Digital Transformation in utilities - Taking time to look beyond the day-to-day

Posted on: November 18, 2016 by Celestino Guemes Seoane

When you’ve got your head down in a project, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s happening in the wider world of utilities - and that’s a shame when there is so much going on.

I came across two things recently that really caught my attention. Although they are both in very different parts of the world, and both have a very different focus, they share one lesson: both show that there is clear value in questioning the rules of our established business.

In the first, a start-up in California looks to generate 85% of the energy needed for a train to get up a gradient from the momentum it gains going down. Using gravity to store energy is not a new idea for utilities: for years, reservoirs have been filled by night when energy is cheap so they can drive turbines in the day, when it is not. But the thinking here is elegant and puts a new highlight on the emerging focus on electrical storage in a transport system.

The second case comes from sub-Saharan Africa, where renewables company M-Kopa Solar has created an off-grid business model suited to nations in which the International Energy Agency estimates there are 585 million people who lack access to electricity, with rural electrification rates as low as 14.2%.

We conduct most of our utility business in Europe, and these innovation stories may not be directly relevant – especially when you consider that established grid supply is more or less ubiquitous across the continent.

What makes these stories interesting to me, is the fact that they both point to the wider implications of digital transformation – and these affect us all.

On the network side, for example, both M-Kopa and the Advanced Rail Energy Storage systems point to the evolution toward a more distributed view of electricity; to the prominent role of renewables and storage; and to new supervision mechanisms adapted to distributed characteristics.

Perhaps even more importantly, these stories point to changing relationships with customers and their own changes in expectation. When power itself can be created for “free”, we need to change from volumetric sales models to data-driven services.

As a provider of IT services to utility companies for over 30 years, Atos is keenly aware of the need to ensure continuity, helping clients protect the value of heritage investments.

But in parallel, we are driving the innovation associated with digital transformation. This is particularly evident in our work in the changing relationships between utilities and their customers; in the emergence of distributed grids; and in the need to continually drive operational efficiency across the value chain while always paying scrupulous attention to security and confidentiality issues.

You may be interested in exploring our innovation focus further. Here are just a few of the topics on which our team is currently focused:

  • Edge computing : utility networks are changing, impacted by different forms of renewables and storage, and moving towards more a distributed model. How does pushing intelligence to the edge boost management efficiency?
  • Analytics and revenue protection : data analytics has a high impact on many areas of operation for utilities.One of our early initiatives is to apply data science to the reduction of non-technical losses.
  • From consumer to prosumer : analytics is also an essential ingredient in redefining the relationships with the new breed to prosumers, especially in developing domotics services with third parties for the connected home.
  • Smart city perspectives: beyond the individual home or workplace, there is a real drive towards eco-friendly and energy-efficient urban environments.Atos is an active participant in ground-breaking smart-city initiatives.
  • Water and waste : we are not just focused on electricity. For water utilities, we are active in advanced management initiatives, with a new focus on the full water and waste lifecycle.

The secure and sustainable provision of energy, water and waste services is, more than ever, a field which demands an open mind and a global perspective.

We are at a point of genuine historic significance, as the balance shifts between fossil and renewables – making it more important than ever to take time to look beyond our day-to-day horizons.

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About Celestino Guemes Seoane
Solutions R&D and member of the Scientific Community
Celestino Güemes is in charge of Solutions R&D at Atos Worldgrid Spain, and is the lead architect of the Industrial Data Analytics for Smart Grid Applications platform, where he researches for innovative Big Data analytic solutions to help reinvent its clients' energy businesses. He is also member of Atos Scientific Community, in charge of “Digitalization of Energy” track. He firmly believes in a humanistic, positive view of technology as basic engine for the progress of society. Addicted to reading in any format, electronic or not, he’s an avid participant in social networks (@tguemes), and, as any good, old geek, he is essentially harmless.

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