LTE and DataOps Put the Grid’s Digital Harvest Within Reach
- Aug 24, 2020 4:00 pm GMTAug 14, 2020 3:40 pm GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2020-08 - LTE Networks, click here for more
It’s almost harvest season, the time of year when investments in seed and resources either pay off, underwhelm, or fall flat. As digital leaders in grid operations look ahead to 2021 planning and budgeting (pressed to show gains from their digital programs), many are coming to terms with another disappointing bounty.
This isn’t to say that progress hasn’t been made. Proofs of concept are in play, data science programs are maturing quickly, and digital applications are being delivered to operations teams. According to BNEF, the power sector alone “will spend $3.2B on software in 2020 to optimize the performance, costs, and revenues of generation and grid assets.” But the value being realized from digital is still a far cry from the massive ROI that has been promised over the past decade.
Why is this still the case when the digital farm seems operational? The crop strategy (multiyear digital initiatives) is in place, and the seeds (ubiquitous data creation and storage) are planted and getting plenty of nurture (advanced analytics and data science). All evidence points to healthy production. But just as crops don’t return value until they efficiently make it to the right markets, data and digitalization need a relevant distribution model that empowers more data consumption and facilitates true operationalization at scale.
LTE mobile broadband and data operations (DataOps) put the digital harvest within reach by solving fundamental digital problems with connectivity, contextualization, and delivery. In a world of big data and rapid change, these disciplines are critical for building the proper “paths to market” that facilitate data and digital mobilization at lower costs in the short timeframe when data is still relevant.
Acting as a road both to and from market, private LTE networks first make it possible to effectively and securely collect new operational data from where it once wasn’t feasible. This opens up opportunities to expand not just the physical location-based coverage model, but also the existing data model with new image and video data, point clouds, lidar, and 3D models that benefit from the high fidelity of private LTE.
This solid pipeline and mass influx of data pave the way for a new level of real-time operational visibility across substations, distributed energy resources (DERs), smart meters, and other distributed grid systems, while improving centralized decision-making related to demand response, risk management, and planning. Said simply, LTE offers a significant opportunity to make data do more.
But how valuable and effective is the road to market without the map to get there? Traditionally, learned subject-matter expertise served as the primary means to turn raw, cross-silo data into information. While still incredibly important for developing the information model, this manual, high-overhead approach is no longer feasible with massive data sets (made possible by advancements in sensing and LTE connectivity).
This is where DataOps practices provide the timely, cost-effective means to automatically define the relationships between data across a variety of silos and data types and into a single meaningful data model. Being able to automatically associate transmission line data to weather data to line time series data could, for example, be part of the solution for better risk management during wildfire and hurricane season.
Additionally, DataOps enables more potential for timely consumption of this data across a growing set of operational and back-office users. Instead of spending significant time on fundamental data access, availability, and manual contextualization issues, subject-matter experts and analytics teams can focus on solving key business problems. DataOps also equips the emerging class of citizen data scientists with the means to cost-effectively answer questions, test hypotheses, and solve emerging business problems in their domain. With a better map to market, companies can extract more from investments made in raw data and connectivity.
Lastly, just as crops must be packaged securely and appropriately for delivery, digital applications must also be packaged and delivered for the operational end user at the right time, right place, and with a high degree of usability. As more digital applications make use of smart phones, tablets, and other devices, their packaging will benefit from the secure, high-speed, low-latency connectivity offered by LTE.
For example, LTE makes it possible for distributed field teams to have more information than ever before in the palm of their hand, without needing to be a subject-matter expert in the source data. The technology also facilitates a new level of communication and collaboration to solve problems faster and with significantly lower costs. It is at this point where crops can be cashed in and value starts being captured at scale.
Here are the keys to the gate...
By focusing on the digital distribution model, companies will not only gain a competitive advantage (in markets that support this) but also get ahead of crippling digital complexity and stalled transformation efforts, a result of rushing digital crops to market without the proper infrastructure. New information silos get created, data trust and collaboration start to deteriorate, and vendor-driven point solutions create unnecessary data lock-in — all of which lead to extended deployment timelines, compounding data usage and infrastructure problems and human costs, which outpace the gains from digital efficiencies.
As a colleague of mine put it: “True digitalization is about enabling a rising tide that will lift all boats within the enterprise.” Both LTE and DataOps are positioned to lay the groundwork for this collaborative transformation to occur at scale: LTE, through a secure, sustainable, best-in-class means of communication and delivery; and DataOps, perhaps the grid’s best opportunity to lower the marginal costs of mobilizing and making data useful for digital applications.
At long last, innovative grid operators will finally reap the fruits of their digital efforts.