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What’s New for Utilities on the Edge?

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Edge computing is on the rise, yet many people are still unfamiliar with it. Edge computing is processing that takes place close to data sources. An example frequently used is security cameras on business premises. Rather than sending all video files to the cloud, a company might decide to process some of the footage on-premises and only send files containing movement, indicating a possible break-in. This method saves money and bandwidth and increases processing speed.

Utilities can use edge computing in a similar way to process information about electrical grid technologies closer to the source. The following sections describe specific ways in which this method might be deployed.

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Grid Modernization

As the unidirectional legacy generation and distribution grid transforms into a multifaceted, multi-way model, utilities must be able to keep track of data from various sources. As with the security camera example, they gain flexibility when they incorporate an edge processing component. With the level of specificity that edge computing can provide, utilities can manage the multi-way flow of information and power, make real-time decisions, predict conditions and problems, and deploy solutions as needed.

As I wrote in a previous article about grid digitization, a more flexible grid offers numerous benefits, including increased reliability and stability, increased efficiencies, integration of renewables, improved customer engagement, augmented ability for utilities to manage peak demand periods, and more active partnerships with customers.  

Asset Management

Another important use of edge computing for utilities is asset management. That is, having sensors on equipment that relay information to nearby processing units for initial data analysis. For example, a utility may not need to know the exact condition of a piece of equipment — only that it needs repair or replacement. A processor that sorts this information before sending it to a main hub can provide this level of selection.

This method saves utilities resources and money that would otherwise be needed to send crews out to check equipment. Such efficiency enables companies to further reduce costs by performing needed repairs before technology needs to be replaced, plan for replacements in advance, and avoid costly outages.

Operational Efficiency

Utilities can also take advantage of edge computing to process the huge amounts of data being generated by not only grid equipment, but also by distributed energy resources (DERs) and customers’ home devices. The information from DERs can support the process of decentralizing energy distribution, considering wind, solar, and other types of energy being generated by customers and other entities. An article published by TechHQ stated, “With the transition to a two-way flow grid and the ongoing growth of renewable energy, there is a heightened need for the industry to address legacy infrastructure and to innovate.”

The information from devices within homes and businesses — such as smart meters, smart thermostats, and smart appliances — can be used to adjust power output and better understand customer needs. It can even support proactive support, such as sending customers information about their usage that can help them be more energy efficient.

Is your utility using edge computing? If so, how? Please share in the comments.


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