2021 Digital Transformation and Advanced Analytics Trends in the Power & Utilities Industry
- Jan 19, 2021 12:52 am GMT
This item is part of the Special Issue - 2021-01 - State of the Industry, click here for more
As we continue to adapt to the disruptions of 2020 and cautiously enter 2021, utilities face challenges on multiple fronts—some carrying over from previous years, others relatively new. Regulatory requirements are becoming more stringent. Consumers are expecting user-focused experiences that rival those of Amazon and other online power players. New data sources are emerging that must be integrated into existing ecosystems. The cost of assets continues to take up a significant portion of a utility’s annual budget, requiring a proactive, targeted approach to operation and maintenance.
To address these and other challenges, utilities are looking to solutions that leverage advanced analytics and accelerate their progress toward digital transformation. I've identified five key areas where these solutions will have a significant impact on how utilities operate over the next 11 months:
Trend 1: Advanced approaches to performance management
In an effort to improve performance across the organization—in areas ranging from physical infrastructure to customer-facing websites—utilities will look to advanced data analytics for guidance. Using dashboards, data hubs, and other tools, decision makers will be able to analyze current performance levels and identify strategic opportunities for improvement. Analytics will also enable businesses to uncover ways of optimizing the allocation of capex versus opex funds in order to maximize profits.
On the customer experience side, utilities will increase their use of cloud services to improve their online customer engagement. Historically utilities have been reluctant to embrace the cloud, due mainly to security concerns, but in reality, today’s cloud offerings may be more secure than many on-premise infrastructures.
Cloud-based solutions are enabling utilities to take online customer engagement to new levels and offer their customers data-driven answers to questions such as
- During which times of the day am I spending the most on utilities?
- What rates am I being charged during morning/afternoon versus evening hours?
- How much can I expect to save if I install solar panels?
- What’s the best time of day to charge my electric vehicle?
Trend 2: Data-driven asset planning
More utilities will embrace digital solutions to enable predictive maintenance and other tactical approaches to proactive asset planning. By combining advanced analytics with the human experience of their subject-matter experts, utilities can extend the useful life of their assets and manage risks to prevent failures. Here are just a few examples of areas where digital transformation will change the way utility companies manage assets in 2021:
Increasing useful life of critical assets
Predictive analytics enables utilities to ensure assets reach the full length of—and possibly exceed—their useful life spans. For example, if a transformer has a useful life of 25 years, analytics can be used to guide maintenance decisions that ensure it reaches a 25-year life span or even extends to 26 or 27 years. Advanced analytics also enables creation of “digital twins” for each asset, which allows companies to predict how changes in climate, population patterns, usage patterns, and other factors will affect performance and useful life over time.
Predicting failure risks
Utilities can use data to identify and predict specific areas of the grid where failures are most likely to occur and take preventive measures. The appearance of certain irregularities may indicate increased failure risk based on the analysis of historical operation and maintenance data, enabling decision makers to address risk factors before a failure occurs.
Analyzing effects of climate change
Utilities can rely on predictive data modeling to forecast the impact of climate change on their infrastructure for years or even decades in the future.
Managing supply chains
Utilities can track individual assets by manufacturer, vendor, date of manufacture, installation date, and other factors to guide future purchasing decisions. For example, if assets from Manufacturer A have consistently higher failure rates compared to those from Manufacturer B, the utility may want to consider favoring Manufacturer B the next time new equipment is needed.
Trend 3: Managing grid risk
Utilities will combine data risk analysis with their subject-matter experts’ knowledge to identify high-risk areas and take proactive measures to prevent fires, gas leaks, and outages. By combining insights from historical data (e.g. sites and causes of previous fires or leaks) with real-time information on weather, vegetation, and other factors, utilities can pinpoint areas that may be at risk in the near future. In California, for example, utility providers can analyze data on current climate conditions combined with other real time data sources to help predict areas where wildfires are most likely to start.
Trend 4: Leveraging robotic process automation (RPA)
Robotic process automation (RPA)—the use of automated “bots” for rote tasks traditionally performed by humans—is hardly new, but recent advances have made the technology more accessible and cost-effective to implement. Utilities are beginning to come on board, identifying opportunities to let digital workers handle routine, rule-based processes that allow human employees to focus on more important issues that demand critical thinking. Here are just a few examples:
- Meter reading validation: Assessing meter readings and flagging irregularities for resolution by the appropriate department
- Customer account management: Identifying errors that could cause delays in customer account creation and closure processes and flagging them for resolution
- Regulatory compliance: Ensuring the utility complies with all relevant local, state, and federal regulations, under which noncompliance can lead to significant fines and increase overall system risk
- Contract procurement: Streamlining manual processes and eliminating inefficiencies to help reduce costs and speed up the overall procurement process
With the tumultuous year of 2020 behind us, utilities have the opportunity to become proactive in creating their own futures. By exploring innovations in digital transformation and advanced analytics, organizations can pursue innovations that can make their communities safer, their operations more agile, and their customers happier.
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