Cybersecurity, DER-Grid Edge, Energy Storage, Executive Insight, Solar, T&D, Wind

Utilities should become ‘live enterprises’ through digitalization of their operations

The global energy mix is in the midst of a big disruption. While fossil fuels accounts for about 80 percent of energy demand in the US  this number is set to decrease. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 77 percent of Americans say that it is more important for the United States to develop alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind power, than to produce more coal, oil and other fossil fuels. 

We are seeing demand and supply trends shifting with the advent of new consumption patterns such as the growing popularity of electric vehicles. On the supply side too, the scene is much more complicated with multiple energy sources such as wind and solar coming into the mix. In addition, there is a storage revolution that is underway in terms of how power is stored and consumed.

Digitalization of utilities

For utility companies to keep pace with the changing paradigm in power generation, distribution and storage, they need to become more responsive and agile just like living beings. In other words, they need to become ‘Live enterprises’ and thereby continuously observe, evolve and learn.  Here are some ideas for utilities to consider:

Integrate data on energy sources — Given the disparate sources of energy that are coming in use today, there should be a mechanism to integrate all these sources to present a single pane of glass view of the available power capacity and energy demand. 

For instance, we worked with an organization that wanted to consistently mine reliable, timely, and accurate data to facilitate efficient business decision-making by various stakeholders. The challenge was that the relevant teams were scattered among different units within the business and IT departments with no clear data stewardship. Capturing relevant data about all energy sources in a timely and consistent manner is key to effective decision-making.

The team realized that an integrated, central service team for front to end data services would demonstrate business value, both commercially and operationally whilst ensuring high data quality. Also, a ‘self-service’ based approach helped improve end-user experience, reduce dependency on IT, save time and improve productivity of data operations support staff. 

Optimization of Supply/Demand — Ensuring that demand and supply levels are optimized can help deliver greater efficiency at lower costs of operations. One great example is an organization that implemented a Grid Analytics Tool and an integrated approach to facilitate grid modernization with minimal business disruption. 

A grid connectivity model helped ensure that there was a single source of truth (consolidating data from eight sources) and brought in end-to-end connectivity. In addition, an enterprise application platform, grid analytics tool, engineering analysis, grid interconnection planning tool, and an external portal for distributed resource planning were deployed, combined with data governance and quality tools. This helped enhance forecasting significantly since it was based on data from 5000 feeders, DER generation curves, and SCADA profiles for 19000 points. 

Accurate Forecasting — Given the volatile nature of demand and supply, predictive analytics capabilities to predict demand and also pinpoint the available capacity at a particular time can help run smooth operations. An AI-enabled grid will also be able to accurately predict changes in demand during the day, and season and advise the utility to balance the load as per need.

We recently helped a client rationalize its inventory of tools, processes, and data and to streamline demand management and forecasting processes. This facilitated greater visibility through a single system of record for ideas, service-aware demand, and projects. IT-enabled real-time management of resources and budgets were brought in so that resources are better utilized to drive innovation.

 In addition, digital utilities must also place emphasis on:

Cybersecurity – In a world of distributed energy resources and storage, ensuring safety and reliability while protecting assets from all cyber threats is paramount. Putting cybersecurity on high priority is critical for a Live Enterprise.

Customer awareness – The transition from the fossil-fuel economy to renewables can only happen through pull, rather than push. Unless customers demand clean energy, the switch in the industry is unlikely to happen. So, an awareness program that covers social media, educational institutions, and other relevant platforms is important. 

Edge intelligence – By putting computing power on the edge, whether at the point of generation or the point of consumption, we allow end-users to see the impact that they are creating with their actions and choices. This encourages greater participation and motivation to use sustainable practices.  

Workforce training – With the new technology upgrades, existing skillsets will become redundant. Therefore, comprehensive platform-based reskilling programs are key to ensure that the workforce is well-equipped to perform and deliver in the new scenario.

The Live will Survive

As the utility sector evolves, only those organizations that are prepared to embrace this change and become Live Enterprises will survive to tell the tale. A Live Enterprise is one that continuously evolves, learns, and innovates. By rethinking processes, enhancing user experience, and reimagining the ecosystem to drive exponential value, companies will emerge well-equipped to thrive in this age of change.