By Scott Foster, Delta Energy & Communications
The amount of money invested in smart grid technologies to date is no secret. Utilities have spent vast amounts of time and money investing in technologies that make the electric grid more efficient, reliable and cost effective. Yet, as 2015 has come to a close and utility executives evaluate the progress that has been made, many are thinking seriously about what lies ahead in 2016 for the smart grid, including what opportunities and challenges they will face over the next year. To prepare them for this discussion, executives should be thinking about the following:
The re-evaluation of current programs
To move forward, it is important for utilities to reflect over the last year and evaluate not only what has been working for them as they have begun rolling out programs to modernize their infrastructures but also, just as importantly, what has not. Even with grid restructuring programs in place, and expected growth to follow, there may be some solutions that are not worth more investment. On the other hand, many new innovations that are worth exploring might have popped up over the last 12 months.
opportunities (and growing pains) in developing countries
Another area where utilities are sure to find opportunity in 2016 are in exploring new regions such as those in the Asia-Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa. These regions are looking for modern solutions to power their communities-both for electricity purposes and to support a better quality of life for residents. In fact, they are expected to experience extreme smart grid demand and growth as utilities in those areas seek new ways to deal with the escalating demand for electricity.
Having the tools to correctly analyze and manage energy usage will allow utilities to create a broader functioning grid that can expedite the entire country’s development and success. Of course, putting down roots in these regions will inevitably create growing pains, such as the need to install a smart grid infrastructure. Once the implementation and utilization of smart grid solutions in these regions is put in place, however, utilities will be able to become more efficient in power distribution, management and customer expansion.
Explore big data analytics
The smart grid data analytics market is also expected to see explosive growth. In fact, the global smart grid data analytics market is anticipated to triple by 2022. Now that utilities have invested in deploying intelligent devices (sensors, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), micro-grids, advanced distribution management, remote asset monitoring and more) to modernize their infrastructures it is time for them to determine how to use the data generated from these devices to unlock the value and recover the implementation costs.
Though utilities have all of this data at their fingertips, they need solutions that can optimize the many cloud systems and architectures into smaller, singular standards, allowing the greater analyzing and sorting of vast quantities of data into the market appropriate verticals and actionable enterprise optimizing activities. Utilities have made headway in understanding the data taken from utility metering systems and additional sensor data collected from various distribution equipment, yet they still have a long way to go in integrating legacy systems and extracting data from them to garner what is really happening in the distribution utility.
For example, a modern AMI system can collect meter readings much more frequently that what is actually needed for basic customer billing, creating unnecessary data that offers no value. In addition, modern residential meters can measure voltages, forward and backward power flows, report outages and detect various operational problems. But the challenge remains: how can the utilities collecting this information make use of it?
Utilities must find a solution to translate this data into a readable format to easily find out what information is relevant and most valuable. Energy demand is projected to grow by more than a third of its current amount by 2035, therefore, it will be critical for utilities to implement solutions to help them deal with the associated demands from this explosive growth.
Looking ahead: A Smarter, Cheaper, More Reliable 2016
One thing is for sure-smart grid deployment has catapulted into the spotlight over the last year and will only continue to grow and evolve as more technologies are developed and implemented. Now that utilities have made significant investments in smart grid technologies, it is important for them to evaluate which are offering the best return-on-investment for all parties involved: the utility, its shareholders and its customers.
Once utilities can do this and determine the best steps for moving forward-whether that is shifting from one intelligent device to another or starting to focus on how data analytics can help better detect energy losses-they will be able to provide better services, reduce costs and increase reliability.
Scott Foster is founder and president of Delta Energy & Communications.