Edge Computing – Three reasons why it’s an opportunity for Utilities


Posted on: November 10, 2016 by Alexis Coutarel

Grid; Edge;  Cloud; Fog.  We’re getting used to so many new computing models now that it’s easy to jump into hardcore technical discussion and lose sight of what’s really important from a business and operational perspective.

When I started to get interested in massively distributed computing models, it wasn’t long before I recognized how important these become for utility companies.  It’s perhaps because I studied utilities as an engineer before I worked as a technologist.

Thinking specifically about Edge computing, in which the actual data and processing are decentralized, it is right for utilities on so many levels: technical, business, operational and economic.

Utilities are, by definition, the most distributed of any businesses – with electricity, gas or water flowing directly into our homes, businesses and cities.  With the Edge computing model, we are simply thinking how to exploit this topography to create new value and intelligence.

With our smart grid model, we take one step back from the endpoint and place a relatively dumb data management device at sub-station level.  Rather than having one box for each dedicated data stream, we can now program these boxes as smart agents – and this is a real game-changer.

There are at least three good reasons why this matters …

1. Cost and simplicity

Every utility company is desperately seeking to minimize capital expenditure and simplify ongoing technical management.  Edge computing with single dumb (but programmable) boxes at sub-station level minimizes hardware proliferation, allows standardization, and gives the utility better purchasing power with potential suppliers.

2. Agile analytic foundation

Data flows for utilities are getting more complex and more important every day: just think, for example, about the impact of locally generated renewables. An Edge model allows the utility company to continue to analyze single streams of data – just as they have always done.  But even more importantly, it allows them to explore new intelligence from combined data streams with real agility.

3. New business opportunities

There is now a real urgency for utility companies to create new revenue streams.  In many instances, this will be achieved through partnerships – and the incentive for new partners to collaborate will often be to access the utility’s own data and intelligence.  The Edge model enables utility companies to consider teaming up with civic authorities to manage street lighting; with transport services for e-vehicle charging; with local councils for renewable trading, and much more.

If you would like to explore the implications of Edge computing in smart grid models, let’s carry on this conversation here.

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About Alexis Coutarel

Business Analyst Smart Grids
Alexis works in the innovation and business development team at Atos Worldgrid – the company’s specialist energy and utilities unit. He is particularly interested in bringing the benefits of data analytics and cognitive computing to utility companies. As well as working in our development labs, Alexis runs innovation workshops with utility companies. He holds an engineering degree from the Grenoble Institute of Technology, where he had a special focus on smart grids and SCADA systems. Alexis has co-authored technical papers for CIRED on the integration of IT and OT.

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