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Digitalization of utilities

Key drivers of digitalization for electric utilities

What are the hidden capabilities needed to ensure a successful adaptation to the emerging and digitalized power market? What are the challenges that utilities companies face? How can digital transformation reinforce their resilience, thus positively impacting on customers?

Utilities are crucial to the functioning of our society, as providers of essential services to households, businesses, communities and industries. We need electricity for heating, cooling, lighting, transportation, manufacturing and other basic activities that we conduct on a daily basis.

If utilities industry’s infrastructure was built decades ago, how can it now adapt to the new era of the Internet of Things (IoT)? What are the vulnerabilities and current inefficiencies that need to be addressed? How can this adaptation overcome the new kinds of risks and impact the end customer?

IoT and data-driven solutions for electric utilities

With the increasing penetration of renewable energy and energy storage systems, utilities are transforming their generation portfolios to contribute to a sustainable and efficient energy sector. Digital transformation can enhance operations and grid resilience, address the rising electricity demand, and foster intelligent grid management. Likewise, advanced technologies drive informed decision-making and reduce the need for costly and new transmission and distribution infrastructure. The following digital integrations and best practices tips embrace paths that utilities can follow to benefit from IoT and advance technologies:

Smart meters: through the incorporation of this electronic devices, utilities can receive real-time data to efficiently monitor and measure energy consumption, thus being able to provide a better service to their customers.

Smart grids: these are electricity networks that use digital and advanced technologies, sensors, and software solutions to balance the electricity supply and demand in real time. Smart grids can intelligently and efficiently operate reducing costs for consumers; foster a transparent grid connection and access for all system users; enhance cross-border transmission capacity; and integrate distributed renewable generation, while offering high level quality of supply and security.

Data analytics: utilities can harness data and gain insight into consumer behavior as well as gather information about customer demands. They can highly benefit from data analytics to improve their efficiency and prevent revenue loss. With this metrics, they can assess operations performance and power generation, while efficiently handle outages.

Machine learning: it is considered a branch of artificial intelligence and it is defined as a method of data analysis, which is able to automate analytical model building. This method consists on learning from data and identifying patterns to provide reliable results, thus impacting operational and strategic decisions.

Demand response monitoring: demand response management programs enable utilities to improve customer engagement, inviting them to become proactive participants or even prosumers. It is an important source of flexibility, along with smart grids and energy storage.

IoT devices: they can handle the impact of variable renewable energy and the growing electricity demand, while ensuring the reliability of electricity grids and grid stability. IoT can contribute, inter alia, to asset optimization, distributed microgrids, smart grids, advanced automation, and remote dispatching. Similarly, it is driving changes in consumer behavior and enabling consumer control over energy consumption.  

New business models for utilities to increase profitability

Automated processes and remote control systems contribute to harness the increasing potential of distributed energy resources. Furthermore, utilities can have access to market alerts and pricing analysis to increase asset monetization while reducing financial costs. At the same time, this contributes to reduce the environmental impact as well as the energy footprint and waste.

Utilities must address the rapid influx of renewable energy and battery storage systems, and foster new partnerships that can enable them to improve their interactions with their customers and help them manage their energy usage. Cloud technologies can indeed offer to utilities market agility and allow them to rapidly access new markets and obtain new revenue streams.

Author: Iris Blay
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