Ancillary software and hardware costs, as well as security concerns, disappear instantaneously when you move your power plant monitoring infrastructure to the cloud. In energy, a control room—even a virtual software-based control room—is always the first step of any process of digital transformation.
More often than not, on-premise software gives confidence that everything would be cheaper and more secure if left in the hands of the actual customer. Nevertheless, already five years ago the general software industry started mass moving towards a more flexible licensing model where software is offered as a cloud-based service for customers to subscribe and pay per use.
Swisspower Renewables is the first company to get BaxEnergy’s flagship product Energy Studio Pro® as a service. Hosted as an Azure virtual machine, Energy Studio Pro® now delivers the usual monitoring and control room services while shielding Swisspower from a number of ancillary tasks and costs.
Lars Hieke, COO of Swisspower Renewables, put it down quite neatly. “We’re a very lean company of about 35 people and we’re all dedicated, body and soul, to operate well 31 hydropower plants and 24 wind farms from our offices in Switzerland, Italy and Germany. It’s a remarkable number of small- to mid-size plants spread over a vast territory. Within this environment it is not appropriate to build and run a fully-fledged IT department with all the necessary knowledge and resources. We have even outsourced the basic needs of the company such as email, tracking documents, workflows and processes for our everyday administration. Here we already work with cloud solutions like Microsoft Office 365 and SharePoint. At the same time, though, we do need to be able to keep the whole production cycle under control all the time and preferably from one single place.”
Hence, Swisspower Renewables did some scouting to identify a reliable and trustful software partner. They examined several companies, then restricted to a short list and made the final decision.
“We selected BaxEnergy for a number of reasons” Hieke says. “The most important was the quality of the products. The combo Energy Studio Pro® and AssetStack® was for us the perfect match to improve the value of our assets in the future. The proven ability to handle hydro and wind power plants in the same platform with such a high standard was outstanding. We were impressed at first sight. We hadn’t looked yet at the actual features in depth, but we immediately had the feeling that the product was just right for our needs. We didn’t feel the same for other products.”
Great, but why getting the BaxEnergy platform as-a-service?
“We opted for a cloud solution for several reasons” Hieke continues “and all related to costs, both directly and indirectly.”
With a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, Swisspower Renewables saved the costs of additional software licenses not included in the on-premise BaxEnergy bundle (i.e., SQL Server and weather maps) and the costs of buying and operating all necessary hardware. Furthermore, Swisspower Renewables could offload to BaxEnergy the obligation and costs of implementing cyber-security and GDPR requirements.
There’s another benefit that Swisspower Renewables discovered along the way as Hieke summarizes:
“Since the beginning, BaxEnergy proved to know the stuff and provided us with guidance and guidelines on how to do our own things just a better -digital- way. We were in the need of defining fixed rules and standards for the whole portfolio to optimize our internal processes. In the past years we were focused on growth of business and constantly acquired —for years—not only assets but companies having things done, in a way or another. Now it was the right time to do this harmonization. In doing so, we particularly enjoyed the great chance to interact with an Italian and German speaking team. That was really a great plus!”
In this regard, the open and interoperable nature of the BaxEnergy platform shined, as it allowed to configure all power plants to the exact needs of the customer. “The devil is always in the details” Enrica Trovato, BaxEnergy Project Manager, declared.
“We faced the challenge of importing data from a legacy and third-party SCADA application. Thankfully, Energy Studio Pro® was designed from the ground up with an open interface to create connectors for external data sources. In this way, it only took us a few days to import data from the OLTEC platform.”
Any software designed to monitor renewable power plants must be able to unify under a single roof data coming from heterogeneous devices built by different manufacturers. “More importantly” Hieke continues “the final software must be easy to use and configurable at the source to serve the needs of a technician as well as asset managers or board members.”
One of the expected trends in the near future of renewables is companies trying to monetize more every single MWh of electricity produced rather than trying to produce more and more. “We’re somehow in the middle.” Hieke said. “Our immediate commitment is optimizing production as much as possible and we rely a lot on Energy Studio Pro® to minimize production losses. Clearly, we also look at selling electricity at any better price that’s possible and we see us more active in forecasting and trading as well in the future.”
Hydropower is an established technology but it’s very same nature—huge volume of water kept in a single geographical place—makes it a possible threat to people living nearby. “There are two aspects to security” Enrica Trovato notes. “One is digital security and we take care of that through our own software layers and Microsoft Azure.” The other aspect is physical security that is most related to crime.
Hieke explains: “Our hydropower plants are small but, obviously, they have been built where they can’t cause any major damage in any case. We do have due precautions in place, we have a clean near-miss record, and feel comfortable. We were more concerned about cyber-security instead. But now we have an array of industry experts at our service and we feel like we’re in a comfortable and safe position and want to continue expanding our business using the cloud as the storage and service platform.”
A SaaS success story in renewable energy solution is the living proof that the world of on-premise is inevitably destined to disappear. It won’t likely happen overnight, but the path is mapped out.
- BaxEnergy provided us with guidance and guidelines on how to do our own things just a better -digital- way.
- “Our immediate commitment is optimizing production as much as possible” – Lars Hieke
- In energy, a control room—even a virtual software-based control room—is always the first step of any process of digital transformation.