4 Ways Utility & Green Energy Companies are Getting Smarter With IoT

Prashant Kumar, Founder & CEO, TechBlocks
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IoT is certainly a hot topic. We’ve already explored best practices for IoT implementation and its effects on logistics and the retail space. Now we’re diving into the utilities and green energy sectors, which are industries that can benefit greatly from the connectedness and efficiency that IoT brings. Energy usage is already a leader in IoT with the explosion of both smart meters and smart thermostats such as Nest, which provide a wealth of information about energy usage patterns.

And the utilities and green energy industry is poised for an explosion in device management, with a report from Ericsson stating, “The global number of devices being managed by utility companies is projected to grow from 485Mn in 2013 to 1.53Bn in 2020.” This is a massive increase that will generate a significant growth and the amount of incoming data requiring utility companies to implement tech solutions in order to deal with the large amounts of data coming in.

IoT devices and platforms such as cloud-based business intelligence tools, offer a solution to dealing with data. Here are four ways IoT is transforming the utilities and green energy industry today:

​  IoT’s impact will be felt across the renewable sector, from the optimization of wind turbines to monitoring of carbon capture efforts 

1. Leveraging Data for Optimal Efficiency

Utilities will face a need to monitor the grid in real time, to ensure it stays reliable and delivers the power needed for current demand. Aiding the utilities is the plummeting cost of sensors which will allow them to increase the number of connections and the resulting data. And smart meter deployment adds another factor of data which will encourage applications and other tools that will then harness the raw data.

For an example, utilities can leverage meter or broader network data to improve the time it takes to restore power and to control load and generation on a local level. The long view goal of utilities is to create an “intelligent grid,” where sensors are connected to physical machines and other sensors. These sensors become more advanced over time and will feature embedded software and built-in analytics to improve efficiency and customer satisfaction. Data collected by these sensors includes temperatures, vibrations, flow rates, and pressures, all of which provide operators with the data they need to make real-time decisions or to allocate resources.

2. Smart Meters for Improved Customer Experience

The days of the “meter reader” checking by hand are vanishing, replaced by “smart” meters that monitor consumer energy consumption in real time. These meters enable automated billing that can be based upon when the consumption is taking place (for example peak-time energy usage during a hot afternoon), as well as instant outage alerts. Meter-to-appliance communication can help guide customers on how their behaviors (type of device and time of day) impact their consumption, and how to make more efficient choices.

Remote meters also impact the customer experience. For example they can remotely activate or terminate the electrical service for a customer that is moving, and detect possible tampering and help avoid incorrect bills. As consumers gain familiarity with the data provided through the meter they’ll further adjust behaviors that can result in lowered utility bills.

3. Smart Grid Technology Aiding the Growth of Renewables

Disregarding the efforts of some utilities to discourage customers from pursuing their own electrical generation through solar, the smart grid itself is ideal for renewables. With the smart grid, utilities can better handle diverse sources of electricity such as wind, solar, and battery storage. Solar and wind are created and distributed locally and by nature (no generation at night) they are intermittent. The smart grid is dynamic because it helps operators to manage changes in production, so alternative sources can be better flowed into the grid with no impact to the end user. These improvements are also leading the way to “super grids” that connect power across multiple countries and vast distances, such as the current system in Europe.

Solar power will also be changed and enhanced through the further introduction of IoT. For example, some companies can use sensors and reliable cell networks to no longer require residential customers to have their own internet connection to the system. So a password change or a broken Wi-Fi router will no longer cause disconnection, as the solar provider has built-in instant access to system monitoring data. Solar providers can also use aggregated data to better gauge the performance and positioning of their panels to ensure they follow optimal best practices for each installation.

4. Asset Monitoring

Utility firms are utilizing a range of IoT-enabled devices such as embedded cameras, tiny robots, and various sensors in order to understand the status of the asset network. Working in tandem, these IoT devices collect vibration data, flow rates, pressure, and temperature readings which provide instant snapshots of asset health and performance.

IoT is integral to realizing the “smart grid” where sensors help develop more intelligent networks that span different geographic areas. With this information at hand, operators can share peak loads in real time, greatly reducing the risk of grid problems. And over time the sophistication of these sensors will grow, with embedded software and tied-in analytics that provide an even deeper picture of asset health.

Fleet management is multiple-industry area impacted by IoT, as the hardware-intensive task of management a fleet of equipment is replaced by sensor-driven data. Utility companies utilize IoT within their fleets to better detect loss or fraud, and to enable faster response times to fix outages. Reducing outage times is a critical metric for utilities that are increasingly customer-focused. IoT metrics provide fleet managers with real-time data on how to best deploy fleet assets given the current situation.

Water companies utilize IoT throughout the chain, from treatment of water quality throughout the entire process from reservoir to tap, as well as leak detection and other problem identifiers. On the business side, companies are using IoT controlled smart irrigation or refined data-informed manufacturing processes which can alter water needs in real time.

IoT’s impact will be felt across the renewable sector, from the optimization of wind turbines to monitoring of carbon capture efforts. The impacts will harness the power of IoT which is the promise of improved efficiency along with lowered costs.

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