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  • Feature Story

The Connected Future for Electric Utilities

February 28, 2017

The arrival of advanced connectivity, e-commerce and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications will enable utilities to provide better services, modernize infrastructures and increase consumers’ quality of life. Moreover, utilities will be able to leverage their data and bandwidth capabilities to support a range of connected devices that can provide increased system resiliency, reliability, cost savings, real-time monitoring, and voltage regulation as well as improved outage management and restoration.

New smart technologies can help utilities become more sophisticated in taking preventive measures. One example is proactively monitoring a power transformer, which is about to fail by looking at its changing properties, including degraded insulation or elevated operating temperature. In addition, smart technology can allow utilities to better control their networks and route around problem areas when, and if, a failure occurs.

Another example is for utilities and municipalities to partner, by launching experimental pilot projects for specific smart technology initiatives. With monitoring and development support from utilities, municipalities with a smart city focus have deployed smart LED streetlights equipped with video monitors to track parking spaces and pedestrian traffic during large events. The smart LED streetlights also provide better energy efficiency and reportedly save cities approximately $350,000 annually on electricity.

To realize the advantages of smart utility technology, the interoperability of these devices must be addressed since it is critical to their effectiveness and ability to function.

Utilities are striving to establish expectations for the compatibility of these devices. For mass adoption and public acceptance, utilities are trying to understand the interoperability of these devices, how they connect to a home or city infrastructure and the ability to conduct updates in the field.

Moreover, interoperability standards can contribute to achieving the public’s trust in smart utilities. Successful interoperability coordinates the specific application of the device, its ability to communicate in the system, its ability to correctly generate information and/or act on information, and results. Independent testing and certification of new smart technologies before deployment is one of the best means for manufacturers to quickly demonstrate that a new device will meet the utilities’ needs.

The opportunities for smart utilities of the future are only beginning to come to fruition. As utilities update their capabilities to provide consumers with new and previously unavailable services that include dynamic pricing and real-time access to connected devices, they also will make it easier to remotely monitor, analyze and control usage, and enable new integrated energy services.

Utilities have solely been thought of as a utility provider because of the mandated regulations and the lack of access to technology. Now that smart meters are able to provide added benefits and increased energy efficiency, utilities may start thinking of themselves more broadly as a service provider, helping them to reposition their overall business model.

Until then, expect utilities to continue building their network capabilities with smart devices that provide optimal efficiency and resiliency to customers every day and in times of need. The utilities that can be nimble in adapting new operating models will lead the way into a connected energy future.