monthly basis with security updates, scans, and associated maintenance, your OEM or system integrator hosts and maintains the software in the cloud for you. All you have to do is install a few meters or data acquisition devices, and wait for reports to be emailed to you. Or, if you’d like, log in with your laptop, tablet, or smartphone to view dashboards or detailed data.
Most solutions, such as the Schneider Electric Power Monitoring Expert are already templatized and have pre-built reports, so you’re not paying for the integrator to develop custom reports for you.
3 recommendations for successful cloud-based EPMS
If you decide to go down the path of a cloud-based solution, take these three recommendations into consideration.
1. Implement an architecture that uses store and forward
Because you’re relying on the internet as your primary means to acquire and process data, meter selection is critical. Streaming data over the internet leaves data more vulnerable to network failures and possible gaps in data integrity.
In the event the internet or a cell modem is offline, valuable info should be kept locally in meters via a store and forward methodology. When the connection is reestablished, that information can be forwarded or retrieved so there are no data gaps.
2. Design a system that doesn’t rely on facility’s local area network.
If you are concerned about the possibility of a hacker using a cloud solution to access your corporate or business network, we recommend considering the use of a separate internet service provider connection or cell-modem connection, depending on the amount of network bandwidth you require.
Because you’re allowing external sources to retrieve information from local instruments, or are allowing local instruments to forward information externally, you need a separate cell modem dedicated to your cloud-based solution.
When compared to firewalling, black listing, white listing, IT approval, and configuration, a cell modem is a simple, no-brainer way to limit third party access. Affinity Energy has used cell modems on many utility-scale solar farm monitoring applications where normal ISP service is unavailable, and seen very reliable results. Of course, isolating your system shouldn’t be an excuse for not following good security practices. It is just another way to mitigate risk.
3. Limit cloud-based solutions to monitoring and reporting.
Cloud-based solutions should almost never have remote control of equipment for two reasons:
- Security: The ability to start a generator or open a circuit breaker via the cloud represents a pretty high security risk.
- Network latency: Because the cloud is internet-based, it’s nearly impossible to predict timing. If you issued a command, you wouldn’t know if it would happen in 1 second, 5 seconds, or 10 seconds.
Not to mention that you’d need to build in the capability for local personnel to enable or disable remote control. Basically, control over the cloud introduces a level of complexity that could make cloud-based EPMS simply not worth it in the first place.
Candidates for application-specific EPMS over the cloud
Below are three great examples of facilities that could benefit from a toned-down version of traditional EPMS, over the cloud.
1. A medical office building with an emergency generator
A dedicated EPMS system may be overkill, but the ability to measure performance and conduct NFPA testing is much more complex than a standard building automation system can handle.
I recommend integrating a meter on the generator (such as a Schneider Electric PM8000) to measure generator output. It will connect to the start/stop/running signals to automatically record and validate whether it ran and passed its monthly test.
Add a similar meter on your normal electrical switchboard to gain information on sags, swells, and spikes. The PM8000 can even determine whether those issues originated external to your medical office building, which means there are quality issues in the power delivered by your utility.
2. Smaller data centers with UPS
Want to understand how well your UPS performs? A cloud-based EPMS can help you determine whether your monthly battery tests are conducted successfully and track battery health.
Because battery health degrades over time, a cloud-based EPMS will be able to track the amount of remaining capacity. In batteries that are typically looked at yearly, this reduces the risk of battery failure between annual maintenance.
The Schneider Electric cloud-based Power Monitoring Expert (PME) system has a UPS performance module with built-in reports (auto test and battery health) that automatically generate and email to an owner on a monthly basis.
3. Small/medium industrial plants in rural areas at the end of an electrical distribution line
If you’re at the end of a distribution line, you’re probably starting to see the impact of solar and wind. Industrial plants often need to determine whether the intermittency of renewables impacts the quality of power delivered in their rural location.
We suggest integrating a power quality meter such as an ION7650 or PM8000 on your main service to your industrial facility. Then, linking that meter to the Schneider Electric Power Quality Performance Module (and bypassing a significant investment in a full-blown EPMS system.)
Owners can see a power quality dashboard which shows the types of power quality events, whether they were impactful, and whether they came from within facility or external. Furthermore, if you decide to install mitigation equipment such as harmonic filters or power correction devices, the same power quality performance module can show you how well they’re addressing those issues.
Lastly, industrial plants are often large consumers of electricity and have large electric bills. You could use that same PQ meter as a shadow meter to ensure you’re not being incorrectly billed.
Allan D. Evora is a leading expert in control systems integration and president of Affinity Energy with over 20 years of industry experience working in every capacity of the power automation project life cycle. With a background at Boeing Company and General Electric, Allan made the decision to establish Affinity Energy in 2002. Allan is an alumnus of Syracuse University with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, graduate of the NC State Energy Management program, and qualified as a Certified Measurement & Verification Professional (CMVP).
Throughout his career, Allan has demonstrated his passion for providing solutions. In 1990, he developed FIRST (Fast InfraRed Signature Technique), a preliminary design software tool used to rapidly assess rotary craft infrared signatures. In 2008, Allan was the driving force behind the development of Affinity Energy's Utilitrend; a commercially available, cloud-based utility resource trending, tracking, and reporting software.
Allan has been instrumental on large scale integration projects for utilities, universities, airports, financial institutions, medical campus utility plants, and manufacturing corporations, and has worked with SCADA systems since the early ‘90s. A passion for data acquisition, specialty networks, and custom software drives him to incorporate openness, simplicity, and integrity into every design in which he is involved.