A digital edge for the new energy world

Posted on: November 7, 2019 by Paul da Cruz

The new world of energy and utilities is changing faster and more dramatically than at any time in its history. In generation, transmission and distribution, and indeed in retail and client engagement, the operational and commercial landscape is being transformed – and the impact of digital is evident throughout. Ahead of the Energy and Utility Week 2019, let’s explore ways in which forward-thinking utility companies can gain the digital edge.

Consider the mega-shifts in the new energy world. Three in particular shape the change:

  1. Decentralization and the rise of renewables – with local production from sustainable sources now overtaking centralized production across the globe.
  2. Deregulation and liberalization – with new players, new partnerships and new business models banishing the heritage monoliths forever.
  3. Heightened expectation and transparency – with domestic, industrial and civic customers demanding transparency, sustainability and control in equal measure.

All three of these areas are inextricably linked to advances in digital technology: in effect, every successful energy and utility company must now become data-driven.

The good news is that utilities are no strangers to data management. For established companies, reliance on well-managed data, especially that generated by operational technology, lies at the heart of their business: forecasting and load-balancing, for example, have always been data-driven. What changes now, are the data volumes, the models used to manage the data and uses to which it is put.

In client-facing activities, change is undoubtedly more dynamic. As customers cease to be a captive market, utilities must rapidly develop more active and more personal engagement, and this is a massive change from the periodic and impersonal communication rooted in billing which has historically been the norm.

And with the rapid advance of digital, energy and utility companies also need to develop and maintain a security culture which to many is entirely alien. Until relatively recently, for example, a major utility company would simply have to keep the payment and bank details of millions of customers secure. With clients getting used to the idea of active online relationships with their utility providers, with e-vehicles and smart homes, the digital trust profile is radically raised.

At an operational level, security becomes similarly heightened: cyberattacks on the grid can wreck both supply and reputation as surely as any physical attack.

New technologies and new partnerships

Just as the utilities are being forced to adopt decentralized models, so once monolithic computing models are being replaced with more agile and adaptive approaches. Local processing with edge devices becomes an essential ingredient in managing the low-voltage grid.

With the arrival of the Internet-of-things, utilities need not only to manage data generated by millions of smart new devices – they also need the means and the motive to do something useful with it – and this, naturally enough, leads us to AI, machine learning and robotics.

The ability to benefit from these technologies becomes a prerequisite for new business development, and as most utilities admit, the breadth of skills needed for digital transformation is beyond the scope of most traditional IT divisions.

This is why a new kind of digital partnership becomes so essential. To get the most from any partnership, however, it is essential that both parties understand the other’s business.

Expertise in gaming and visualization, for example, can contribute greatly in formulating the virtual reality interfaces needed for training and field service – but unless the technology partner has the requisite sector knowledge, the chances of success are seriously compromised.

New models – new opportunities

This year, more than ever before, we see a slight change in behavior: clients in the utility and energy sectors are becoming increasingly ambitious in what they expect from technology and technology partnerships.

This is not surprising. The digital revolution has had such a profound impact on our personal lives, that a new generation of decision-makers naturally seeks to carry that through into the ways in which business runs.

The barriers that have kept businesses apart in the past now become increasingly porous. Not only do active partnerships between utilities, public sector bodies, automotive and manufacturing companies become the norm. With the emergence of smart homes, local production and the prosumer, the customers themselves become active participants in this new utility model.

At EUW 2019, Atos looks forward to exploring the new opportunities that result from this unprecedented collaboration – and most of all, we look forward to showing how to put the extraordinary advances in digital technology to practical use – to creating a digital edge for the new energy world. More info

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About Paul da Cruz
Global Head of Consulting & Marketing, Energy & Utilities
Paul is the Global Business Development Director for Energy and Utilities at Atos. With 30 years’ experience, he has worked right across the value chain in nuclear, fossil and renewables. Paul has a deep understanding of transmission, distribution, trading and retail. He has been the European Chair of the American Nuclear Society on ICHMI; a member of the Special Interest Group of the Institution of Engineering and Technology for Power Generation Control; a member of the organizing committee of PowerGrid Europe; and member of the Steering Group of the Institution of Nuclear Engineers of Great Britain.

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