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New year, new toys: The digital technology utilities plan to adopt in 2021

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Bryan Friehauf's picture
EVP and GM of Enterprise Software Solutions, Hitachi Energy

Bryan Friehauf is the EVP and GM of Enterprise Software Solutions at Hitachi Energy and has over 20 years of experience within the energy and software industry. Previously, Bryan was the General...

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  • Jan 25, 2021

This item is part of the State of the Industry 2021 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

A carbon-neutral future is within grasp. In fact, it’s within our lifetime. The world can reach net-zero emissions targets by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency. Key to doing this is creating a strong electric backbone for the influx of electrification, driven by industries’, consumers’ and governments’ desire for a greener future.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been speaking with utilities about how they plan to use 2021 to set the stage for this feat. Many of them spoke with me about digital transformation — implementing new software and emerging technology. I’ve boiled down those conversations below, examining what we can expect from digital technology in 2021.

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1. Software will play a critical role in clean energy plans.

Renewable energy is complex. It creates an environment that is hard to monitor, care for and optimize. Yet, everyone wants more clean energy.

To navigate the difficulties, utilities are accelerating their digital transformation plans in 2021, implementing new software for managing assets as well as working with their operational teams.

COVID-19 forced many utilities to adopt a distributed workforce, spinning up new ways to work remotely. After realizing the benefits of digitalization — from safety to efficiency — and familiarizing themselves with the data, organizations and operations teams want more of the same success. This puts software front and center in 2021 plans as utilities use it to navigate our increasingly complex grid and improve the management and care of it.

2. From siloed to holistic and real-time grid analytics in 2021. 

As more prosumers enter the market, renewable energy adds its own complexity to the grid and climate change throws in another curveball, as instant and accurate grid information is critical. As part of their planned software adoption in 2021, utilities will focus on holistic and real-time grid analytics. This will involve breaking down current siloed solutions so a platform can illustrate what is happening to the grid in real-time. In fact, this is one of the key initiatives at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) where information from different siloes across the enterprise are being brought together to create a “single” view of the asset. 

The ultimate platform will likely leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning, relying on data input from diverse sources. It will combine workforce details, weather patterns, power generation trends, battery insights, and more. This will allow utilities to maintain assets better, respond quicker to outages and navigate the influx of demand we’ll see as our carbon-neutral world relies on electricity for everything from transportation to building.

3. Utilities will invest in more drones and video analysis.

COVID-19 upset the normal operations of many utilities, so organizations looked for new ways to work. One particular asset caught their eye: drones.

Over the past few years, drone pilot programs proved successful. They made routine asset management, damage assessment and documentation quicker and safer.

New video algorithms and analysis hit the shelves this year and many utilities are looking to adopt them in 2021. Utilities are relying on this software to analyze and map drone imagery and data, improving ROI as they double down on drone programs.

In the short term, these digital advances lay the groundwork for more efficient, safer operations. Over the next few decades, they will enable utilities to navigate the complex demands of a carbon-neutral future that relies on electrification


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