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Energy Sector Technology Trends: How to Accelerate your Utility’s Success in 2022

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Frederik ten Sythoff's picture
VP Marketing Communications Greenbird Integration Technology

Utilities worldwide are starting to recognise the need to become a platformed utility that can innovate rapidly and offer new services quickly. At Greenbird, I can fulfil my ambition to help...

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  • Jan 25, 2022
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2022-01 - Power Industry 2022 Trends & Predictions, click here for more

What are the technology trends energy utilities need to know about as we enter 2022?

The energy transition is gathering pace with renewables taking a greater share of the energy mix, a rise in behind the meter innovation and a shift towards distributed energy and electric vehicles.

But the energy transition must be supported by a transition in technology. Following a meeting with the IDC team at Enlit Europe, we returned to the research company’s in-depth analysis of the pandemic’s impact on IT strategy. We looked at what this means for Energy Sector technology.

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We’ve identified the 5 technology trends with the biggest impact for utilities and looked at how IT teams can leverage these trends to help their utilities meet the changing energy landscape.

Accelerate to Success (or Fight for Survival)

At the beginning of 2021, consultancy firm, IDC, analyzed the impact of the pandemic on organizations and the implications for IT strategy.

In their analysis IDC noted that the pandemic was having a make-or-break impact on organizations, forcing them to ‘accelerate to success or fight for survival’. In a disrupted energy sector, utilities were facing this challenge well before the start of the pandemic. Digital transformation and innovation have been constant themes for several years. But many of the drivers of these changes, from the adoption of Distributed Energy Production to a more engaged energy consumer, have accelerated. Corporations and consumers are increasingly demanding renewable power with COP26 bringing the energy transition to the top of news feeds around the globe.

There is a common denominator underpinning the technology trends affecting utilities today – data. More specifically, how to achieve data transparency and gain insights from real-time data.

Here are the biggest 5 Energy Sector Technology trends and the strategies IT teams can use to make these trends work for their utilities in 2022.

1. The Drive to Overcome Smart Metering Challenges Once and For All

    Many utilities are still coming up against frustrating roadblocks in their Smart Meter programs and rollouts.

    But why is this still happening when Smart Meters have been around for years? And why do so many Smart Meter programs fail to deliver the value they promise – both to consumers and utilities?

    A recent article in fin the Dutch f.d. financial newspaper neatly summarized many of the challenges and roadblocks utilities are facing. High failure rates for meter readings triggering an overwhelming number of events and alarms; an inadequate data flow leading to difficulties predicting energy requirements; data in consumer-facing apps lagging by several days, frustrating users and leading to a lack of customer buy-in. Many of these issues stem from data integration problems and the inability to access real-time data. Head End Systems, Meter Data Management, SCADA and a plethora of legacy systems – it’s not surprising that so many utilities are still facing challenges integrating this vast array of disparate systems into their Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). But without successful data integration, data ends up in silos and much of the potential value from Smart Meter data is lost.

    What does this mean for Utility IT Teams in 2022?

    End-to-end monitoring gives IT teams a holistic overview of the entire Smart Meter value chain and paves the way to gathering the real-time insights utilities need to get the most from their Smart Meter data.

    A Smart Meter or AMI Operations Center provides the centralized, ‘birds-eye’ view that is critical for end-to-end monitoring. It offers the IT infrastructure that can deliver the real-time data and the two-way communication between households and energy supplier which is vital in delivering Smart Meters’ potential.

    2. Data Sharing for Strategic Partnerships and Collaboration

          Strategic partnerships and collaboration are increasingly important in the utility sector. The pandemic has accelerated the rate of digital transformation in the industry with many utilities widening their digital ecosystem to achieve this. But it is not only between different organizations where closer collaboration is developing.

          Interestingly, a recent study by IDC identified a new strategic partnership - that between utilities and their customers. The pandemic has accelerated the trend towards ‘everything customer facing’ and underlined the need for organizations to put customers at the heart of business strategy and investments.

          How can data move in a continuous flow from what IDC describes as the ‘intelligent core’ of an organization to customer or employee-facing apps? IDC identifies this as an opportunity for enterprises and an area where new vendor partnerships can be formed in the development of custom applications.

          What does this mean for Utility IT Teams in 2022?

          As grid-edge and behind the meter innovation increases and more Smart Meter data becomes available, the flow of data to be shared and processed will become a flood. The biggest challenges for utilities are:

          1. How can data from multiple and distributed data sources be leveraged?
          2. How can data quality be improved and maintained as a critical source of insights and services?
          3. How can this data be analyzed in real-time to benefit both utility operations and utility customers?

          A Data Mesh uses a modern distributed architecture approach. Unlike a monolithic Data Lake, a data mesh breaks the mass of data into streams which are ‘owned’ by different teams, operating as distributed Data Lakes. Teams can then analyze data and generate insights almost in real time. Infrastructure and governance are standardized, allowing teams across the organization to use insights from different data streams, encouraging data sharing and avoiding silos.

          The most significant advantages of a data mesh are

          1. It can handle the huge amounts of data that utilities must process
          2. It can process data in real time
          3. It brings agility, helping to deliver the on-going innovation now necessary in the new customer/vendor partnership

          3. The Growing importance of Flexibility in the Energy Landscape.

          Renewables will account for about 95% of growth in global power-generation capacity up to the end of 2026. Flexibility is critical in making the shift to an energy system powered by renewables. No wonder then that this was a hot topic for discussion in 2021.

          Key to the development of flexibility services is data transparency and the availability of real-time energy data. Data must be integrated from every node in the system, whether that’s a consumer, an energy producer or distributor, Electric Vehicle charging infrastructure, meteorological data or even competitors.

          What does this mean for Utility IT Teams in 2022?

          This type of data sharing represents a huge shift in the way the energy system operates. The top-down model is giving way to a distributed model. But data from all elements in the system must be processed in as close to real time as possible for flexibility services to operate effectively.

          A shift to a distributed energy model requires a shift to a distributed IT architecture. This can be achieved through a Data Hub with the Data Mesh component (as described above) enabling rapid data processing and data sharing. An integration layer transforms a Data Lake into a Data Hub. It offers a contextual model, providing information on multiple data points, enabling utilities to interpret data more accurately.

           

          4. Shifting Core Capabilities to the Cloud

                    IDC identifies the shift of core capabilities to the cloud as critical to continued Digital Transformation. But more importantly, it is the shift of data to the cloud that brings innovation and value. It is data that is the steppingstone to delivering new value.

                    Many utility applications must be operated in on-premise data centers or private cloud due to local regulations and security concerns. And yet utility data has enormous potential for new service innovation that would benefit from a cloud-native approach. This category of data is only set to increase with the further development of grid-edge innovation and the smart grid.

                    What does this mean for Utility IT Teams in 2022?

                    As more digital IoT devices, Smart Meters, fault current indicators, and power quality regulators add data and value to utility operations, utilities are seeing the benefits of IT/OT integration. For example, Smart Meter data can used for predictive outage management. Asset management strategies are being improved by criticality modelling and viewing real-time asset-performance data. Information on Distributed Energy Resources enables greater control for grid operators in real time.

                    There are obvious security concerns with OT/IT integration, but there are solutions available today that can overcome these issues with secure OT/IT integration capabilities.

                    5. Developing ‘Anti-fragility’ to thrive in a changing Energy Sector

                    “Anti-fragility” is the ability to thrive on uncertainty, volatility, and change. It is a trend that IDC has identified in some organizations as they emerge from the pandemic. These enterprises haven’t only withstood the pandemic they’ve learned and grown from the experience, becoming faster, stronger versions of their pre-pandemic selves.

                    Anti-fragility is a quality that is well-suited to utilities which are operating in a rapidly evolving energy landscape.

                    What does this mean for Utility IT Teams in 2022?

                    Flexibility and scalability are key to developing ‘anti-fragility’. IT architecture can help utilities achieve this.

                    As the volume of energy data available increases IT infrastructure must, not only cope with enormous quantities of information, but also allow utilities to easily access the data for analysis and insight gathering.

                    A next-generation energy iPaaS solution uses pre-configured connectors enabling the rapid connection of commonly used utility applications. A modern iPaaS also offers pre-configured energy data flows, such as meter-to-cash, alarm & event handling, asset & meter-point synchronization, customer & tariff synchronization, work-order synchronization and commissioning & provisioning.

                    Low-code configuration features allow software to be added to the integration hub when required so utilities can start using new data streams immediately. Technologies used in Smart Meters, IoT sensors, ERPs, and energy management systems can be seamlessly linked.

                    In a rapidly evolving energy landscape where established utilities are co-existing with new market entrants, a next-generation energy iPaaS solution enables utilities to be at the center of an energy data ecosystem and thrive in a constantly changing sector.

                    The biggest driver underpinning all these technology trends is the transition to clean energy. The energy transition has gathered pace in 2021 and is set to accelerate in the coming year. The changes this is bringing to all participants in the energy system, whether consumers or utilities, are enormous. Utility IT architecture is often the unsung hero that can make the energy transition work for everyone.

                    Wishing you a very happy 2022 from all at Greenbird and hope to see many of you at DistribuTECH 2022.

                    Frederik ten Sythoff's picture
                    Thank Frederik for the Post!
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