IoT Digital Transformation Part 6: Utilities

IOT in Utilities
Home and business energy is one of the top areas of IoT deployment.

This is Part 6 of the IoT DX series. Part 1 focused on the impact of IoT DX for the customer experience. Part 2 focused on how IoT DX is transforming field service. Part 3 elucidated how IoT is transforming the insurance industry. Part 4 showed several examples of IoT transformation in financial services. Part 5 focused on the adoption of IoT DX in healthcare. The focus of this blog is on the digital transformation of the utility industry.

IoT is one of the hottest digital transformation trends in 2017 and beyond. However, the utilities and energy industry tends to be more conservative and stable compared to other industries that have been disrupted by digital technologies. Utility companies have monopolies over specific regions and are impacted more by government regulations than disruptive competitors in other industries.

Nevertheless, change and disruptions are coming, especially with IoT connectivity and the increasing popularity of renewable energy – especially solar – for residential and business enterprises. With connected solar or other energy resources, consumers and businesses are not only able to save but also sell back energy to the grid – to the utility company! Here are some of the areas where digital transformation with IoT is happening in the utilities and energy sector.

  • Intelligent (aka Smart) Grids: With extensive grid connectivity, there is tremendous potential for utility companies to optimize the distribution and management of power in real-time. Connectivity, especially in electric utilities, is not new. For several decades, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) have supported sensors and actuators to support computerized monitoring, management, and control of generation and transmission systems. More recently, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) provides two-way connectivity leveraging “smart” meters that can be monitored by utilities and consumers for better energy management, especially in smart homes. These are the foundations of the intelligent grid. They allow utility companies to “collect more accurate consumption and voltage information from various intelligent electrical devices throughout the distribution lines.” The advantage is the conservation voltage reduction (CVR).
  • Smart Metering: Some utility companies are bringing the advantages of connected meters to the consumer. These meters go beyond SCADA and AMI to provide more energy visibility and convenience, as well as empowerment to the consumer while enabling the utility provider to better optimize energy usage. As an example, Smart Meters by ConEdison will empower the consumer to have more:
    • Control in conserving energy
    • Options for selecting renewable energy sources such as solar
    • Convenience by supporting remote monitoring, a ubiquitous advantage of connected devices.
  • Prescriptive Maintenance and Asset Performance Optimization: Utility companies are using increasingly connected assets, which include the assets in energy production, energy distribution, and the aforementioned connected metering assets in homes and businesses. The prescriptive maintenance of these assets includes diagnostics and repair.  Some of this can be done remotely, for instance, updates of connected asset (e.g. smart meter) software.  More importantly, prescriptive maintenance involves the end-to-end digitization of processes that orchestrate people and connected assets, leveraging asset data analytics when applicable. The maintenance is beyond preventive or predictive. It is actionable and needs business process automation.

Insight to Action: Connected assets, such as meters, powerlines, and smart grids, generate enormous amounts of data. This asset “Thing” big data, gathered from individual connected energy assets or aggregators within specific locations, have insights that could be mined and made actionable. Sometimes the insight needs to be responded to in real-time with preventive actions. In other scenarios, machine learning algorithms, including predictive analytics, need to be leveraged to enhance the overall performance of the assets, as well as the optimization of the energy consumption. The operative word is “actionable.” Device level data alone will not allow utilities to get to the true value of IoT. Combiningg device level data with the ability to orchestrate work in an end-to-end fashion will connects the silo between data and action in the utilities industry. As in all industries, end-to-end process automation is a core catalyst for digital transformation with connected devices, consumers, operations, and utility enterprises.

Therefore, IoT, as well as other technological advances such as solar energy, are having a profound impact on the utility industry. Home and business energy is one of the top areas of IoT deployment. Intelligent connected meters within connected grids provide tremendous economic as well as ecological advantages. How? Primarily through end-to-end digitization of processes orchestrating people (consumers, utility employees, partners), processes (maintenance, customer service, field service), connected assets (smart meters), and analytics (predictive, machine learning): operationalizing and optimizing business objectives through automated and intelligent business processes.

Part 7 of the IoT Series will focus on the oil and gas industries.