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Three Major Trends for 2019: Data, Data, and Data

image credit: ID 115899431 © Dzmitry Ryzhykau | Dreamstime.com

This item is part of the Special Issue - 01/2019 - Predictions & Trends, click here for more

It’s long been a basic tenet in other sectors, but 2019 will be the year the electric utility industry finally comes face-to-face with the realization that data is, indeed, king.   Everywhere you look, major trends and initiatives are either focused on or reliant upon data—specifically, the collection, use, and protection of data.  It is what makes the “smart grid” smart; it is the lifeblood of utility modernization.  So, what does 2019 hold for the utility industry?  Three words …

Collect the Data.  At a remarkable rate, utilities already are deploying sensors to provide data about grid conditions.  This trend will continue and accelerate; Navigant Research estimates that a million-meter IOU will experience an eight-fold increase in connected end-points over the decade starting in 2018.  This army of sensors, in turn, will generate a vastly increased amount of data for the utility to analyze and act upon, but only if the data are rapidly and securely collected and transported from the remote sensors to the central control systems. 

To support communications networks capable of meeting utility data requirements, the federal government in 2019 will, for the first time ever, allocate radio spectrum for broadband services for critical infrastructure industries.  This 2019 rule change will be the catalyst for utility modernization, providing the basis for 900 MHz private wireless platforms upon which utilities will build their next-generation grids.

Use the Data.  Once all that data gets generated and transported to the utility control system, that’s when the real magic happens.  Based on this flow of relevant information, utilities will increase efficiencies, reduce costs, and improve their bottom lines.  They will be able to more closely control the flow of power, enabling non-wire alternatives to new construction.  They (or, specifically, their control systems) will make real-time decisions that improve the safe, reliable, and resilient delivery of electricity—from emergency action to prevent a power surge to disconnecting a downed line before it hits the ground.  In short, once all that data is collected, it can be used to realize the many, many benefits of grid modernization.

Protect the Data.  Unfortunately, there is always a downside:  2019 is sure to bring more (and more sophisticated) cyber attacks on our critical infrastructure industries, including the electric utility industry.  With increased reliance upon data for operations comes potentially greater risk of damage from corruption, theft, or misuse of data.  The sheer number of connected end-points generating data or receiving commands from the control system could offer a broader attack surface for adversaries.  As a result, utilities in 2019 will step up their cyber game, protecting their data both at rest and in transit, phasing out legacy communications systems in favor of modern broadband technologies that offer greater protection (such as LTE).  These new systems will be deployed as purpose-built, private networks separated and inaccessible from the public Internet.

As we welcome the new year and work to make it better than the last one, we can expect to see data playing a critical role in the major trends in our industry—either as the major focus or as the underlying enabler. 

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Mike Brozek's picture

Thank Mike for the Post!

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