IT Science: Making Millions of Energy Devices Smarter with IoT

Itron partnered with Bsquare, a software solutions developer for the industrial IoT market, to collaboratively create and deliver a way to efficiently, reliably and securely distribute applications to individual smart device and meter populations.

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Here is the latest article in an eWEEK feature series called IT Science, in which we look at what actually happens at the intersection of new-gen IT and legacy systems.

Unless it’s brand new and right off various assembly lines, servers, storage and networking inside every IT system can be considered “legacy.” This is because the iteration of both hardware and software products is speeding up all the time. It’s not unusual for an app-maker, for example, to update and/or patch for security purposes an application a few times a month, or even a week. Some apps are updated daily! Hardware moves a little slower, but manufacturing cycles are also speeding up.

These articles describe new-gen industry solutions. The idea is to look at real-world examples of how new-gen IT products and services are making a difference in production each day. Most of them are success stories, but there will also be others about projects that blew up. We’ll have IT integrators, system consultants, analysts and other experts helping us with these as needed.

Today’s Topic: How to Build a Solid, Reliable IoT App Distribution System

Itron, Inc. (NASDAQ:ITRI) is a world leader in energy and water technology and services, with more than 150 million communication modules deployed. The company is expanding into the development of applications and services that help reduce operating costs, respond to and correct power outages, accurately detect power theft, manage energy demand at the source and identify unsafe grid conditions such as high-impedance connections. As part of this initiative, Itron partnered with Bsquare (NASDAQ: BSQR), a software solutions developer for the industrial IoT market, to collaboratively create and deliver a way to efficiently, reliably and securely distribute applications to individual smart device and meter populations.

Name the problem to be solved: Most utilities have a very fragmented picture of their distribution networks. They know the physical location of each meter, but may not know to which transformer, phase or feeder it connects. As a result, restoring power after an outage can take hours or days. If meters could be outfitted with location awareness and enhanced with peer-to-peer networking, utilities could create a dynamic distribution network map and more quickly pinpoint the source and scope of an outage.

Describe the strategy that went into finding the solution: To successfully create a new system designed for millions of intelligent IoT devices that would ultimately become part of the Active Grid, Itron and Bsquare outlined four requirements the application distribution and management solution had to meet. It needed to:

  • reside on meters without impacting core metering functionality;
  • be extremely compact in order to be delivered over potentially bandwidth constrained network connections;
  • integrate seamlessly into Itron’s existing OpenWay Riva IoT platform; and
  • be able to scale to millions of grid edge devices.

Ultimately, Itron and Bsquare wanted the platform to create new business model opportunities for utility and smart city customers.

Key components of the solution: Itron OpenWay Riva, a standards-compliant, IPv6 multi-application network

Bsquare DataV Software, a complete IoT solution.

Describe how the deployment went, how long it took, and if it came off as planned: Together, Itron and Bsquare debuted the industry’s first grid edge app store known as the OpenWay Riva App Community. Through a familiar community user interface, Itron customers now can purchase and download the electric applications that most meet their operating needs (such as outage monitoring). Once a purchase has been made and the system verifies it against utility licenses, the app is customized and securely downloaded to the device. Thanks to Bsquare’s DataV, downloads can take place even over networks that are extremely constrained for bandwidth (such as in rural areas).

Describe the result, new efficiencies gained, and what was learned from the project: Utilities and cities can now dynamically download apps to smart meters and smart devices that can reduce costs and improve productivity and efficiency, troubleshoot outages more quickly, accurately pinpoint the source of power theft, better manage energy demand, and enhance safety. As a team, Itron and Bsquare learned that there are many innovative ways in which IoT technology can be applied to diverse business problems. The ability to securely and reliably manage the distribution of software apps to millions of meters–and do it in such a way that does not impair core revenue generating functions–is just the beginning of what might be possible to improve energy distribution.

Describe ROI, carbon footprint savings, and staff time savings, if any: For Itron, the company can now offer a diverse array of apps with the granularity of app management that can scale to support millions of grid edge devices, giving it a competitive edge in the utilities market and new revenue potential. For Itron customers, the new application distribution framework adds value to fixed capital assets within a distributed connected infrastructure and enables utilities to enhance the quality and availability of services they offer.

Other references:

Read the full case study here.

If you have a suggestion for an IT Science case study, email cpreimesberger@eweek.com

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...