Written by Tom Willie, CEO of Blue Pillar

The development of new energy services and DERs promises greater automation, flexibility and efficiency – but chaos behind the meter at large commercial and industrial facilities remains a key challenge that often hinders the success of energy service and application solutions.

In order to realize the promise of new energy solutions, it will be necessary to bring order to that chaos. There are, however, a myriad of challenges standing in the way.

These include:

  • The challenge of agnostic connection to different types of equipment and systems
  • The challenge of shared usage by numerous applications or services
  • The complexity of network design and engineering
  • The difficulty of network installation
  • The cost of hardware retrofits and network gateways
  • Backhaul costs and risks
  • The ongoing management of networks post deployment
  • The security risks of networks

For the purposes of this article, let’s review these challenges in greater depth to reach a fuller understanding of what the future of new energy solutions will necessarily entail.

The Underlying Mindset

Many of these problems have developed as a result of a certain mindset: historically, energy service providers have looked at “project implementation” as a necessary evil. In other words, it’s something that’s only to be thought through when a customer has been won.

This approach underlies many of the shortcomings of current network solutions.

1. Networks cannot agnostically connect to different types of equipment and systems.

Networks are most often only considered in relation to a single solution, which leads to incompatibility with other established equipment and systems. As a consequence, if facilities choose to utilize multiple solutions, then they also choose to house multiple networks – compounding maintenance challenges and security risks. Additionally, limited compatibility can impede any future equipment or system updates.

2. Networks Must Be Able to Be Used and Shared by Numerous Applications or Services

Traditional networks rarely allow numerous applications and services to function simultaneously. This redoubles the need for multiple network solutions and, again, makes facilities wary of incorporating the solutions they empower; each separate network represents an increase in security risk and management cost.

3. The Complexity of Network Design and Engineering

Network design is complex, especially at scale. Challenges include sourcing, device management, security protocols, and more.

Additionally, the design and engineering process carries high stakes, because if a network is designed poorly, the solutions on it won’t function as they should.

4. The Difficulty of Network Installation

Most of the difficulties in installation come down to labor. Many providers lack the internal capabilities to physically install a network, and so turn to expensive system integrators to fill these needs. If resources do exist internally, installation still represents a significant expenditure of time and budget.

5. The Cost of Hardware Retrofits and Network Gateways

Of course, in order to enable data flow, hardware is necessary – both in the form of retrofit components that enable any solution-critical, existing systems entry onto the network, and in the form of network gateways that open the potential for connectivity. These costs are significant, especially at scale and as updates are made.

6. Backhaul Costs and Risks

Backhaul costs are rarely considered because the cost of connectivity is often framed in terms of hardware and software.

But (especially if cellular is being utilized) the cost of the actual transfer of information also adds up over time and scale.

7. The Ongoing Management of Networks Post Deployment

Despite being a consistent and high-cost factor in the functionality of the networks that enable application and service solutions, the ongoing management of networks post deployment is a challenge that often goes overlooked.

Like any complex system, networks require ongoing maintenance to function optimally. This means that, when networks are deployed at scale, maintenance requirements can grow quickly – and these are a burden that both sides of the meter are hesitant to bear.

8. The Security Risks of Networks

Finally, most networks installed today are critically unsecured, simply because they’re designed and maintained without much consideration of security. While the consequences of this haven’t been fully realized yet, it’s a near-certainty that issues in this space will only increase over time.

Leveraging Networks for Strategy and Engagement Requires a New Approach

Taken together, these factors tend to cause excessive cost burdens, long deployment timeframes, and dissatisfied customers who were expecting results and benefits to be achieved more quickly.

Overcoming these issues will require a change in mindset: a shift toward viewing network implementation not as a necessary evil, but as a foundational part of energy service solution success.

Advances in Energy IoT technology and hardware are beginning to make the networking of both legacy and next-gen Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) a viable and quick alternative to traditional networking solutions, providing a next-gen, IoT-enabled network solution that’s more scalable, more secure, and more efficient.

It’s a new network model for the new energy world – and a sign that for innovative energy service providers seeking to deploy scalable solutions, the future is bright.