Energy Monitoring: SCADA vs. Energy Asset Management Systems

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Energy Monitoring: SCADA vs. Energy Asset Management Systems
By Brad Witter July 31, 2013 12:27:12 pm 

The need to upgrade energy infrastructures within many manufacturing facilities, especially sizable ones, is spurring supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) deployments - but be wary. Industry experts Frost and Sullivan, the Gartner Group and Forrester are warning of increased cyber-security threats and crippling SCADA malfunctions, especially around monitoring a plant’s energy assets, which can impact manufacturing operations.
Research collected to support the C-suite (heads of operations, directors of facilities, and VPs of energy management) suggests you adopt an industry-specific turnkey energy management system that comprises several subsystems.  PwC energy/power experts report that a top priority with heads of operations and facilities is securely automating and centrally monitoring their organization’s disparate, but critical, energy assets.

What they are finding is that energy and power distribution infrastructures have elaborate and sophisticated network layers, and SCADA does not possess a robust security framework that can deal with possible intrusions and malfunctions to ensure process safety and integrity. PwC reports that this is primarily due to a combination of an organization’s reluctance to invest in cyber-security, coupled with the usage of legacy systems, which bring a whole host of issues like slow reaction speeds, incompatibility and silos of isolation – SCADA packages are not typically vendor-agnostic and have to be configured manually from scratch. And integrating a variety of energy equipment tends not to be seamless, nor secure.

Analysts have come to agree that to address such challenges without putting an energy infrastructure at risk, the best investment is in distributed energy asset management. Such systems have been developed from the ground up to leverage the wide range of energy equipment an organization has already invested in – but does so in a safe, secure and compliant way. For instance, Blue Pillar has developed an energy asset management system that integrates and leverages an organization’s existing energy meters no matter which brand, such as Square D, Powerlogic, GE, Itron, Ester and Siemens; automatic transfer switchboards from ASCO, Zenith, Russelectric; and generators from Caterpillar, Cummins, Kohler, Hitachi, etc. This way an organization’s existing investment can be leveraged.

Also, analysts suggest that rising energy supply costs are putting significant impediments (and additional cost) into the value chain.  For most organizations comprising large campuses, such as factories, industrial parks, hospitals, malls, supermarkets, airport terminals, military bases, universities, etc., internal power efficiency and performance has become even more vital – especially because we are in an era where there is so much infrastructure that needs to be built and smart asset management systems have naturally become a focal point.

Frost and Sullivan’s findings show that developing a more reliable and efficient energy infrastructure runs parallel with the challenge of getting the most out of your existing aging energy infrastructure. Maximizing the value of both the new and the old is the name of the game. Companies need to balance cost effectiveness and risk, which is why SCADA applications are still contemplated because they have been around for more than a decade and do integrate with legacy assets.

However, as cyber threats and their associated risks grow, the heads of engineering, operations and facilities management are weighing in. The cost of a security breach or service disruption is ruling out conventional SCADA for automating energy infrastructures, which is challenging SCADA vendors to find plausible solutions. For instance, the ISA Security Compliance Institute (ISCI) is emerging to formalize SCADA security testing, but it will inevitably take time before any protocol standards will be accepted as safe and secure.

“A great majority of SCADA vendors have started to address the risks of cyber threats by developing lines of specialized industrial firewall and VPN solutions for TCP/IP-based SCADA networks,” says Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Katarzyna Owczarczyk. Across the spectrum of automation and control systems, statistics show that SCADA systems have been found to be vulnerable to cyber-attacks. This is reaffirmed by a number of recent high-profile SCADA attacks.
Most of the protocols communicating with SCADA have their origins in serial communications and provide no security. SCADA protocols including Modbus, TCP/IP and OPC have the potential to increase vulnerabilities within their facilities. Newer energy asset management systems, unlike SCADA systems, have been developed to manage the growing complexity of distributed energy resources.

Energy asset management systems typically not only monitor, but can optimize a wide array of resources integrated into a single smart digital energy network. They can provide the ability to solve grid reliability and peak demand contingencies at the local distribution grid node level, boost system efficiency, and maximize return on investment (ROI) in generation and other distributed energy resources to improve operational uptime.
Another concern with SCADA is its reliance on customization. By design, SCADA software is custom, often requiring integrators to custom code, draw screens, and test applications to produce a working, fully functional product for the end customer. Typically, there is little overlap from one client implementation to the next, so each customer receives its own code. While this may sound appealing, its end result is just the opposite.

First, custom-coded systems are difficult to test. Testing is usually limited to the go-live test at the end of a project, due to the complexity and limited time available for testing. Once tested and commissioned (assuming it was all clear, which is a big assumption), the next difficulty encountered is maintenance and modification. Custom code is difficult to maintain over time and can leave facilities in a predicament as their infrastructure and/or system needs change. The practical lifecycle for a fully implemented SCADA system is two to three years before changes lead to increased risk, higher costs and downtime.

SCADA hardware often consists of programmable gateways or PLCs that share many of the same issues as the SCADA software: custom and once implemented, inflexible. So if you used “Bob” for a custom PLC panel for controlling your widget maker and collecting data, and then your business requirements change (or you have a component break), you’d better hope you can find Bob!  For most organizations today, such an individual-dependent process is unacceptable.

There is a paradigm shift in the energy sector from SCADA to a turnkey platform of subsystems that securely consolidate and centrally manage the monitoring of an organization's disparate energy assets. In addition, there will be a shift to the enterprise-wide management of energy networks allowing for better-equipped campus environment microgrids, demand response programs, and virtual power plants. Lastly, the systems that don’t require large amounts of customization and engineering reduce many of the issues involving security, time to implementation, maintainability, and cost; all of which are key factors that most organizations are grappling with today.
Unfortunately, companies have invested a great deal of time and money in SCADA, so letting go of it can be particularly difficult. But the time is rapidly approaching when holding onto it may be even more agonizing.

Author Bio
Brad Witter
Brad Witter, executive vice president, technology and operations of Blue Pillar, Inc., manages the company’s Digital Energy Network solution to enable organizations to reduce energy spend and monetize assets through higher participation in demand response and ancillary energy markets. He supports customers in industrial and manufacturing, commercial, military, healthcare, government, higher education, datacenters and telecommunications, and off-grid/remote applications.


SCADA does not possess a robust security framework that can deal with possible intrusions and malfunctions.