A company that cut its teeth developing Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system is now bringing its collective tools and skills sets to help the utility industry manage its complex and growing challenges. For mPrest, Australia is next in its sights.
Last month, mPrest – a self-described ‘global provider of mission-critical monitoring, big data analytics and control software for the Industrial IoT sector’ announced that it was working with the New York Power Authority (NYPA) to deploy a jointly developed asset health management software system. The company – financially backed by Rafael Defense Systems, with investment from GE Ventures and others – is proficient at connecting to multiple systems and creating an integrated view of the relevant information that then allows end users to make more informed decisions and automate execution. It has been able to deliver value in the defense area for many years. More recently, it has begun making a strong move into the utilities space.
Big data comes to grid asset management
In the NYPA project, mPrest’s software prevents transformer failures before they occur. With the power grid under new levels of stress owing to both age and the growing task of integrating larger numbers of renewables, transformers must run at higher capacities for longer periods of time, while also dealing with more volatility in customer demand. Failure can be dangerous and expensive.
mPrest’s software can help to predict possible failures and signal the need for maintenance by continuously collecting and monitoring data from multiple sensors (such as temperatures, acoustics, lubrication levels, and other critical indicators.) Taken in isolation, each of these may not indicate anything critical. However, when analytics and appropriate algorithms are applied, mPrest can create an integrated and comprehensive view of transformer health and determine what, if any, actions are required to keep the equipment functioning. This in turn can help avoid failures that cost well into the tens of millions of dollars.
This approach is similar to what GE and others are doing in the realm of digital power plants, combining sensor data with complex algorithms to create intelligence where none existed previously. However, mPrest is focused more broadly on the utility sector as a whole, especially where the need exists to integrate and make sense of numerous and previously isolated systems.
Tracking incoming rockets or managing multiple critical utility assets: they both have similarities
With DNA born out of Israel’s Iron Dome, a mobile air defense system that tracks and intercepts incoming short-range rockets, the company understands how to address some very critical aspects of today’s electric utility grid: among them, complexity, connectivity, and security.
In a wide-ranging conversation this month about his company and the electric utility space, CEO and Co-Founder Natan Barak reflected that his military background set him up well to address many of the challenges posed by today’s grid.
I was in charge of unifying command and control systems into one platform for defense, for creating connectivity for all of our forces. The same idea came up with utilities; they need one platform.
Barak defines a platform as an integrated system that is robust and capable of dealing securely with multiple systems and issues. The same approach is being used by mPrest for water systems, fleet management, and smart cities, with the critical unique insight being that this all needs to be viewed as a ‘system of systems.’ In other words, the critical information needs to feed up through the system and get to the right user (including automated response capabilities).
Information presentation: the psychology matters
A critical part of the system involves presenting the right information to the right user in an accessible manner. Too much data leads to overload, and the wrong information is merely a distraction. Barak commented that when first confronting the challenge of the utility sector, a big part of the problem was the large universe of different systems and vendors. In many cases this resulted from organic growth occurring over decades, with new systems constantly being tacked onto older ones. The integrated system of systems approach wades through that complexity, identifying the critical elements and delivering them in a unified manner that puts the manager back in charge.
The operator has the ability to decide what screens to use, what is on the screen, and what messages to receive. He or she can also determine what information goes to the technicians. If a new view is required, the customer has the power to create it, which is a valuable asset in a world where the requirements are constantly changing. Then the trick is to combine all of that information and systems into something that actually creates value.
Case Study: New Zealand
Barak painted a picture of what that looks like for Vector, its utility customer in Auckland, New Zealand.
It’s 6 PM. Everybody is getting back home and turning on their AC, water heater and so on and there’s increased demand…we have been connected to the water heaters, and networked to batteries at the customer site, and we predict how much electricity is going to be consumed – what is going to be the demand for the next hours and days based on the weather forecast.
Once mPrest sees that demand is going to peak at a given hour, the company remotely sets customer-sited assets so that they pre-heat water tanks when demand is low and connected EVs are already charged prior to the peak.
When there is a peak, the hot water heaters go off, we are consuming electricity from car batteries of consumers. They (the customers) are getting paid. Everybody is winning.
In the case of Vector, mPrest is not just looking at distributed energy assets, but utility assets as well, and evaluating their health.
We are connected to all sensors and all assets. We are giving them the ability to manage each asset. Within less than a month, we got connected to 11 sub-systems and thousands of assets and showed them how to better manage. That’s the power of being connected to sensors and giving the customer the power to changing rules.
In New Zealand, that process involved integrating nine different systems, with the ability to present all critical information on a single screen. It also created the capability for changes from one system to flow into the next, increasing the level of automation over time. This ultimately creates the ability for Vector to coordinate both the distribution and demand-side assets into a unified and coordinated system.
New Markets, New Opportunities
Apparently, the utility industry is taking notice, as Barak indicates that the 220-person company just signed contracts with two large U.S. electric companies in the last few months, with anticipated initial implementation timeframes under six months. Barak indicated that by 2020, Vector is planning on connecting 40,000 DERS to the grid, up from about 1,000 today. (Vector is not only a customer. It is now a business partner, and will also represent mPrest in Australian and New Zealand markets).
As the grid opens up to new technologies, solutions, and vendors, there is enormous potential to create value. There is also significant risk of creating some level of uncoordinated anarchy, with cyber-security vulnerabilities as well. mPrest is confident that it has a solution to that problem, and the company’s progress will be well worth watching.
Read the original article here.