DigiKoo: A German Solution to the Utility Data Sharing Conundrum

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Altered Energy – Alternative Energy news

Tim Schaaff, Intertrust Technologies

For most of their history, in North America, electrical utilities have been centralized distribution networks. Utility operated generation resources are the hub of the network and electricity flows one-way via distribution networks largely controlled by the same utilities. In this model, there has been little reason for utilities to share anything but a small slice of data about their operations with anyone else other than themselves.

In today’s world, the rise of distributed energy resources (DERs) is creating a grid more akin to the Internet. Electricity now flows bi-directionally from an ever-increasing number of generation resources that are quite often not owned by the utility. As regional policy makers push to increase the number of DERs, the issue of how utilities can share the data needed to properly plan for the integration of DERs onto the grid is now a major concern.

Regulators and utilities are pursuing a number of ways to overcome this issue, including a proposal from the District of Columbia government to establish a Distributed Energy Resources Authority that would have access to sensitive utility data.

One of the problems is how to share very sensitive utility data amongst multiple parties while maintaining the security of that data. A potential solution to this issue is coming out of Germany. Like many other countries, Germany is in the midst of reducing CO2 emissions. To help encourage the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), German distribution service operators (DSOs), utilities, and municipalities are trying to rapidly grow public EV charging networks. However, the lack of easy and quick access to grid information is significantly slowing down the siting and construction of new EV charging stations.

DigiKoo, a subsidiary of the European utility company innogy, is working with a Silicon Valley company called Intertrust Technologies to create an automated grid information access service that gives DSOs the ability to easily and securely support such information requests.

Determining the feasibility of adding a new EV charging station depends on several factors. One is determining if a desired location for a charging station can actually be supported by the grid infrastructure surrounding it. Is there an electrical line actually near that location and if so, will the electrical load carrying capacity of the surrounding distribution grid support it?

German municipalities and their partners need to get timely access to this grid information, yet today it requires up to ten hours or more. In Germany, municipalities generally own the medium to low-voltage distribution grid infrastructure, the DSOs operate these grids. There are over 800 DSOs operating in Germany and due to German regulations, grid data needs to remain unbundled and any data access must be properly secured. So, getting information from all of them takes time.

To further compound this situation, usage of this information must comply with other German regulations. Use of personal data is strictly regulated under the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as well as the German Federal Data Protection Act (Bundesdatenschutzgesetz – BDSG), a law that codifies the provisions of the GDPR into German law. Under these laws, employee information is considered as personal data, so any data such as records of maintenance personnel visits held in the datasets has to be governed according to these regulations. Moreover, grid information itself is considered a sensitive national security asset and must be treated as such.

Regulation is not the only issue. To help determine whether or not a proposed charging station location is feasible, access is needed to three main grid information datasets: geolocation, electrical load capacity, and asset types. DSOs typically store this information in different databases that are not linked together. Also, when these datasets are queried, the data often needs to be normalized to eliminate mis-labeling and other issues. The amount of time that it takes to query each of the databases is one of the main reasons behind the inordinate amount of time needed to calculate the feasibility of a proposed charging station location.

The DigiKoo Solution

DigiKoo is a grid transparency tool designed to efficiently access the grid data needed to assess the feasibility of EV charging stations. DigiKoo’s primary focus is to provide access to the data needed to help DSOs, utilities, municipalities, and other partners cooperate with each other in building EV charging networks. Today, DigiKoo serves Westnetz, Germany’s largest DSO and a subsidiary of innogy, but it can serve other DSOs as well. This business model relies on intelligently separating and distributing data to multiple customers.

Two of the apps that DigiKoo provides are Parkship and NetzInfo+. The Parkship app (see lead image above) helps municipality employees easily determine optimal locations for public charging stations. These employees can use the Parkship app to drop pins on locations they want to recommend for public charging stations and upvote other suggested locations within their region/municipality. They can also upload pictures and add comments to support recommendations. DigiKoo gathers this information and aggregates it for the use of municipality planners.

The NetzInfo+ app gives users relevant grid info around a selected location on their mobile device.

Once EV charging network planners use the information from Parkship and other sources to come up with recommended locations, they then use the NetzInfo+ app to determine their viability from a grid infrastructure point of view. NetzInfo+ is an app that combines different datasets of grid information into one view so that planners can see the street-level information they need to make decisions. First, planners can use NetzInfo+ to determine if their selected location has a reasonably close grid line. If there is one, the planners can also look at other necessary information such the grid line current load capacity, load on the circuit, and load capacity of nearby transformers and substations.

By using the combined DigiKoo solution, municipalities can easily come up with recommendations for EV charging station locations and reduce the time needed to get the necessary grid information to determine viability from ten hours to around five minutes.

To solve the technical challenges associated with DigiKoo’s business model, DigiKoo selected Intertrust’s Modulus trusted data rights management platform. Using Modulus, DigiKoo governs access to distributed datasets and ensures that data can only be accessed by people with appropriate permissions. Modulus does this by creating and enforcing fine-grained rules for governing access to data based on the polices that DigiKoo and its partners define in the system.

Modulus performs a number of other functions in the DigiKoo system as well. For example, it securely logs all access requests and maintains an audit trail. Modulus also creates connectors to the various external datasets and databases that DigiKoo works with. These connectors are software layers that integrate with commonly used datastores that implement Modulus’ data access governance functions. They can work with numerous file systems as well as structured and unstructured data. One crucial feature these connectors perform is ensuring the databases for different DSOs/municipalities are kept separate from each other. This is done to avoid compatibility issues as well as comply with regulatory requirements.

Modulus ensures that the data used in DigiKoo’s NetzInfo+ and Parkship can only be accessed by authorized users. It also allows interoperability between datasets – however many and distributed they might be.

With their solutions, DigiKoo can play an important role in Germany’s efforts to reduce CO2 emissions by expediting the process of EV charging networks for German municipalities and DSOs. Modulus’ data governance and interoperability capabilities play a key part in making sure DigiKoo maintains data security, complies with applicable regulations, and interoperates efficiently and seamlessly with a wide variety of databases and datasets.

The long-term goal of DigiKoo is to let DSOs utilize their data assets more effectively, thereby reducing planning costs and optimizing future investments in the grid. In Germany, DSOs are expected to play a crucial role in the decarbonization of energy and DigiKoo is aiming to provide the necessary data layer to support this effort.

Of course, such goals are not limited to German DSOs. In North America, with the increasing amount of green energy available on the grid, to reduce carbon emissions regulators are beginning to push the electrification of our transportation and ultimately “the electrification of everything” – a goal that fits nicely with utility business models. The DigiKoo example points to one potential model for the grid transparency layer that will be needed to increase the adoption of DERs and EVs on the way to this goal.

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