Apache Kafka in the Public Sector – Part 4: Energy and Utilities

Apache Kafka for Public Utilities and Energy Sector
The public sector includes many different areas. Some groups leverage cutting-edge technology, like military leverage. Others like the public administration are years or even decades behind. This blog series explores both edges to show how data in motion powered by Apache Kafka adds value for innovative new applications and modernizing legacy IT infrastructures. This is part 4: Use cases and architectures for energy, utilities, and smart grid infrastructures.

The public sector includes many different areas. Some groups leverage cutting-edge technology, like military leverage. Others like the public administration are years or even decades behind. This blog series explores how the public sector leverages data in motion powered by Apache Kafka to add value for innovative new applications and modernizing legacy IT infrastructures. This is part 4: Use cases and architectures for energy, utilities, and smart grid infrastructure.

Apache Kafka for Public Utilities and Energy Sector

Blog series: Apache Kafka in the Public Sector and Government

This blog series explores why many governments and public infrastructure sectors leverage event streaming for various use cases. Learn about real-world deployments and different architectures for Kafka in the public sector:

  1. Life is a Stream of Events
  2. Smart City
  3. Citizen Services
  4. Energy and Utilities (THIS POST)
  5. National Security

Subscribe to my newsletter to get updates immediately after the publication. Besides, I will also update the above list with direct links to this blog series’s posts once published.

As a side note: If you wonder why healthcare is not on the above list. Healthcare is another blog series on its own. While the government can provide public health care through national healthcare systems, it is part of the private sector in many other cases.

Energy, Utilities, Smart Grid, and the Public Sector

The energy sector is different in countries and even states. Public utilities are subject to public control and regulation, ranging from local community-based groups to statewide government monopolies. Hence, some markets are private businesses, or entirely controlled by the government, or a mix of both. For instance, here is the complex US Regulated vs. Deregulated Electricity Market:

Nevertheless, one thing is clear: The energy sector is changing; no matter if the government entirely regulates the market or not:

Smart Grid - Energy Industry

Let’s look at a few real-world examples for Apache Kafka in the Energy Sector, its relation to the public sector, and a few possible enterprise architectures.

Kafka Examples for Public Utilities

First of all, I already wrote about data in motion powered by Kafka in the energy sector. I also had a great panel discussion about edge and hybrid architecture in a panel discussion about Kafka and 5G networks in the oil and gas and mining industry.

Let’s now take a look at two more examples:

  • Stadtwerke Leipzig: A government-owned electricity provider
  • Tesla: A private company heavily influenced by the public administration

Stadtwerke Leipzig – Digital Customer Interface for Public Utilities

Stadtwerke Leipzig is a municipal energy utility in central Germany that provides electricity, natural gas, and district heating. They are wholly owned by LVV Leipziger Versorgungs- und Verkehrsgesellschaft, in which the City of Leipzig holds a 100% stake.

Leipziger Stadtwerke built a digital customer interface to connect public utilities, grid operators, the housing industry, end-consumer, industrial customers:

Apache Kafka at Leipziger Stadtwerke Utilities Energy Public Sector

The picture is of bad quality, unfortunately, and not available in a better version. Though, the essential point is that the long green rectangle in the middle is Apache Kafka. Kafka is the central nervous system to connect edge devices, proprietary protocols, and open standards such as MQTT, OPC-UA, XML, JSON, etc. This way, the OT and IT world are connected with a single, scalable real-time pipeline.

Instead of having various data silos, the data is now accessible by any interested consumer in real-time at scale. Hence, this architecture solves one of the biggest challenges in energy infrastructures: Getting value out of the massive volumes of OT data. Nevertheless, the enterprise architecture allows different technologies and brownfield integration. Kafka provides automatic backpressure handling and preprocessing.

Leipziger Stadtwerke combines Kafka with other great technologies to build innovative digital services. For instance, Kunbus edge devices (a PI with custom Linux) and over-the-air updates (OTA) with Mender.

Tesla – Streaming IoT Data for Innovative Services

Tesla is a private enterprise, not within the public sector. However, living in Germany, I see how much related the company is with the public administration, government, law, etc. The Gigafactory in Berlin is in the press every week. The innovation around electric cars is a widespread public discussion; even German competitors like Volkswagen admit Tesla’s innovative business. As the public sector often does not talk to the public about its projects, I thought Tesla’s Kafka success story is still worth mentioning in this post.

Why?

Well, because Tesla has a considerable energy business (they don’t just sell cars), innovates like not many other car and energy companies need to collaborate with governments across the globe regarding law compliance, charging infrastructure, and other crucial topics.

Tesla processes trillions of messages per day for IoT use cases with Kafka. The data comes from connected cars, power packs, factories,  charging stations, etc. Tesla’s Kafka Summit talk showed exciting information about their Kafka journey:


Tesla using Apache Kafka for IoT and Energy Sector

Hybrid IoT Architecture for the Energy Sector

IT architectures in the public sector look very similar to the private sector. The main difference is the more limited usage of public cloud providers. Nevertheless, most energy infrastructures require a hybrid approach with edge computing outside a data center or cloud.

Let’s take a look at a few example architecture for energy production from upstream and midstream to downstream:

Energy Production and Distribution with a Hybrid Architecture using Kafka

Event Streaming enables data integration and data processing in motion, whether it has to happen at the edge or in the data center/cloud.

Edge Computing with Kafka in Disconnected Offline Mode

From the perspective of the edge, data is often filtered, preprocessed, and aggregated at the edge for latency, security, or cost reasons:

Event Streaming for Energy Production Upstream and Midstream at the Edge with a 5G Campus Network and Kafka

Disconnected data processing at the edge is crucial in many energy, and utilities use cases. It has to work even without an internet connection in “offline mode”:

Energy Production at the Disconnected Edge Upstream with Apache Kafka in the Public Sector

The same is valid on the consumer side. The point-of-sale (POS) has to run 24/7 for transactional workloads, no matter if there is an internet connection:

 

Edge Processing at the Intelligent Gas Station Downstream with Apache Kafka

I covered edge use cases for Kafka and security implications with Kafka in a zero-trust air-gapped environment in separate posts.

Cybersecurity – The Threat is Real for Public Sector and the Energy Infrastructure

Cybersecurity is crucial everywhere in the public sector, including citizen services, smart city, and mobility services. But in these “convenience use cases”, we “only” talk about data privacy. Yes, this is very important. But in the energy sector, we are talking about safety and human lives at risk. The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in May 2021 in the US is just one of many successful attacks in the past few quarters.

National security is a huge topic for the energy sector. Electric utilities can be affected by cyberattacks across the whole value chain. McKinsey has an exciting diagram explaining this:

Cybersecurity The Threat is Real in Public Sector and Energy Infrastructure

 

The discussion around cybersecurity is a primer to the last post of this blog series.

Of course, my general blog series about Apache Kafka for Cybersecurity (Situational Awareness, Threat Intelligence, Forensics, Zero Trust, SIEM/SOAR Modernization) is helpful, too.

Data in Motion for Reliable and Scalable Smart Grid Infrastructure

This post showed a few real-world examples and architectures for data in motion in hybrid architectures in the energy industry. The private sector has fewer examples than the public sector. But the architectures look the same, no matter who is responsible.

The private energy sector needs to collaborate with the government and public administration like the public energy sector. The integration and processing of data in motion with Apache Kafka is a game-changer for improving existing processes and building new innovative solutions.

For instance, Tesla is a very innovative private company with cutting business models that are only possible if you collect, aggregate, and leverage data streams from various data sources. Tesla’s new car insurance service is an excellent example of this. The insurance business is backed by data from many IoT sensors and applied in real-time to provide context-specific information. That’s the way to go for the public sector, too.

How do you leverage event streaming in the public sector? Are you working on energy/utility projects or building a smart grid? What technologies and architectures do you use? What projects did you already work on or are in the planning? Let’s connect on LinkedIn and discuss it! Stay informed about new blog posts by subscribing to my newsletter.

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