October 30, 2015

How can energy companies benefit from the Internet of Things? (part 2/2)

Timo Karpola

Head of New Energy Services, ICS, Tieto

The Internet of Things will reshape the energy business in the coming years. New opportunities will arise for both energy retail companies and distributors—but what forms will these opportunities take? In a series of two blog posts, we dig into the benefits that the Internet of Things could bring to both energy retailers and distributors.

In the first blog post in this series, we looked into how energy retailers can gain a competitive edge from new services and products enabled by the Internet of Things. This blog post considers the expansive opportunities presented to energy distribution companies.

For energy distributors, the most critical elements of their operations include optimising their most important asset—the electrical grid—and ensuring its network value, whilst adapting to changing regulations.

For these companies, many possibilities arise from the Internet of Things. Intelligent technology today is extremely cost-efficient—but the possible applications of cheap sensor technology are still underdeveloped. For example, sensors are not utilised nearly enough to detect all energy delivery interruptions and disturbances. An impressive amount of data is now being collected, but unless that data is utilised and analysed, it provides few benefits.

By combining the Internet of Things, analytics and automated intelligence, distribution companies will be able to determine how to best run their systems. The key will be predictive maintenance and subsequent analysis to ensure that the maintenance is both maximally reliable and cost-efficient.

Here are a few concrete examples of ways in which energy distributors can benefit from the Internet of Things

  1. Forecasting the future. The Internet of Things could be used for predictive fault detection and automation of work orders. Different sensors, collecting data such as field crew positions, weather forecasts and current weather conditions, and accompanying alarms can be put together to provide real-time analytics. This allows advanced methods like machine learning to find abnormal patterns relative to previous analyses and launch appropriate actions automatically.
  2. Using data and analytics in planning network investments. Faults occurred are logged as     historical data, which can include other data (such as those mentioned in the previous bullet). These data are then used in network reliability analyses together with upcoming regulations to plan network investments many years ahead.
  3. Optimising service reliability. The opportunities presented by the Internet of Things do not only reside in creating new intelligent devices—the Internet of Things also enables the cost- efficient transformation of old devices into intelligent devices.Meters measuring consumption can be further developed to provide more information than currently available and with higher sampling rates. Meters can be regarded as measurement instrument platforms, and software upgrades can allow these devices to make measurements not yet imagined. This creates new opportunities without changing the actual infrastructure. 

While energy retailers compete for customers with intelligently automated customer service, energy distributors will leverage the Internet of Things to automate the efficient operation of their energy infrastructure. These advances are certain to decrease energy costs while increasing reliability.

Accordingly, the long-term prospects for energy consumers will depend on how quickly and effectively energy companies employ the Internet of Things.

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