DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION: CRUNCH YOUR ENERGY DATA IN THE CLOUDOctober 4th, 2014 by Energyworx
Metering & Smart Energy International recently spoke with Erik van Wijk and Edwin Poot of Energyworx to see how this Big Data crunching company is changing the way in which energy companies and utilities solve their “meter-to-cash” challenges (such as Meter Data Management – MDM) and enable them during their energy transition…
‘We think that our solution is a ground-breaking and a offers a unique value proposition for utilities’, says Edwin Poot, Energyworx’s Chief Executive Officer.
‘We have two major propositions within energy – one of them focused on utilities, grid operators and energy suppliers. For example the grid operator would use our system mainly for meter data management purposes but an energy supplier would use our system is a marketing tool and energy management tool to get insights into customer energy usage. They could also offer the system to the end customers as an application – either web or mobile based – as a value added service in the form of a home energy management solution.’
The company also offers a white label social energy application that is offered directly to end-users. Their intention is to work closely with utilities and end-users to enable them to deliver actionable insights and awareness of their energy expenditure. The white-label end-user application is offered free of charge, as the Energyworx team doesn’t believe in solving todays energy challenges in a business model that charges end users.
When I ask them about the work they are doing with Google, Erik van Wijk, Energyworx’s VP R&D tells me that both of the propositions offered by Energyworx are being offered in conjunction with Google.
‘We use the Google infrastructure, which means that our system runs on Google Cloud Platform services. We use it extensively and it is one of the unique aspects of our system in that we are completely cloud enabled. It means that we can focus on core software development and make new features available using rolling updates..’
Poot continues: ‘Other companies may say that they are doing a lot in the cloud –but building an application and hosting it on a virtual machine in the cloud, often referred to as Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) is completely different to what we are doing.’
‘We go one step further because we don’t have anything to do with infrastructure. We don’t want to maintain servers.So we deploy production ready and tested releases in a software container with shorter release cycles and the cloud service provider handles the rest. We don’t have to worry about scalability or storage expansion. Therefor our system can auto scale up and down when load subsides. This is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) at its best!’
‘We only have to configure the fully managed Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) container which makes us highly productive giving us a huge competitive advantage because we don’t have to worry about hardware or software maintenance on an infrastructure level. We only have to focus on developing exciting features and releasing it. This is one of the unique aspects of our offering and the core aspect of our strategic cooperation with Google. Google finds us really interesting, because we are giving them the business and reference case for other customers to use the Google Cloud Platform.’
Energyworx believes that this allows them to focus on what they are good at, and for Google to do the same.
They maintain that setting up a data management system should not be a matter of huge upfront investment in licenses and costly implementation, but a growth model that aligns with you growing business.. This is illustrated by a comparison to some other systems that need license fees to be paid on an annual basis, separate servers and staff to be factored into the utility budget, and operated and maintained on a on-going basis. These systems need a large team in place to be able to maintain them. On top of that, a utility may have to pay a yearly support cost based on their licenses.
‘With us it is different’, Poot says, ‘why buy expensive licenses, install complex software, needing recurring expensive upgrade projects and maintain it all yourself?. When all you have to do is take advantage of our SaaS in a pay-per-use model that is agile to your business. This model is based on the amount of data sources you send through the system and we take care of the rest. We make sure the software runs 24-7, completely hassle-free.’
Energyworx prides itself on the scalability of its offering, which allows for large rollouts to be implemented as easily as small pilot implementations.
‘With our system, you could say “let’s start out with 1000 users as a pilot”, and you could start off at small-scale and then scale up as you go without having to change your infrastructure and worry about it.’
‘One of the other important features of the cloud services that we use is they support auto scaling. Auto scaling means we configure the capacity we need – and we can grow up and down instantly. If we decide that we need to grow from 1 000 concurrent connections to 100 000, we can arrange it within minutes.’
The Google Cloud Platform services allows for rapid expansion of the number of connections, and this scalability – without a long lead-time – is one of the key benefits of using cloud computing. Under normal circumstances, scaling a project like this by tens of thousands of meters would require months of preplanning, additional servers, licenses and potentially, additional staff.
‘Because we are one of the first companies doing this with energy related software, such as meter data management software, this is a very unique proposition.’
‘Many of our customers are very happy about the fact that they can start “out of the box” with us and we can get them up and running within a few days tuning their product or service to market demands. If the initial concept proves successful for the client and they want to use more of our services, they don’t have to invest a whole lot of money in increasing infrastructure – we can just scale up and they take advantage of the pay-per-use model.’
For the utility, the big plus is that they don’t need to hire specially trained IT staff to manage the system. This reduces personnel costs, and the need for specialist equipment and above all have a much faster time to market at lower costs which increase their competitive advantage enormously.
Using an application programming interface, other systems such as a CRM systems, can be integrated to the MDM offering. This means that existing applications and systems being run within the utility back office are able to access information from the MDM system and use information from this system for billing or CRM purposes.
‘We want to make it as simple as possible for the customers to use our system, so ease of integration and maximizing the customer experience are two of our key values. We are all about making it simple for the customer – therefore it has to be easy to integrate and it has to be easy to scale up,’ says van Wijk.
As more smart meter systems are rolled out across the world, the need for increased processing power is going to be a key factor for any MDM system.
The configuration of the database system used by Energyworx is somewhat different to that of other databases, and is designed more like that used by Twitter and Facebook – allowing for multiple connections and multiple users being able to access the timeline information simultaneously, without affecting performance.
‘Our database technology is very different from the established companies’, Poot explains, ‘and that is why we are currently outperforming them especially at larger scales. This, of course, is a major advantage of our system. It is also one of the key reasons many of our customers have chosen our solution, because they have already run into practical issues with the rollout of smart meters.’
As energy systems change around the world, and access to detailed information is being used to implement energy efficiency and grid balancing systems, utilities are experiencing pressure to secure customer data, and protect their privacy.
Security has been one of the focal points during the software development from inception, security and privacy is part of our architectural fundament.
‘Privacy discussions were quite high on the list of discussion topics from the start, so we designed a pseudonymisation algorithm whereby the individual user is hidden behind a pseudonym and there is a separation between the meta data and meter data,’ Poot explains.
As the meter data is held in a totally different system, and identified by encrypted keys, the only way to access the meter data is for the user to log on to the system and be identified and verified. Therefore, even if the system is hacked, the hacker may have access to the meter data but they won’t be able to connect it to a specific individual, will never be able to pinpoint the meter location and other characteristics that could compromise the user’s privacy.
The world is being disrupted by the inevitable energy transition; so game changing concepts are needed to remain part of the game. Energyworx is shifting the energy democracy driven by people and communities providing a top notch solution.You can visit Energyworx at the European Utility Week on November 4-6 2014 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands at stand 1.D02