Paul Bullock, group head of MVNO, Wireless Logic, looks at the role of the IoT in smart energy infrastructure and energy independence.

Globally, the energy sector is in a unique situation right now. Ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine were closely followed by the release of an IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report that outlined the urgent carbon cutting measures we must take to reduce the inevitable impact of climate change and the cost of utilities soaring to unprecedented levels, threatening energy security.

This uncertainty is likely to continue for some time. It’s created a perfect storm for innovation across the energy sector to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, increase green forms of energy generation and ensure sustainable ways of storing and distributing that energy. This is a new era in energy production and management and the internet of things (IoT) has an enabling role. Cellular IoT can securely connect devices that include solar panels, batteries and operating systems to enable the intelligent generation, storage and distribution of energy.

A renewable economy demands a new approach

In May 2022, Boris Johnson revealed the UK government’s new energy security strategy, accelerating ‘green’ plans to address climate concerns and rising energy costs, reducing over-reliance on fossil fuels and laying the foundations for ‘energy independence’ in the UK.

Undoubtedly, the way we generate and use energy is changing and intelligent, connected systems are at the heart of the transformation. Microgrids, powered by modern cellular communication, form part of the solution.

It is not surprising therefore that the global microgrid market is growing; so much so, that a 2020 study by Deloitte Insights in the US found that sixty per cent of businesses have onsite generation and 44 per cent have considered implementing a microgrid. Microgrids are energy systems, controlled by software, that manage energy resources to meet the needs of the properties they serve. They interact with the national grid which is still available as a power source. A microgrid can be a single solar panel or an entire windfarm.

Secure and smart connected energy infrastructure

As microgrids become more prevalent, and batteries become smarter, energy will be traded between properties. A property fitted with solar panels could, for example, trade the energy it stores during the day to be used by properties that need it during the night.

Connectivity is an essential enabler of such a renewable energy model. Robust IoT connectivity solutions lend identities to devices through installed certificates on SIM cards, validate module configurations, and provide insight into installations. Smart meters, connected via the IoT, are part of this ecosystem, providing feedback on consumption patterns and supporting predictive modelling.

Throughout, security is of paramount importance so that energy is traded securely between microgrids and the national grid. Given how critical energy infrastructure is, and the rise in cyber-attacks on national infrastructures, IoT connectivity providers play critical security roles, establishing identity and connecting to grid infrastructure IT systems and cloud infrastructure securely.

In a digitised energy system, solar panels, batteries and operating systems link up through a trading platform. Cellular SIMs in the inverters between the solar panels and properties communicate with applications and back to energy providers.

Interoperability between battery manufacturers and energy grid providers is achieved through a software platform, with the IoT connectivity provider integrating connectivity, hardware and identity. Using IoT SAFE, deployments will have a fully standardised model for full end to end SIM to cloud security and as IoT strategies within the industry evolve, scaling and even swapping between operators and cloud infrastructure becomes much more simplified without the risk of cyber attacks or data breaches.

Connectivity and resilience from cellular IoT

The smooth-running of such systems depend on a range of operational factors. Installations of this type are long-term and often international. Providers therefore need the ability to change mobile network operator over time. eSIM technology, with the right service provider, offers this flexibility through the capability of provisioning over-the-air to switch network provider as required.

Redundancy capability is another important consideration. Energy firms and battery manufacturers can ensure cellular resilience through multi-network roaming SIMs that continuously monitor network connectivity. If connectivity fails, on-SIM applications can automatically switch SIM profile to connect to alternate networks, thereby mitigating the impact of network performance issues.

Whole industries have been transformed by smart connected technology and we see this happening now in energy infrastructure. The IoT is an enabler of intelligent energy generation, storage and distribution. Smart energy infrastructure is a developing market, but the right cellular IoT connectivity can provide security and resilience as well as reliable data transfer to support a digitised energy system.