Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) allow employees to prepare for hazardous jobs and hone their skills without putting themselves at physical risk. - Photo: Unsplash/XR Expo

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) allow employees to prepare for hazardous jobs and hone their skills without putting themselves at physical risk.

Photo: Unsplash/XR Expo

The Utility Expo recently released a report on how utilities can take advantage of technological trends to improve reliability, efficiency, safety, and security throughout their operations.

“Utilities have to adjust to the new normal we live in,” says Stefan Wolf, utilities industry vice president at SAP. “It’s about being able to analyze data and predict future events.”

“Utilities no longer have a choice but to embrace technology to foster innovation and change,” says Brad Williams, vice president of industry strategy at Oracle Utilities. “Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) can supercharge the efficiency and resilience of the core business. Other technologies can lead to entirely new value-added services and business models.”

The Convergence of Data and Analytics

Real-time data analytics offers incredible potential for the utility sector — from reducing outages and maintenance costs to improving demand response.

  • By applying sensors, AI, and machine learning to their systems, utilities can be more prepared and resilient. Severe weather is one example. By using historical weather patterns to predict the impact on the grid, utilities can have crews and equipment ready to restore power and minimize outages.
  • Additional data collection points include smart meters, IoT device analytics, and implementing cloud-based solutions. This enables leaders to see if tools are being implemented correctly, and if everyone is working from the same data.

Supporting the Renewable Transition

As the energy sector shifts to solar, wind, and other renewable sources, forward-looking utilities are using new technologies to ease the transition.

  • With distribution energy resources (DER) and smart home devices playing a bigger role, utilities are looking for new opportunities to leverage data to create innovative customer connections.
  • If EV growth continues at its present rate, utilities will grapple with peak load impacts at the grid edge — particularly on hot days — when people come home from work and plug in their vehicles. A single EV can double the demand of a typical home.
  • EVs and batteries/microgrids offer utilities opportunities to work more directly with the end user, especially by encouraging use during optimal times.

New Tools to Secure The Grid

The more distributed the grid gets, the more entry points exist for cybersecurity threats.

  • Technology has enabled a greater amount of interconnectivity with things like IoT and edge devices to manage operations. This opens more ways for potential bad actors to access systems. Tools such as advanced analytics can test data streams — both from the distribution grid and the communication network — for signs of intrusion or manipulation. This helps utilities see potential weak points and address them in real time.

Improving Training and Safety

Finding, training, and retaining skilled workers continues to be one of the industry’s biggest challenges. Utilities are applying new technologies to give employees the training they need and improve jobsite safety.

  • Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) allow employees to prepare for hazardous jobs and hone their skills without putting themselves at physical risk.
  • Drones can be a powerful tool for utility companies, enabling them to inspect and maintain powerlines and other distributed utilities equipment without putting workers at risk.
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