Uniper, Powel and Microsoft lead the way in modernising utility software

Early in 2017, Powel announced the successful delivery of a 100% public cloud-hosted solution for Uniper’s Nordic short-term optimisation process. The new Smart Energy suite, hosted in Microsoft Azure cloud supports Uniper’s asset optimisation 24 hours per day, 365 days per year - around the clock. With successful implementation in the Nordics achieved, key members of the project team share their thoughts on the process and the collaborative efforts with Powel and Microsoft that made it a possibility.

Uniper’s business portfolio encompasses most stages of the energy value chain from gas fields and power stations, to ensuring customers receive reliable energy. Operating on energy markets around the world, Uniper’s main business includes conventional power generation and global commodity trading focused on markets, large-scale customers and Transmission System Operators (TSO’s).

Future-proofing through System Harmonization Projects (SHARP)

Following dramatic changes in the energy business over the last decade, Uniper saw the need for modernisation. Thus, the main aim of the SHARP project was to ensure future-proofing of Uniper’s systems and strategies.

“The idea behind the project was to streamline processes and thereby cutting IT costs across Europe. The Nordic market was the first step, due to ageing IT systems that needed replacement urgently. The end goal is a harmonised system landscape across all European markets, which all our Trader, Optimiser and Dispatcher as well as support functions in different locations can work with in an efficient way,” says Sven Knoll, Director of Power Operations. “Modernisation and innovation are key, we need to have the ability to change quickly and to be innovative in order to remain competitive in the market.”

With a 24/7 short-term optimisation, Uniper’s systems have the highest requirement for availability, disaster recovery, confidentiality, encryption, and security. Implementing all these measures made for an extremely complex project. The many challenges that come with a large-scale, transitional, and trans-national innovation project like this were all tackled head-on, as Uniper was determined to make changes to their infrastructure. This meant that they were both flexible and open to new ideas.

A leap of faith that transformed the business

One of the biggest decisions in the project by far, was deciding to move the Nordic short-term optimisation system and data into the cloud, making Uniper the first large-scale power producer to do so. Initially, the idea of moving into the cloud was met with a great deal of sceptisism. However, the decision to do so has turned out to be one of the great achievements of the project.

“When we first started the SHARP project I do not think we even contemplated putting anything in the cloud. Fundamentally this is our 24/7 business and we have to be up. To take the leap of faith and go with Powel and Microsoft and move into something virtual, which was out of our control, was a very big ask,” says Head of Trading IT, Mark Williams.

Sven Knoll agrees and admits that the idea of moving to the cloud brought the teams and himself far out of the comfort zone. Now though, he is very glad they did, saying that getting the cloud implemented was one of the great successes of the project.

The move was made possible due to close cooperation between Uniper, Powel and Microsoft. Microsoft is praising both Uniper and Powel for their dedication to the project.

“The use of public cloud requires a thorough evaluation for any customer, and the power and utilities market is no exception. I am truly pleased to see the collaboration where a leading actor like Uniper has transformed their business through an innovative and forward-thinking partner like Powel, utilising the power of the Microsoft Azure platform,” says John Henrik Andersen, Director Business Development, Microsoft Western Europe.

Free from constraints

By deciding on a cloud-only solution, Uniper have successfully shown that freeing the business from the constraints of local hosting and hardware is both achievable and beneficial.

“It was quite an intense experience to be a first mover in this area,” says Sebastian Wallner, International Project / Sales & Trading IT, Uniper. “You have to manage a lot of external dependencies out of your control, and we had to adapt our timelines and deliverables accordingly. Having a good team that were all working towards the same goals was key to the success of this project,” he says.

“Uniper is leading the way in digital transformation. By leveraging the domain expertise from Powel, building on the benefits of cloud-based services in Microsoft Azure, they are increasing operational efficiency and reducing cost. The implementation is uncovering the benefits of the Microsoft Azure platform, eliminating the dependencies of local infrastructure by taking advantage of scalable and agile platform services,” says Andersen.

The road ahead

Uniper’s project has addressed and overcome many of the challenges faced by the energy sector today. Issues relating to security and encryption, high availability, disaster recovery, remote access and support, have all been considered and resolved on time and on budget, enabling Uniper to take full advantage of a modern and efficient, fully public cloud-hosted solution. 

“It’s been a unique project in many ways. To roll out a new service delivery model in the cloud, on time with many changes happening simultaneously, was challenging. We know the cloud is there and from a technology perspective it is mature and reliable. However, how you use it and what processes you have to adapt in order for it to fit our 24/7 model, that was the real challenge. For such a complex short-term optimisation solution, we absolutely had to ensure that it would be up and ready 24/7,” says Wallner.

“We expected OPEX savings and this also supported the cloud decision. These savings were in the expected range and are actually slightly higher than our estimates, which of course was a positive surprise,” says Wallner.

“The cloud allowed us to move away from past issues. We wanted harmonisation and efficiency and today we have a live and stabile system in the cloud,” finishes Williams.

Uniper are seeing the benefits of the modernised, cloud-ready solution already and their success has positive implications not only for the dispatch business, but for Uniper’s IT strategy as a whole. With the Nordic project having reached a successful conclusion, the next step in the SHARP project will be to move their Central European operations into the cloud.