Part of the STEAG group relies on the cloud, big data and AI as a future strategy for renewable energies
STEAG, founded in Essen, in 1937, is the fifth largest energy supplier in Germany. The group of companies contributes to a sustainable energy future with a mix of fossil and renewable energies, large-scale power plants and flexible, decentralised generation facilities. STEAG has an installed capacity of around 7,121 megawatts, of which around 5,230 megawatts are in Germany. The subsidiary Iqony combines all renewable energy sectors and offers operators of solar parks and plants various services from planning and implementation to technical operation, monitoring and management of plants.
Iqony previously provided its customers with a specially developed on-premise solution for the predictive maintenance of energy plants. To further support the positive business development, the offering is being completely rebuilt in a cloud architecture without losing the capacity of the previous on-premise components. This will enable Iqony to scale the solution to almost any size as data volumes increase.
The business strategy was therefore to make the switch to the cloud as quickly as possible in order to be able to take advantage of all the benefits of IoT, Big Data and AI-supported data analysis and to fulfil the previously decentral organised server and data management much more efficiently centrally in the future. With this new cloud solution, typical services such as monitoring and management can be provided automatically. Cost- and time-intensive software installations and updates on site are no longer necessary.
In the future, centralised prognostic maintenance with elements such as AI-supported root cause analysis and anomaly and alarm detection will offer significant added value. Based on billions of data points, these functional areas provide real-time insights into the system status and enable operators to take early action. This enables them to calculate corrective actions in such a way that they generate the least possible downtime and thus downtime costs.
The corresponding KPIs can be accessed via data dashboards and visualised for reports. This simplifies and reduces the service effort and accelerates the processes overall, as possible sources of error can be largely eliminated before an error occurs.
A greater challenge here is the large number of stakeholders who have global access to the new platform: Owners, operators and managers of facilities, or even investors who want to retrieve performance metrics. As the only Microsoft partner, Hitachi Solutions was able to offer Iqony a solution architecture based on the Microsoft Azure Cloud that meets the complex requirements for authentication and authorisation and can manage access and various permissions.
Iqony had relied on Microsoft products in the past to develop its service offering and was very familiar with the Microsoft world. The task for the Hitachi Solutions consulting team was to first analyse and evaluate in depth the status quo of a complex legacy architecture as well as the reference solution already pre-designed by Iqony. Based on this, the team developed a roadmap for a smooth transition to the cloud and finally accompanied the implementation process. Envisioning and business value assessment workshops formed the basis for the understanding. This laid the foundation for the joint collaboration.
With its services, Microsoft Azure provides the technological basis for the new cloud architecture and the solution. With the implementation of an MVP version (Minimal Viable Product), Iqony can already start with a basic set of functionalities and from then on expand and optimise them step by step.
In March 2022, the project started with an initial review phase. A European team of experts from Hitachi Solutions, led from Germany, worked with Iqony in the workshops to develop the desired target solution and evaluated the foundations Iqony had developed up to that point. With a view to the business objectives and the timeframe, Hitachi Solutions recommended a cloud solution architecture for the MVP implementation that was also capable of meeting the technical and functional requirements of future expansions. The consulting team focused on the following aspects:
- Definition of the business objectives and required structures
- Review of existing and reference architecture with regard to necessary adjustments or potential conflicts as well as security and governance aspects.
- Integration of IoT technologies and an authorisation engine
- Working with Big Data (data consolidation, integration root cause analysis, anomaly and alarm detection, etc.)
- Consolidation of the results in a feasibility study
- Development of an MVP solution as an introduction to detailed development
- Process and monitoring of the implementation
- Transfer of the implementation into production operation
- Development of a service concept to enable uninterrupted production operation
With some necessary adjustments to the architecture, the Hitachi Solutions team started MVP development in April 2022 with the aim of delivering a functional solution to Iqony. The project was completed as early as September 2022, followed by further detailed developments, including the expansion of functionalities for root cause analysis.
With the move to the cloud, Iqony has a platform architecture that can be adapted to the company’s business goals and service offering at any time. In addition, complementary third-party solutions can be connected in the future via a variety of connectors. The cloud solution remains technologically up-to-date at all times and is highly scalable to meet changing and increasing storage and performance requirements.
All plant data is brought together, consolidated and analysed globally on the platform. With the help of predictive maintenance – supported by artificial intelligence – accurate predictions can be made about potential sources of error. This enables early action, reduces costly PV system failures and calculates optimal maintenance dates.
Iqony is thus positioning itself as a modern service company with a unique, intelligently controlled service offering for solar system operators. The open Azure platform enables the company to integrate further features in the future in order to expand its offering step by step. Hitachi Solutions will also support Iqony with consulting expertise and proven communication and process structures for a future expansion of the use cases, for example to wind farm installations.