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3 Big Trends in Utility Technology for 2021

image credit: Photo 132829339 © Siarhei Yurchanka | Dreamstime.com

As someone who has worked in the technology industry for over 20 years and in the energy / utility industry for 3, I’m fascinated with the intersection of the two. How can technology help utilities in this highly transformational time? Of course, there are many solutions available. As 2020 comes to a close, I’ve selected three that are likely to be especially useful to utilities in the coming year.

1. Digital Twins

Digital twins, which are digital representations of physical objects, are highly useful for planning, maintenance, and cost control. Utilities are using them to manage smart grid components and distributed energy resources (DERs). According to the Utility Analytics Institute, “As a platform, they can live in the cloud, and significantly reduce costs and risks associated with construction, maintenance, and performance optimization strategies.” Additionally, they can provide a way to incorporate information from outgoing utility retirees, thereby retaining important institutional knowledge.

2. Distributed Energy Resources

DERs like rooftop solar, batteries, and electric vehicles (EVs) have become more prevalent over recent years. In the past, some worried their proliferation would mean a diminished role for utilities. But the opposite may be true. While prosumers (those who both produce and consume electrical power) might be able to manage some aspects of DER usage themselves, utilities can play a large role in establishing and maintaining distribution systems for energy produced by a wide range of sources. Evolving processes and solutions are key to thriving in this role.

A POWER Magazine article quotes Bill Strohecker, Country Managing Director, Canada, for Hitachi ABB Power Grids as stating, “I do expect [utilities] will ultimately be looking at DERs as a larger part of their supply mix…. DERs certainly can figure more prominently into that equation than they do today.”

3. Artificial Intelligence

Given its usefulness in a wide variety of applications, artificial intelligence (AI) has become an integral part of utility operations. Among others, it can help utilities in the following ways:

  • Demand management. According to POWERGRID International, Utilities can use AI “to better understand…changes in grid loads and make smarter business decisions.”
  • Outage prevention. AI applications can identify conditions that cause outages and warn operators when they might occur.
  • Transition to renewables. With AI, utilities can assess the output of planned renewables projects alongside the likely demand for output.
  • Cost cutting. By monitoring the condition of grid equipment, AI can help operators know when to fix components, so they don’t get to the point of having to be replaced.
  • Improved customer care. With customer insights, utilities can target customers for help they might need or products and services they may want to purchase.

Obviously, there are many more technologies that will serve utilities in the coming year, including advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), smart city technology, power storage, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Utilities have a wide range of options to gain efficiencies, save money, protect and improve the power grid, work toward clean energy goals, and better serve customers in 2021 and beyond.

What utility technologies are you most interested in for 2021? Please share in the comments.

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