4 ways IoT will transform energy and utilities companies operations

By | 3 minute read | December 7, 2016

With the proliferation of smart meters and cheap sensors, energy and utilities companies are looking to technology as a catalyst for business change. Distributed power generation is eroding traditional revenue streams, and aging distribution infrastructure is cutting into profit margins. As a result, utility companies are trying to extract as much value as possible from their smart grid and meter investments to evolve their operations.

The Internet of Things stands to change operations for energy and utilities firms. By combining smart meters with sensors across infrastructure, cognitive computing, and analytics at the edge of networks, E&U companies can re-think traditional operating models. Here are four ideas on how energy and utility operations might benefit from the Internet of Things:

An explosion of operational data

The traditional utilities operating model of monitoring consumption at the edges of the grid is fundamentally changing with the adoption of smart meters. But their adoption is far from mainstream. If a typical meter costs approximately $100, it’s estimated that ancillary costs for installation, networking and data and connectivity will total an additional $300. IoT sensors are even cheaper than smart meters but they can be deployed at all points in the grid, not just on the edge. Using an open, scalable IoT platform, utilities companies will find themselves collecting data at unprecedented rates. These costs are a fraction of the traditional costs of maintain a field workforce to collect data across the grid.

New solutions for making sense of data

Advancements in edge analytics are changing how utilities make decisions, including increasing the speed of decision making.  In a traditional operating model, data is collected in the field and brought to a central location for analysis. This model requires dedicated, costly systems for data management.

Edge analytics, combined with cognitive computing, allows companies to analyze data wherever it resides in the network, and reduced the need for data storage. Once again, this not only simplifies field operations, but improves operations generally by optimizing performance of the grid and preventing equipment failures.

Prescriptive maintenance as a new standard

Once utilities companies have data from meters and sensors and are applying analytics to operations, the next step is to evolve maintenance practices. Many firms use smart meters and sensors to provide data for condition-based maintenance – making decisions based on the current condition of equipment. Through fundamental analytics, companies can use data to predict failures rather than rely on condition alone, which is referred to as predictive maintenance.

But the gold standard for maintenance is prescriptive maintenance, which uses cognitive computing to provide recommendations on what to fix, as opposed to relying on staff to take action based on predictive models alone. The Internet of Things, combined with traditional EAM systems, will allow the automation of prescriptive maintenance processes, and has the potential for huge operational savings.

New models for field service management

One of the larger operational costs for utilities companies is managing their field service workforce. By utilizing smart meter and sensor data as part of a prescriptive maintenance program, field technicians can improve efficiency tremendously. But beyond that, IoT can help optimize work processes. For example, cognitive computing allows operations teams to look at sensor data combined with field geolocation and weather data to optimize service routes. Even drone technologies can be incorporated into a system powered by cognitive operations, and IBM announced a partnership in this space last month:

Aerialtronics: Commercial Drones Give A Bird’s Eye View for Inspections

The IoT has the potential to transform industries, and energy and utilities operations are ideally positioned to use this technology to meet new operational mandates. Curious to learn more about how IBM E&U clients are tackling their operational challenges? Watch this video to see how Fingrid is using IoT solutions to create a smarter grid, or read this case study to learn how Cheniere Energy is transforming operations with Maximo.