Optimizing Energy Operations with Machine-to-Machine Communications

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1 Optimizing Energy Operations with Machine-to-Machine Communications

2 Contents Executive Summary... 3 The Role of M2M in Energy Companies... 3 Leveraging a M2M Platform... 5 Key Requirements for M2M Application Development and Management Platforms... 6 Best Practices for Wireless M2M Application and Management Platforms... 8 Conclusion

3 Executive Summary Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication is generating much buzz in the industry today, and for good reason: The ability to remotely monitor and control devices and equipment offers the potential to transform virtually every industry. One area especially ripe to benefi t from M2M technology is the energy sector. By monitoring and controlling drilling equipment, pipeline valves, solar equipment, and other remote assets, energy companies can optimize their business operations in a number of ways. Using M2M communications, they can lower operational and maintenance costs, increase visibility into their operations, improve response times to issues, and deliver more rigorous service-level agreements (SLAs). In the past, however, energy companies seeking to connect remote assets had little choice but to develop, implement, and operate the entire communication system on their own a huge and costly endeavor. Companies were also hampered by communications technologies that relied on traditional media (telephone lines, radio communications) that limited where and how equipment in the fi eld could be connected. Today, the expansion of wireless wide-area network (WWAN) public cellular networks means that energy companies can connect more devices, in more places than ever before. In addition, M2M management systems have evolved to the point that energy companies can implement fully developed, comprehensive M2M platforms that allow them to deploy their applications much more easily and inexpensively. This paper explores how energy companies are beginning to benefi t from connected equipment and assets, and the key requirements and best practices to consider when implementing M2M applications. The Role of M2M in Energy Companies The energy sector encompasses several businesses and applications, including oil and gas extraction, pipeline and storage management, renewable (solar, wind, hydro) generation, as well as energy transmission and distribution. Typically, these businesses operate a broad range of equipment, often located in remote, hard-to-reach locations. Oil and gas companies, for example, may maintain remote drilling equipment, pumps, valves on pipelines, and much more. Renewable energy companies may be responsible for thousands of windmills or farms of solar panels, and their associated control equipment. Electricity suppliers maintain transmission and distribution grids that can span hundreds of miles. For the most part, this equipment operates 24 hours a day, largely autonomously. Energy companies may maintain a tracking station at larger remote sites, but outside the walls of that tracking station, there is usually no centralized 3

4 monitoring or control of those remote assets. This lack of centralized visibility can be a big problem, and an ongoing drain on human and fi nancial resources. Consider just a few examples: Solar battery charging equipment: Many oil and gas companies rely on solar panels at drilling sites or water pumping stations to charge batteries used by drilling or pumping equipment. Since these assets often operate 24 hours a day, a failed solar panel can quickly turn into a nonfunctional drill or pump and lost revenue for every hour that it remains offl ine. However, since energy companies have no way to know about a failure at a remote drilling site in real time, they have to rely on ongoing manual checks, typically having an employee physically drive out to the site once per week to inspect all equipment. If an asset fails soon after an inspection, it could be a week in lost productivity not to mention potential damage before the company even realizes there is a problem. Maintaining remote equipment: Typically, energy companies use an onsite data logger to record the activity of all assets at a site, and rely on an employee to manually collect data from the data logger on a regular basis a time-consuming and expensive process, with inherent delays. With no way to know the real-time status of a component or asset, energy companies must also rely on preventive maintenance, such as dispatching an employee out to remote sites to grease components every week, regardless of whether that maintenance is actually required. Monitoring a pipeline: The environmental and fi nancial consequences of a pipeline leak can be devastating, so energy companies invest heavily in systems to monitor pressure differentials between locations and remotely connect valves that control fl ow. However, a reliance on traditional communication media (such as conventional phone lines) has limited the number of assets that can be connected preventing these companies from deploying as many sensors and controls as they might like, and limiting visibility into the pipeline. In all these cases, and many others, the ability to connect remote equipment and assets with public cellular M2M technology can provide signifi cant benefi ts. M2M communication enables energy companies to maintain a centralized monitoring system for all remote equipment and view the status of that equipment at all times instead of relying on manual processes with little or no real-time visibility. But M2M connectivity goes beyond mere monitoring. Companies can also remotely control all connected assets, for example, issuing a command to change the frequency of a remote pump, open or close a valve, or restart a remote system. Imagine, for example, that the AC power inverter attached to the failed solar panel described above is connected via M2M technology. Now, the energy company knows immediately that the panel is offl ine. It can not only respond right away to the problem bringing the equipment back online more quickly they can reduce the need for ongoing manual inspections, since they can verify the health of all solar panels at all times. When the company does 4

5 dispatch a technician to address a problem, it also can ensure that the technician already understands the issue and has the right equipment onboard to fi x it. With the centralized remote visibility and control afforded by cellular M2M connectivity, energy companies can: Gain real-time visibility of all equipment and assets Reduce maintenance costs Deploy human and fi nancial resources more intelligently Achieve more granular control over assets by deploying more sensors and controls Respond more quickly and proactively to problems with remote assets Support more rigorous SLAs Leveraging a M2M Platform M2M may offer dramatic improvements in how energy companies manage remote assets, but it does not necessarily mean a radical departure from current operations. In fact, an M2M platform is built upon assets already deployed in the fi eld. A wide range of existing sensors, control systems and equipment can be connected, including: Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) Data loggers DC to AC power inverters Temperature and humidity sensors Level, pressure and fl ow sensors Together, these connected assets can provide unprecedented insight into and control over equipment. In the past, however, to connect all of these assets, energy companies had to build out the entire communication system themselves. For this reason, many shied away from this effort. After all, creating an M2M application infrastructure from scratch represents an enormous, expensive, and time-consuming project. Such an infrastructure must include a redundant, fault-tolerant wireless messaging system. It requires redundant back-offi ce hardware, including database, servers, disk arrays, load balancers, etc. To enable the capabilities energy companies need, an M2M communication platform also required extensive software development, including application development tools, user interface development tools, embedded development tools, etc. all of which has historically required thousands of hours of custom integration and development. 5

6 This is to say nothing of the many applications that are often overlooked, yet nonetheless vital to a remote communications and control infrastructure: Mechanisms to subscribe wireless devices to the network Mechanisms to control and update wireless devices Systems to collect information from the wireless devices, and other systems to acquire and visualize that data Systems to manage and control the assets being monitored Given this complexity inherent in the M2M model, and the enormous time and costs it represents, many energy companies simply could not justify implementing wireless M2M communications, despite its compelling benefi ts. Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Today, energy companies can take advantage of comprehensive, fully mature M2M application development and management platforms that operate over public cellular networks, and realize the benefi ts of remote monitoring and control much more quickly and cost-effectively. To realize the most benefi t from a cellular M2M implementation, however, it is important to assure that the platform provides all of the essential capabilities for modern cellular M2M deployments. Key Requirements for M2M Application Development and Management Platforms A wireless M2M communications platform encompasses fi ve primary elements (Figure 1): Wireless communication devices to connect to equipment and assets A cloud-based front-end database with redundancy where the wireless devices send data securely A cloud-based command-and-control infrastructure to receive and present that data Integration with operator networks to manage connections and monitor usage An application programming interface (API) to link data from the M2M front-end database with the company s back-end system applications and user interfaces 6

7 In addition to providing those basic attributes, the M2M management platform must perform the following core management applications: Subscription management: This encompasses all the core tasks related to managing wireless devices on a public cellular network, including activating and deactivating devices, suspending and resuming operation, changing rate plans, and monitoring wireless data consumption (Figure 2). Wireless device management: This encompasses the tools necessary to manage and control all connected wireless modules and gateways. This capability allows energy companies to manage updates and fi rmware confi guration changes, for example, to respond to changing requirements of the mobile network operator. Management of the underlying asset: This encompasses how the wireless device communicates with and controls the fl ow of data to and from the connected asset. Figure 1. M2M Cloud Platform Connected Assets Asset API Asset API Module Communications Gateway Wireless Device Data, Events, Commands, and Updates Connected Asset Data, Events and Commands Industrial Protocol & Logic Engine MNO Subscription Control and Usage Configuration for Connectivity Logic M2M Cloud Services API Subscription Management Device Management Asset Management Build your own M2M Application UI Or interface to: - ERP/CRM Applications - Inventory and Billing Applications - Work Force Management Applications X 1000 s Mobile Network Operators 7

8 Best Practices for Wireless M2M Application and Management Platforms In addition to meeting the basic requirements for supporting M2M applications, what should energy companies look for in a wireless M2M application and management platform? To assure a system that is effective and easy to deploy and operate, the platform should meet the following criteria: It should be carrier-agnostic. Despite the remote locations where energy companies operate wind generation equipment, transmission and distribution power lines, and renewable energy assets, most fi nd a single mobile network operator partner that can provide good coverage at most sites. However, there may be a small number of units at some remote sites for which a different network operator can provide better coverage. To give energy companies the fl exibility to connect their assets in the best manner possible, the M2M platform s subscription management systems should be largely carrier-agnostic, and capable of operating with multiple mobile networks worldwide. It should provide advanced wireless device management capabilities beyond simply pushing out firmware or configuration changes. Energy companies should choose platforms that can provide granular information about the health and status of devices to allow them to quickly diagnose issues. For example, if a device has lost wireless signal strength, the company needs to know if it is an issue with the device or the cellular network. The M2M platform should provide the information necessary to debug those issues and communicate effectively with the network operator about any problems. It should provide advanced tools to manage and monitor connected assets. To avoid the need for extensive (and expensive) custom software development and integration, the M2M platform should make it as easy as possible to connect with deployed assets in the fi eld. Developers should be able to easily capture control parameters and command systems for any connected asset, using standard programming languages. And, they should be able to easily access exposed APIs to incorporate features and functions into the control system. The platform should provide comprehensive development tools. The most functional M2M platforms include application simulation tools that provide developers with detailed information about a planned function before anyone ever uses the application, allowing users to make smarter business decisions. (As one example, the solution should be able to provide accurate predictions of cost differences between collecting status updates on all pumps every 20 minutes, versus once per day.) The M2M platform must be designed to support large-scale, industrial environments under lessthan-ideal conditions. An industrial-strength M2M platform will be fully redundant, highly reliable, and 8

9 able to quickly recover from faults. It will also be highly secure to protect system assets and data, and meet regulations governing critical infrastructure communications. And, the solution will be scalable enough to accommodate large regional and national deployments, without adding management complexity. Finally, the M2M platform should be comprehensive. It should include leased infrastructure, cloud software and every other component necessary to build and operate an M2M communications platform rather than forcing the company to work with multiple vendors and assemble the solution themselves. Conclusion The benefi ts of M2M communication for energy companies are clear: more visibility, more control and more tools to optimize business operations and profi tability. In addition, the barriers that used to prevent companies from taking advantage of these capabilities primarily, the need to custom design every aspect of the solution from scratch no longer apply. By using modern M2M management and application platforms, and taking care to choose platforms designed to meet real-world energy sector requirements, energy companies can take full advantage of the M2M revolution. About Sierra Wireless Sierra Wireless is a proven partner in M2M communications for the energy industry. Developed based on two decades of experience supporting M2M applications, the Sierra Wireless AirVantage M2M Cloud Platform is ideal for energy applications. The AirVantage M2M Cloud Platform encompasses every element necessary for M2M application connectivity and development: pre-integrated intelligent wireless gateways, routers, and embedded modules; a complete M2M services platform and operating portal; and comprehensive developer tools to simplify development and integration. With the complete, ready-to-deploy AirVantage M2M Cloud Platform, energy companies can: Reduce the cost of deploying and supporting an M2M solution Simplify and reduce the costs of developing connected applications Signifi cantly reduce time to market for M2M deployments Eliminate IT operational expenditures necessary to support connected assets and locations, with no server software installation or maintenance required More effectively scale and expand M2M systems as business needs dictate For more information: 9

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