Data has completely revolutionised how we live from the way we utilise technology and interact with our loved ones to how we go about our work.
In fact, almost 90 per cent of all the data in the world today has been generated over the past two years alone. People and machines are gaining easier access to more and more intelligence and have now come to expect solutions that connect to that intelligence to help them make sense of this avalanche of data writes Simon O’Donnelly, General Manager Marketing, Energy Business at Schneider Electric.
With the proliferation of personal smart devices, we are beginning to make good use of data in our everyday lives – placing the world at our fingertips and bringing us closer to others.
And as the world around us smartens up, it’s only natural that the utility industry should follow suit. But how can we best leverage data to address the challenges facing the energy sector today: safety, affordability, efficiency and sustainability?
Turning data into intelligence Within the realm of power generation, distribution, and consumption, a multitude of existing operating equipment is being enhanced through the integration of sensors, information technology, and communications subsystems.
From the control room of a power utility to the electrical outlets in the homes of consumers, this smart technology is turning data into intelligence that we can use to effectively and efficiently manage energy use. This widely connected intelligence is of critical importance for utilities.
Because utilities by nature are operating systems, they must adopt a system-thinking approach. Changing one thing in one place might have dire consequences elsewhere. They must avoid the pitfalls of local optimisation, instead aiming for system-wide optimisation.
Driving effective energy use in the workplace
The workplace is ripe for smart energy management, from office spaces to manufacturing plants. In electro-intensive industries such as steel making, workers can observe patterns in energy production and highlight areas where efficiencies could be applied.
In corporate settings, the very individuals who consume energy aren’t responsible for the bill. Smart energy management would put knowledge into the hands of these individuals and encourage them to actively partake in cutting costly usage.
At a higher level – once business consumers learn what their utility bill means and how to control it, they will quickly realise that powerful financial incentives exist for consuming energy in a pre-set, predictable way.
Smart energy at home
Smart energy management doesn’t stop in the workplace. Intelligence provided can be used to create a smarter consumer, who has the understanding needed to take control of his or her home energy consumption.
The monthly utility bill is a prime example of how leveraging data can inform decision making and drive better energy use. Ordinarily, a homeowner would receive their bill and see a bar graph that displays their year-to-date energy usage. They may notice it go up, down, or stay the same. But they wouldn’t know why – or what they could do to take control of their consumption.
With the introduction of smart energy – homeowners can take more of a driving seat. Not only can they view their usage – but they will receive detailed information from their utility company on what is causing it to go up or down, and compare their use with similar houses in their community. With this level of understanding they can manage their bill, to the extent where they might even get rebates if they use energy during periods of low demand.
The evolution of smart energy In both the home and the workplace our fossil-fuel dominated approach to energy use is being challenged as new technologies emerge and regulatory agencies push for a greater proportion of decentralised power sources. Investors and stakeholders are realising new data-intensive approaches have emerged that fully leverage the power of network connectivity and the rapid processing of huge amounts of data to improve the efficiency of the grid and lower operating expenses.
These capabilities will become critical as residences, businesses, data centres, hospitals, transportation, and advanced manufacturing facilities grow more dependent on reliable power of high quality.
Automated systems and greater visibility of both the network and the consumer will empower grid operators to reconfigure the grid and adjust both generation and consumption faster than ever before while limiting manual interventions.
Utilities will also be able to use data to help customers better understand their energy consumption patterns and identify areas where they can save money on their energy bills. Forward-looking utilities should view these changes as an opportunity for rebirth, a chance to rebuild trust with their customers and to offer them new services. However, transition is never easy.
Skills gaps and technology adoption within an existing grid and entrenched culture require that utilities manage this transition carefully with the support of a trusted partner.
By enhancing operational technologies with a layer of intelligence, connected solutions are beginning to energise workspaces and living spaces.
As we herald in this new chapter in the energy revolution, the smarter use of data will see the efficiency of businesses and homes improve, while power consumption is radically reduced.