As the electric power industry becomes increasingly complex, utilities need greater visibility and control over generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure.
When it comes to implementing new technologies, utilities have two primary approaches. Traditionally, utilities have invested significant amounts of resources into on-premises and in-house IT infrastructure, communication networks, hardware, and software.
However, accelerating trends are driving utilities to modernize the electric grid and seek out new ways of optimizing operations and maintenance. Instead of building on-premises infrastructure, utilities can leverage the advantages of Energy 4.0 technologies such as cloud computing, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and carrier-grade communication networks.
Not only do these solutions reduce upfront capital investments, but they also provide utilities with greater flexibility, scalability, and responsiveness to changing grid conditions.
This article will highlight four main ways that Energy 4.0 technologies optimize utility operations and maintenance. To learn more, read our recent white paper published on Electric Energy Online, Energy 4.0 and Remote Asset Monitoring - How Utilities Benefit From Smart, Connected Devices.
1) Carrier-Grade Communications Networks
In-house communications networks require utilities to invest in hardware, cabling infrastructure, and maintenance which significantly increase the cost of installation and ongoing operations. These in-house networks also place an additional burden on IT departments and may draw limited technical resources away from other, more strategic initiatives.
Alternatively, utilities can leverage the capabilities of existing carrier-grade networks. Because it is their core competency, Internet Service Providers or mobile operators generally provide greater performance, capacity, reliability, and more frequent upgrades than an in-house network with minimal oversight from IT departments.
Further, using a carrier network isolates the IIoT network from the corporate network, mitigating cybersecurity risks and reducing the grid’s exposure to malicious actors.
2) Cloud-Based Storage and Processing
Cloud computing is the on-demand delivery of computing services, including access to servers, storage, databases, and other IT services over the Internet.
As highlighted in a recent article in this series, reputable cloud service providers offer greater levels of performance, security, and scalability without the large investments in hardware, installation, and maintenance required by on-premises data centers. The cloud also allows utilities to easily scale resources up or down depending on the needs of the business.
After accounting for the hardware, software, and maintenance costs, leveraging cloud computing resources can lower costs to as little as 10 percent of owning and maintaining an on-premises data center over three years.
3) Economies of Scale
IIoT sensors are built with small, highly integrated parts. Devices use standard carrier communications that do not require additional cabling or power infrastructure. As a result, IIoT deployments can easily and cost-effectively scale up to monitor more sites or assets over time.
This scalability means that utilities can start with a small pilot project before expanding to additional sites. Utilities can sustainably invest in new capabilities in line with other strategic objectives while reducing overall project risk. Further, building out sites over time helps utilities become more familiar with the process of procuring, installing, and using the sensors to enhance operations and reduce maintenance costs.
A successful pilot project should allow utilities to make stronger decisions about the viability of a larger-scale rollout, while also providing time to overcome some of the challenges that come with implementing and using a new system.
4) Installation & Deployment
Alternative monitoring solutions such as wired sensors are time-consuming and difficult to deploy. Utilities need to install cables, dig trenches, and access critical assets or components. Because of these challenges, installation can cost as much as the hardware itself and require the utility to take an outage to allow workers to operate safely.
In contrast, the compact, easy-to-install IIoT sensors can be deployed faster and more cost-effectively. No trenching is required for power or communications, and most sites will have a suitable mounting location without the need for further construction.
While the exact cost and schedule will vary, an IIoT sensor installation can often be completed in less than an hour. Multiple sites can be managed simultaneously to further reduce the total timeline, and the process can be further refined as crews become more efficient with each successful deployment.
Achieving the Full Benefits of Energy 4.0 Technology
Energy 4.0 technologies offer utilities greater visibility and control of the entire electrical power grid. Compared to traditional, on-premises IT infrastructure, Energy 4.0 technologies offer lower upfront costs, better performance, and increased flexibility and responsiveness.
To learn more about Remote Asset Monitoring, how thermal and visual sensors work, and how utilities can deploy Energy 4.0 solutions across a wide range of applications, read our recent white paper at Electric Energy Online, Energy 4.0 and Remote Asset Monitoring - How Utilities Benefit From Smart, Connected Devices.