The digital revolution has been slowly taking over various industries as technological advancements make traditional processes obsolete. While some fear the digitalization era could change the industrial landscape beyond recognition, it provides wider opportunities for expansion, integration, and outreach.
The utilities industry is seeing a similar digital shift, moving to smart grids, decentralized generation and IoT based distribution and management. The shift is seen as integral to creating sustainable energy systems from renewable sources and zero waste processes. Smart management and measuring systems are making use of augmented reality to assess problems and dispatch solutions in real-time. Digital energy is pushing moves to virtual reality in associated fields. While cybersecurity concerns are on the rise, this shift presents real opportunities to reach an ever-expanding customer base and redress essentials in a climate-conscious way.
Opportunities with Utility Digitalization
The business opportunities presented with digitalization are reinforced with the benefits already being felt all along the supply chain, from production and distribution, to payment and outage management. Many energy suppliers have launched apps accessible through mobile devices allowing utility bill management, payment, user data, and outage management and alternate planning from one’s phone. Integrated with a smart home setup, these apps can control use and manage entire connected buildings without requiring manual care. Customer experiences can be exponentially improved with simple connectivity and interactive interface. This further creates potential for better customer service with personalized experiences developed from data analysis.
Proactive customer engagement is only one facet of energy and utility digitization. Data-driven management allows better control and use of resources, making minimal to zero waste energy production and distribution possible. Automated control with smart grid and smart pipes makes efficient and resilient network control possible. Digital platforms can further be used to support and expand access to distributed energy sources.
Profit and Productivity
There is an additional potential for productivity and profitability increases with improved digital efficiency, and these are often greater than projected benefits. Productivity tools that cut down on manual labor and automate necessary processes and smart meters that gather and assess usage data in real-time and with 100% accuracy all cut out overheads by reducing physical assets requirements. Replacing time-consuming labor-intensive tasks with digitized automated procedures, such as maintaining optimal production levels, automatically rerouting excess production, less room for error, reducing losses, equipment breakdowns and the cost of maintenance.
Analysis based on smart data collection can generate reports on customer behaviors that can be used to further improve the user interface and experience. Customers most appreciate an integrated multichannel access and support system that does not bound them to a single outlet or limits their options. The seamless connection between digital and traditional with real-time analytics can improve user experience and reduce costs for businesses.
Utility Digitization Moving from AI to Augmented Reality
The advances in AI application have led to its widespread adoption in many digitizing fields, including utilities. Using industrial scale physical assets, the utilities industry is particularly suited to AI applications that can automate much of the processes in real-time. The digitization process is scourging increasing amounts of data that need to be quickly analyzed to serve any useful purpose in improving service and supply, which is where AI comes in.
Load fluctuations on smart grids and microgrids make operations slightly tricky, as they require advance planning and stabilization. Without maintenance, they lead to frequent deviations, resulting in higher costs and environmental impacts. AI-analysis can predict these load fluctuations and deploy stabilization to maintain energy balance. Additionally, real-time weather-based data analysis, or necessary maintenance work data can allow cloud-based AI to predict and plan for power outages that reduce the impact of energy deficiency on operations or the community.
Local microgrids also require automated management, where they can operate independently of the traditional grid. Managing power supply and distribution is key in maintaining energy equity. AI-based solutions also help deliver excess outputs to areas with shortages, creating an integrated network that cuts down waste.
Additional AI applications include edge computing, which has allowed data processing on-site with the physical sensors. It can be used to connect a multitude of data sources using IoT technology, which can then be quickly processed, analyzed and inform solutions. Consumer behaviors and usage patterns can offer real-time forecasts for energy demand, then prepare for the increased demand by importing excess supply from surrounding grids. Machine learning technology is also being integrated into AI applications to create usage models based on forecasts, history of use, and even geographical locations to inform all processes regarding production, supply, adjustments, and repairs. It is also being used in making investment decisions, identifying low-cost and low-impact locations that supplement energy supply without incurring exorbitant economic or environmental costs.
Augmented Reality in Utility
Utility digitalization is quickly moving from AI to augmented reality (AR), which combines the real-world environment with digital assets overlaid, using the physical environment as the backdrop. AR is different from virtual reality, which completely blocks out the real environment to replace with a completely digital, virtual one. WIthout requiring additional equipment, AR can be used to create digital scenarios within the physical environment and draw real-world inferences.
AR is transforming the utility sector by supporting much of the operations that go into production and supply, all along the supply chain. 3D models of real equipment generated in real-time can produce solutions to actual problems much faster and more efficiently. Equipped with AR mobile devices, information regarding various assets can be immediately retrieved to facilitate on-the-spot maintenance.
One major issue in the utilities industry has always been the phasing out of experienced workers as they move out of the workforce, to be replaced with novice workers who lack the years which allows them to make informed decisions in the field. AR has made it possible for those experienced workers to guide in-field work remotely, with real-time communication with field workers. Supplemented with AR equipment, they can train new workers in the field while ensuring the actual work quality is not diminished.
Operations safety is further supplemented by the use of AR. The equipment can create accurate three-dimensional models of underground equipment, the defect that needs repairing and the proper tools needed, to prevent any accidents and offer accurate forecasts of potential problems. AR-connected glasses can identify equipment damages and potential problems in-process, and safety protocols can be implemented more effectively in real-time.
Digital Twins Pushing Utility Digitalization
Incorporation AI and AR technology, digital twins provide a dynamic digitization of the utilities process by combining the physical and virtual worlds. The digital models created through software analytics and AI are constantly supplemented with data in real-time, allowing the most accurate portrayal at any given moment. Digital blueprints of everything from production to customer service can be made that leave little room for error and improve business efficiencies.
Digital Twins Utilities Applications
The digital twins concept has numerous utility applications that are transforming and boosting the digitization process. It makes for effective risk mitigation by creating accurate downtime forecasts and allowing companies to plan for them in effective and low-cost ways. Exact replicas of physical assets supplement operator training and learning, and help identify issues and problems before they occur. Machine operation optimization is also possible with attached sensors providing data in real-time, with coordinated operations between all systems.
Effective data management frameworks focusing on interoperability can include single, multidimensional models that have a wider application range without requiring individual setups. It can also be used to stress test various physical assets without running the actual risk, and drive operational decision-making from digital performance data. Cloud-based operations cut out much of the administrative barriers that can slow down understanding of issues solution deployment, offering accurate-to-real-life insights.
What’s next for Utility Digitalization
Utility digitalization has opened up opportunities for new and more efficient business models. Other than operational efficiency and customer satisfaction, it offers businesses the opportunity to develop new revenue streams. Developing renewable energy models with storage capabilities can supplement the digital shift, also contributing to environmental preservation. AI, AR and digital twins integration are the future of utility management, which can change energy lifestyles for the better.