The power utility industry is in the middle of a major business transformation, driven by two mega trends – prosumerism/decentralization and de-carbonization of the energy supply chain. These transformative trends are urging businesses in the power sector to organize themselves around the purpose of ‘being a custodian for safe and reliable power’ with a sense of urgency, thus calling for the emergence of a ‘digital energy economy’. While this transformation is a result of new-age expectations from consumers and the subsequent proliferation of demand-side energy solutions, it is also fueled by the growth needs for industry sustenance and a requirement to create newer revenue streams. To that end, the internet of things (IoT) and other digital technologies are providing the energy industry a unique opportunity to reimagine the way end consumers in residential buildings, commercial complexes, and factories utilize supporting technology.
A Platform for the Future of Utilities
The digital energy economy, powered predominantly by IoT, can modernize the energy value chain through innovations in business models or by targeting new markets. The digital platform can comprise the following:
Smart devices – sensors, meters, and controllers – which will provide data about the network and consumption.
Secure network and communication/connectivity systems, including gateways and bridges, based on open protocols.
Scalable, accessible, easy-to-integrate data platforms, with application program interface (API) libraries and in-built best practices for data management and governance.
Ability to handle advanced analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), and easy-to-build applications.
Open-architected platforms, which allow ecosystem vendors like energy solution providers to offer solutions to utility customers competitively.
Such digital platforms will enable new-age customer-centric solutions and services, including but not limited to:
Smart customer-facing products such as smart meters or smart appliances, enabling delightful customer experiences.
Smart operations tools with improved visibility on operational assets for better planning, organization, flexible services, and reliability.
Smart network infrastructure for continued operational excellence, despite increased uptake of distributed energy resources (DER).
Innovative products and services like data-as-a-service to share data with ecosystem partners for new digital products and service offerings.
Intelligent homes, buildings, factories, or cities with cross-functional data used in location-based solutions and services, like smart charging stations, smart heating, ventilation, and air conditioning or HVAC, smart lighting, air-quality analyzing systems, etc., through utility network and data services.
Smarter Consumers, Smarter Utilities
At the heart of the digital energy economy lies the deployment of smart meters and sensors, which will bring newer insights and intelligence that benefit both operations and the end customers. For customers, this translates into flexibility and customization, through advisory services to improve energy efficiency, asset performance, rebate programs etc., and advocacy for adoption of clean energy, electric vehicle charging stations, or storage solutions. Operational gains range from using real-time data-driven analysis and insights to substitute workers, complement employees, and improve on planning and organizing activities.
The digital platform will also provide the power industry and its large ecosystem future monetization capabilities. The platform has scope to create an open market that can progressively grow, where data is democratized and made accessible for participants to consume and provide newer products and services. In which case, re-skilling, training, and collaboration primarily in the below areas will gain unprecedented importance:
1. Edge capability: Device management, fog computing, edge analytics/actuation/controls, data acquisition and management, edge security, integration with gateways, bridges/collectors, and more.
2. Communication/network: Multi-directional connectivity, communication protocols, network performances, security, and more.
3. Cloud: Infrastructure-as-a-service, data management, storage, processing, and more.
4. Analytics: Data science, data modelling, predictive and prescriptive intelligence from data.
5. Application development: User experience, user interface designers, developers, data modelers, domain-driven designers, security engineers, and more.
6. Security: Threat assessment, modelling, and implementation of security software across each layer.
7. Partnerships: Domain-specific original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and subject matter experts (SMEs) for specific industry-grade solutions, preferably open-source stack-based development.
8. Service providers: System integration and implementation partners.
9. Change management specialists: For excellence in execution and to realize business outcomes at scale.
En Route Safety and Reliability
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has, in a way, accelerated the need for the utilities industry to play a central role and display resiliency in providing sustainable services to consumers. Enabled by regulators, the industry has been embracing risks and adapting to the new norm. Regulators play a key role in bringing to life the digital energy economy, a platform that will enable flexible services, efficient use of grids, effective pricing, and reduced obstacles for new stakeholders. As the industry seeks to introspect and explore possibilities, an IoT platform will herald the future of utilities – one that drives the case for safe and reliable power.