Utilities-Seeing the World through a Digital Lens

The digitization of the power sector is a reality which utilities should prepare for.
Published: Wed 25 Jun 2014

Digital technologies are having a profound effect on all industries and the power industry is no exception, explains Perry Stoneman, Corporate Vice President and Global Head of Sectors and Utilities at Capgemini, who will be speaking at the upcoming European Utility Week.

Technology is changing utility operations

Sensors are becoming very cost-effective and the amount of data we receive from assets now is growing at a phenomenal rate. This technology has changed how utilities operate as now they are able to proactively detect potential asset failures. This is highly beneficial for utilities because in the past, it wasn’t possible to measure the condition of an asset until it failed. Utilities were forced to send field staff out to diagnose the problem and have it fixed.

However, today’s sensors can see assets from a control center and act on them accordingly. The simplest form of monitoring an asset right now is the smart metering infrastructure. “They are the foundation that puts the sensor in the household. The information collected by the smart meter can be aggregated and used to inform the utility how a transformer or a line is doing,” explains Stoneman. The smart meter can also advise utilities of outages without the customer calling in. This is obviously highly convenient for both the customer and the utility. As a result, the utility can look forward to improving customer relationships as a result of this new efficiency.

A digital view of assets

“The ability to have visibility into your physical operations and world from a control center because of sensor equipment and technologies is a profound change from what we had access to in the past,” explains Stoneman. Add to that the ability to carry out advanced diagnostics and analytics against that data and you can start looking at predictive asset management.

This provides a better view of which assets are stressed under various weather and environmental conditions and that allows utilities to react to events that occur on that system. This allows the utility to plan proactively, reducing the number and length of outages and thereby largely improving reliability.

“Rudimentary analytics can provide the power industry with many benefits,” says Stoneman. For the industry, fieldworkers can tap back into the enterprise for a ping on every meter within the radius or circumference that is physically geospatially located. Field workers are able to obtain data almost instantly. The ability to be in the field and connected to your legacy ear piece, your outage management systems and distribution management systems changes how workers in the field would react. “They are no longer dependent on the physical technology they see but mobility devices allow them to tap into terabytes of information about the network that allows them to change their operations,” says Stoneman.

Improving grid operations

An added benefit is that staff with years of experience and knowledge can be placed in the data centers. Many have a deep understanding of the assets in the field and are able to use the data more effectively, thereby assisting field workers more efficiently.

“Not only are these data center workers experienced but they will now have access to even more data than they have ever had before,” explains Stoneman. This will make for a more efficient and effective operation.

The analytics and data control systems and sensors can change and improve grid operations. Renewable generation and energy storage, as well as automated demand response programmes, will work effectively with smart grid equipment.

Says Stoneman, “This will all be part of the future reality of the grid. Utilities must learn to accept that this is the future and plan accordingly. Digitization of the grid is happening and technology is taking it there rapidly.”

Capgemini will be discussing how utilities can use technology to their benefit in our webinar Exploit the Power of New Technologies with Capgemini on 23 April 2015.