In our last post we shared the IoT possibilities for discrete manufacturing and process industries. Now we turn to the utilities market and share use cases of those who have embraced IoT for Utilities – and share new opportunities ahead.
For power, gas, telecommunication, and water utilities — entities whose second-to-second operating decisions directly affect customers’ level of service — IoT’s real-time data collection and analysis will revolutionize nearly every aspect of their business.
For example, consider how quality management changes: SCADA-connected remote monitors placed at critical valves (water, gas) and transformers (power) have long provided insight into pressure and voltage at key points in the distribution system. Yet feedback on customer quality was limited to how often the phone rang with a complaint from those persons at the highest and lowest topographical points (water, gas) with pressure issues, or at the end of the line (power) with power quality issues. But, with real-time data streaming in from each customer and from embedded sensors in power lines and pipes, utilities can identify issues and adjust operations to resolve them, heading off complaints.
In addition to providing higher quality service, IoT creates new ways for utilities to serve their customers. For example, coupling utility service with customers’ IoT-connected devices, such as Hive’s web-enabled thermostats or CropX’s irrigation systems (water), enables new methods of demand-side management that ensure customers receive high-quality service — i.e., maintaining comfort and healthy landscaping — while helping the utility to better manage loads. Many utilities have also deployed dashboards that enable customers with smart meters and/or IoT-connected devices to view and analyze their usage to a much greater level of detail than was previously available. For commercial and industrial customers, integrating utilities into business information systems enables dynamic pricing — a version of time-of-use rates that changes pricing every hour, or less, to encourage customers to draw the power they need during cheaper off-peak periods. Dynamic pricing provides those commercial & industrial customers with the ability to shift and quickly dispatch loads an opportunity to lower their energy expenses significantly.
IoT connections also drive operational efficiency by enabling utilities to perform certain customer services remotely. For example, starting or stopping electric, gas, and water service traditionally involved sending a meter reader out to take the former customer’s last reading and establish the new customer’s initial reading remote services; or, on the telecommunications side, sending a technician out to enable or disable the correct services. To enable utilities to schedule these technicians, customers had to file their request to change their service at least three business days prior to moving. But, now, utilities that have deployed smart meters can now perform these services remotely when the customer calls — without dispatching staff.
Even utilities’ regulatory compliance and human resources will benefit from IoT upgrades: Predicting and preventing asset failures and deploying self-healing distribution systems help lower emissions and mitigate noncompliance events. Finally, while HR may initially struggle to find qualified candidates with the expertise required to navigate an IoT-connected workplace, immersive, IoT-connected, augmented-reality-based job training programs will ultimately reduce the learning curve for new utility workers. In addition to accelerating training, IoT-connected augmented reality will help ensure that every worker uniformly applies best practices to each task — improving worker safety, work quality, and ultimately, asset reliability.
Yet utilities’ greatest IoT benefit will likely be cost savings redeemed from optimized operations. Operation optimization use cases include:
- Creating self-healing infrastructure; for example, I (and 7.4 million other customers across six states) purchase power from Duke Energy, which has already implemented smart grid technologies that automatically reconfigure the grid to isolate outages so that the minimal number of customers lose power. Similarly, Cisco’s pipelines with embedded, leak-sensing fibers automatically call for help when they detect a leak. Monitoring infrastructure will also help utilities detect loss, theft, and fraud, thereby minimizing the amount of non-revenue-generating production.
- Integrating storage more effectively. For example, Denmark’s ENEL utility and Nissan have partnered to demonstrate the feasibility of using plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles as distributed storage resources, enabling the utility to rely on cheaper and more sustainable generation resources. The pilot uses IoT-connected vehicles and intelligent algorithms to determine when to charge a grid-connected vehicle and when to return excess energy to the grid. For water and wastewater utilities, integrating weather forecasts, historical demand/flows, equipment efficiency, asset health, and real-time operating data can help with making more cost-effective use of available potable water storage and equalization and treatment basins while achieving regulatory requirements.
- Optimizing field technician dispatch considering task complexity, time remaining to complete current assignment, proximity, traffic, vehicle health, and remote parts inventory.
- Maximizing asset performance and utilization. Utilities that invest in IoT expect to reduce operating costs through better asset management. The cornerstone to this strategy: condition monitoring. For example, PG&E uses IoT-connected drones to monitor hard-to-reach assets, such as to inspect high-voltage power transmission infrastructure and to detect methane leaks from its gas transmission pipelines. At Futtsu Station, Tepco uses GE’s IoT platform to monitor real-time gas consumption and improve the efficiency of its gas turbines; GE found similar systems installed at coal and gas plants increased output by 2%, improved efficiency by 3%, reduced downtime by 5%, and cut O&M expenses by 25%. For water utilities, IoT helps identify when and where underground leaks occur—decreasing water management costs.
Condition monitoring’s performance data enables utilities to identify opportunities to improve asset capacity and efficiency, predict potential failures, and intervene in a timely and effective manner — thereby allowing utilities to operate their assets as close as possible to their capacity limits and with the highest possible availability.
How will IoT benefit your organization? For more practical ways to use IoT to make smarter asset management decisions, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.