Finland invests in IT to upgrade electricity network

National electricity transmission grid operator Fingrid’s Datahub system will play key role in retail market’s transition to a centralised information exchange

Digital and artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies will feature prominently in a Finnish government-backed plan to modernise the country’s electricity network.

The core objective of the ICT-intensive upgrade is to achieve a higher level of automation, using advanced smart technologies and intelligent systems.

The energy sector’s industrial organisation, Energiateollisuus Ry, has estimated that the national electricity network overhaul could cost more than €8bn.

The investment is part of a long-term strategy to deploy a range of technologies, including AI, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), as tools to improve operational efficiency and help maintain low electricity prices for residential and business consumers.

In an initiative connected to the national electricity network, the Finnish government has introduced a legislative proposal to use the Datahub centralised IT system, which is owned and operated by national electricity transmission grid operator Fingrid.

Under the plan, Datahub will support the electricity retail market’s smooth transition to a centralised information exchange system. The legislative change will necessitate amendments to Finland’s Electricity Market Act. The project is being run in parallel with the government’s Energy and Climate Strategy.

“We see Datahub as having a practical innovative role to promote the development of smart grids and demand response systems,” said Kimmo Tiilikainen, Finland’s environment and energy minister. “Longer term, we see the potential to improve services and cost and energy-efficiency.”

The environment and energy ministry has calculated that Datahub’s centralised information exchange system has the potential to generate €7.6m in annual cost savings for companies in the electricity retail market. Also, significant economic benefits are expected for electricity consumers through cost efficiencies.

The Datahub project was launched by the ministry of economic affairs in April 2015. Fingrid established Datahub as part of a wholly owned subsidiary, Fingrid Datahub, in 2016. It is expected to become operational by April 2021.

Important milestone

The centralised information exchange (CIE) project reached an important milestone in June this year when Fingrid signed a €41.9m supplier contract with CGI Suomi, a subsidiary of CGI Corporation. The agreement covers the design, construction and delivery of Datahub’s next-generation electricity information exchange operating system.

The CIE system being developed for Datahub involves a collaboration between CGI teams in Finland, the Netherlands and India. The four-year contract with Fingrid includes a post-delivery maintenance deal.

The centralised IT system contracted from CGI will have capacity to store and manage data from all the national grid operator’s 3.5 million energy consumption locations. Using advanced process automation, the new system will simplify, speed up and streamline the exchange of information in Finland’s electricity retail market.

Under the amended Electricity Market Act, the customer-specific information on Datahub’s database can be used by more than 180 power suppliers and distribution system operators in the electricity marketplace.

Datahub’s centralised data resource is also expected to drive investment in intelligent energy-efficiency technologies by enabling energy companies to access data on electricity use and users from a single database system. It is hoped this will encourage power operators to develop new consumer-based smart technology services.

Datahub’s primary users will be electricity suppliers, their customers and power distribution system operators.

“We see Datahub as a practical innovation to promote the development of smart grids and demand response systems,” said Tiilikainen. “Long term, we see the potential to improve services and increase both cost and energy-efficiency.”

Finland’s electricity market was liberalised and connected to the parallel Nordic market in the mid-1990s. Innovation thrived in this more open marketplace, delivering a steady flow of advanced technology, networks with superior reliability, improved data communications systems and the launch of remote smart monitoring of energy use.

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Datahub will be used to store data from electricity meters and synchronise electricity contract processes. The system is being designed to increase data processing efficiency, while enhancing the retail market’s ability to deal more swiftly, and at a lower cost, with certain tasks.

These tasks include making the process of switching suppliers more quickly and accelerating the completion of electricity contracts and change of address notifications. Power companies handled one million change of address and 200,000 “supplier switch” notifications in 2017.

The centralised Datahub IT system will also have an important customer data protection role, said Asta Sihvonen-Punkka, CEO of Fingrid Datahub.

“Datahub will make it easier to manage data protection and data security in a centralised system,” said Sihvonen-Punkka. “Under the present system, each electricity supplier and distribution system operator have their own data systems.”

The proposed amendments to the Electricity Market Act will oblige electricity suppliers and distribution system operators to use the Datahub for all exchange of metering and end-user data connected to electricity trade.

Individual customers on the Datahub system will be identified using their national personal identity numbers or similar unique identifiers. The planned changes will make it easier for Datahub to access personal data from the National Population Register Centre in order to identify electricity consumers.

Centralising personal data to Datahub will also require the use and transfer of information from customer data systems operated by electricity suppliers and distribution system operators. Datahub’s centralised consumer database is expected to help energy companies shape new products, including innovative offerings such as demand-side electricity management services.

“There will be advantages and opportunities for consumers and industry actors in the market,” said Sihvonen-Punkka said. “Consumers will be able to switch electricity suppliers more quickly, and the single data source will allow power companies to become more innovate in the products and services they offer.”

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