15 Jul 2023
By Tom Marek
In the past decade, the renewable energy sector has witnessed remarkable advancements in the quest toward a more sustainable future. Alongside this transformation, the demand for data is gaining significant importance across the entire value chain. Driving efficiency and optimizing operations begin with acquiring reliable, real-time raw data from renewable plants.
That’s why everybody is talking about Operational Technology (OT) data.
Operational Technology (OT) is all the equipment you find inside the wind power plant, both software and hardware. This could be the network infrastructure, the fiber optic cables, and the devices you use to acquire on-site data or send control signals, like SCADA systems or PLCs.
The primary purpose of OT is to monitor and control physical processes in real time. It plays a crucial role in industries like the renewable energy sector, where accurate control and automation are essential for producing energy safely, and in accordance with the set points and grid requirements.
On the other hand, information technology (IT) focuses on data processing and information management, like ensuring reliable connection and communication to the internet or remote software. Here you find devices like firewalls, email servers, and other administrative technology.
Both technology types are vital in ensuring efficient and safe operations of wind assets. Yet, it is actually in the convergence of the two that the real value is created. This integration allows for improved monitoring, analytics, and remote management of the wind plants' performance, leading to better decision-making and optimization of operations.
OT data challenges
In recent years, we have come across what you might call a "technological gap" at many wind power plants; power providers are dealing with old plant hardware that hasn't been updated according to the steep development in renewable expansions and interconnectivity.
For example, if the OT you are dealing with is part of the original 22-year-old power plant, the OT data you are able to retrieve will, consequently, not match the requirements and standards in place today. Too many wind plant owners use operating systems that have been unsupported by the provider for ten years, or more. It has become clear that a lot of site development and construction was rushed in the boom-and-bust cycles of PTC (Production Tax Credit, a government incentive in the US), and many of the network layouts were poorly planned.
The result is a major gap in terms of the quality between the OT and IT data that plant owners are using to make important decisions. But, with every challenge comes a new opportunity. The know-how and experience we have today were not there even ten years ago – what we can do now is utilize this expertise and learning to improve and prepare for the future.
Cybersecurity will become a major challenge
With the current convergence of OT and IT, there is no doubt that cybersecurity will be the predominant challenge. As OT systems become more interconnected and exposed to the internet, they become vulnerable to cyber threats, which may have significant consequences for operations and safety.
When the wind plants' digital infrastructure is no longer supported, the plants become more vulnerable to security breaches, and are at higher risk of failure. The first step is to reestablish the security of all plants with outdated OT and IT — a massive project in itself. Not only does it involve inspecting the existing network and replacing old legacy hardware, but also installing and commissioning new systems like industrial PCs, SCADA solutions, PLC updates, etc.
What we can learn from the past is that it’s critical to ensure the security and resilience of OT systems by using future-proofed solutions that are flexible enough to fit into both new and old frameworks. The ever-expanding renewables industry demands that plants become more mixed and diversified. Managing so many developing technologies will continue to increase the need for cutting edge cybersecurity.
Tom Marek is Director of Business Development at SCADA International, which provides intelligent software solutions that make reliable data from various sources available in real-time to customers worldwide. The company works to reduce complexity, and provide customers with solutions that optimize performances and competitiveness.
SCADA International | www.scada-international.com