Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Oracle Cloud Plugs Into Smart Grid 


In an ongoing effort to boost its share of the public cloud market, Oracle rolled out a cloud service geared toward the smart grid and Internet of Things device management.

The Oracle Utilities Operational Device Cloud Service announced at a company event last week looks to boost automation of smart grid infrastructure and IoT device management. The cloud service is intended to help utilities manage the estimated 70 million smart meters installed so far along with smart sensors deployed in the field, the company said.

IoT device management would include maintenance, configuration changes, firmware upgrades and security monitoring. Compatibility and security have emerged as major headaches, with IoT devices proving vulnerable to hacks by botnets and other malware.

Oracle (NYSE: ORCL) said its cloud-based management tool seeks to provide a scalable means of keeping up with security threats while streamlining the way device firmware is updated. Along with monitoring device status, the cloud service could be extended to utility customers to monitor devices such as smart thermostats or power generation systems like solar panels.

The cloud service is being promoted to the electric, gas and water utilities as a way to leverage automation to reduce maintenance costs related to far-flung smart grid and IoT device networks. Initial savings could be derived from reducing labor costs associated with "physical data collection, Oracle asserted.

That data can be used to deliver new utility services such as time-based pricing and controlling peak load usage.

Oracle also is positioning its cloud service to tap into grid modernization efforts that were projected to reach about $32 billion in 2016. Electric utilities are using smart meter data, for example, to improve grid operations while integrating so-called "distributed energy resources" (DER) as utilities move beyond central power plants to manage wind and solar power generation.

"A digital energy grid is essential to seamlessly integrate DERs, ensure reliability, reinforce resiliency, and provide more services to customers," noted a report released last October by the Edison Foundation's Institute for Electric Innovation.

Much of the impetus for a cloud-based grid management service stems from the huge amounts data generated by two-way smart meters and other sensors being installed by utilities. Cloud vendors such as Oracle argue that a key challenge in synching grid operations with IT infrastructure is the ability to handle real-time rather than just transactional data.

Hence, the company's utility cloud automates smart meter management, including configuration changes and firmware updates while handling security patches and compatibility issues related to access points and communications relays.

In the case of firmware updates, the company said its cloud-based automation tool tracks the compatibility of smart grid devices, including meter and data collection firmware along with communications software. In order to sync devices with grid infrastructure, firmware updates are rolled out based on a pre-planned schedule and tested on a set of specified devices before updates are deployed.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).