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The Age of the Date Driven Utility

Sitaram Chodimella, Siemens, on how small changes power big transformation

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Sitaram Chodimella
Sitaram Chodimella

Utilities all over the world are facing serious challenges with energy delivery. The expectations of consumers are now exceeding the capabilities of existing infrastructure in many parts of the world. Solutions for holistic change are already there, but what will drive the shift?The answer is data.

The competitive landscape of our industry has started to change, and it is essential that utilities begin to strengthen their role in the customer value chain, or risk seeing it marginalised. A move to decentralised generation is coming, and with it the management of two-way power flows at the edge of the grid.

This will drive the convergence of IT-OT and force the integration of operational technologies including distribution management, real-time grid operations at the transmission and substation level and more with IT systems that are capable of supporting customer business processes, metering, analytics, billing and field dispatches.

Consumer engagement in grid operations has grown significantly, beginning with reactive measures such as dynamic pricing and time of use to influence load distribution. This has extended to include customer-owned generation from renewable sources, new loads such as electric vehicles, and new forms of distributed generation and storage. Utilities are already embracing customer engagement.

From this we will see data driving more active engagement between increasingly customer-oriented systems and grid control systems. By way of example, demand response and distributed energy management systems are new business applications that drive the need for further integration of the control center and customers.

However, regardless of the drivers for a utility’s business, there is a pressing need for transformation of energy systems - and the context in which they operate - if they are to meet ambitious environmental and economic goals, as well as consumer expectation.

The term ‘Smart Grid’ was coined more than a decade ago, but there are few examples of utilities which could claim to have a truly ‘smart’ grid. So perhaps we need to change our thinking. Perhaps the evolution of grid intelligence needs to be done differently – incrementally, with agility and a clear roadmap.

Data-driven investment decisions will be the key to the evolution of the power industry, and they won’t necessarily be large. It could begin with the installation of a demand response system that starts with just a few connected loads, but with a reach of tens of thousands.

The management of renewable generation across a region could harness the power of distributed generation resources to offset the constraints of local capacity. Utilities can utilise the data to focus and target incremental steps like this, both for the investment and for the validation of the results.

However, the incremental development of data-driven processes need not be fragmented. On the contrary, as it is not realistic to expect utilities to transform their systems overnight, ‘thinking small’ will allow utilities to push greater efficiencies in their organisations, while incrementally expanding their ‘big data’ operations as the business value and priorities come together.

Ultimately, the goal is to achieve a fully interconnected energy system. With utilities empowered by data, the industry can exploit the full potential of smart grid technologies, optimising operations and meeting ROI expectations. Flexible systems will allow them to be ready for the next step, and we may begin to see utilities embrace the large-scale transformation of the industry, by thinking small.

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