Digital Utility Group
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The Metaverse – What Will it Mean for Utilities?
- Feb 7, 2023 5:40 am GMT
Most people think that the metaverse will be for gaming, sports and entertainment. It will. However there are many industrial uses for this young and immature technology. During the digital transformation, there are advantages for utilities in adopting these new tools.
What is the Metaverse?
It is an immersive, virtual reality consensual experience. First postulated in Neal Stephenson's influential science fiction novel 'Snow Crash' in 1992, it has only recently emerged from fiction into reality. Giant corporations like Apple and Facebook (now Meta) are putting huge resources into the sector.
Speculation on use cases proposes virtual shopping, multiplayer gaming, virtual music performances as viable sectors. It is possible to make a better case for industrial use of the technology. For example, for virtual inspection and maintenance of utility equipment: pylons and lines, transformers, substations, etc. Piecemeal adoption by consumers isn't the step-change that a large organization adopting the technology would have. Its workforce would need to be retrained but it would be a decisive step forward.
Research firm Gartner predicted that 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse by 2026. Metaverse technology platforms are predicted to become a lucrative market – possibly up to $800 billion by 2024, according to a December 2021 Bloomberg report; this is a potentially large market. These positive predictions have been tempered by recent losses on metaverse projects by companies such as Meta, but this is a setback, not a show-stopper.
What Could Utilities Use the Metaverse for?
Now companies are not bound by the old office cubicle paradigm of work, they could save money by not having central bases and a more flexible, telecommuting workforce. This is happening already but the metaverse would create more immersive events. A beneficial side effect could be that workforce recruitment would be enhanced: seniors, lone parents could be attracted to utilities careers, which is having attraction and retention issues.
Digital Twins and Virtual Operations and Maintenance
This is the most obvious advantage: by merging the technologies of AI, VR, Digital Twins, data analytics, advanced sensors and LTE communications, possible maintenance and failure issues could be predicted and addressed. In the old days, maintenance could be performed by a man in a truck. Now that solar panels are in distant areas, and turbines can be on, or below, the sea surface, the costs of maintenance are significant. Better use of resources will be vital in this area.
Workforce training is a cost to employers. With utilities there are ongoing training requirements as new technologies are adopted, and staff need to be instructed in their operation. New legal requirements, products and services, and safety issues all need proper training.
It's considerably easier and cheaper to deploy the training online virtually, then have to congregate the instructor and students in a location. Clearly the metaverse would have advantages for companies on the training front.
Engineering and Construction
Utility projects are costly: they need complex permissions, large resources, and often long time-spans to complete. By prototyping them in a virtual world, all the stakeholders, including architects, designers and engineers could look at the project in 3D in great detail, hopefully finding any flaws and optimizing structures before a single truckload of concrete is poured.
Utilizing NFTs for Authenticity
“Non-Fungible Tokens” are a blockchain-based technology that creates individual, unique “tokens” or images. Currently it is mostly being used for visual art. However it can be used as a kind of “ticket” or authentic, validation of a identity, or process. Security and validation are central to the mission critical aspects of power generation, and NFTs have a place within the metaverse to ensure security: for example, if a CFO was having an investors' meeting in the metaverse, it would be important to ensure that every avatar, actually was the accredited person, not an impersonator.
Overall, the metaverse is a growing technology. It will inevitably have an impact on the utility sector and may well have beneficial uses as it matures.
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