Integrated utilities are undergoing a phenomenal transformation with the convergence of utility operations with IT and emergence of blockchain and cloud technologies enabling smart grid operations. I would like to highlight below the latest developments in integrated utilities and specific anecdotes of technology interventions in this evolving space.
Blockchain magic: While blockchain remains largely unproven, and significant barriers remain, it has potential to offer intrinsic business value In integrated utilities management offering a reliable, low-cost way for recording validating financial or operational transactions across a distributed network with no central point of authority.
- Peer-to-peer energy trading: One of the use case of Blockchain is in updating and improving centralized, legacy systems with a distributed hybrid system made up of both large power plants and micro grids powered by distributed energy resources such as solar power. This shift is prompting the industry to focus on blockchain’s potential to make peer-to-peer energy trading a reality with an integrated trading system that would permit businesses to trade their option to use electricity during a given time frame. For example, one business entity could sell few minutes of unused power during a down time to a different entity that needs additional power. Trading grid flexibility in this way could provide large efficiency benefits for grid operators.
- Billing of AV charging stations: Innogy, the subsidiary of the German energy company RWE announced that it has launched hundreds of Ethereum blockchain-powered charging stations for electric cars across Germany through its e-mobility startup venture Share & Charge.
- Power Ledger: Australian energy startup Power Ledger also offers a blockchain-based solution for delivering locally produced renewable energy to the end consumer. Their software allows for tracking every unit of sold energy providing a secure revenue stream for DNSPs. Therefore, energy producers get a transparent, auditable and automated network for trading without involving any third-parties.
- Consumer switching of Power suppliers: Blockchain technology could enable customers to switch power suppliers more quickly. British startup Electron offers solution for quick change of energy suppliers through blockchain. They cooperate with Data Communications Company, which offers a list of British energy suppliers having Smart Energy Code. Previously, it took much more time and effort to change energy supplier if a customer was dissatisfied with their current services for some reason.
- Smart grid management systems: Grid Singularity, a startup in Austria, offers multiple blockchain-based solutions for the energy sector, including apps for energy data analysis and benchmarking, smart grid management, trading of green certificates, investment decisions and energy trade validation. Aiming to develop a decentralized energy exchange platform with numerous functions and opportunities for users who can benefit from simple and efficient energy-trading and exchange.
Business relevance of cloud: New-age integrated utilities businesses are offering programs like demand response, virtual power plants, distribution and substation automation, renewable and distributed generation, wide area measurement systems, home area networks and time-of-use pricing. Ability to leverage new sources of information and flexible & scalable IT infrastructure is central to success of these programs.
- Sporadic and massive fluctuations in workloads: It has been estimated that globally smart meter installations will reach 800M+ by 2020. Smart meters enable utilities move from monthly reads, to meter reads once every 15 minutes. This is leading to massive increase in amounts of data that demand scalable IT infrastructure in connected (IoT) arena.
- Cloud applicability: Cloud precisely address the integrated utilities business needs by providing scalable, readily available computing and storage environments. Dynamic provisioning is the need of the day for utilities business. Also cloud offers standardized technology platform that make utilities to standardize and automate processes leading to service centric business model.
- Compliance and security controls: Consolidation, virtualization and centralization of IT resources with cloud makes it easier to manage security controls, to apply consistent security technologies across the enterprise and to ensure the utility is meeting its compliance regulations, like FERC, NERC-CIP, and EPA etc.
- Roadmap to cloud: The tested path for integrated utilities in cloud adoption is first start with internal and enterprise application services. Then move onto new business processes at enterprise scale, and finally evolve to the as-a-service model. Simultaneously evaluate bringing benefits of cloud to operational applications like SCADA, DMS, EMS and OMS and new applications like data warehousing, electric vehicles, demand response and distribution and substation automation.
Startup companies are constantly exploring the potential of blockchain and cloud technologies that are enabling integrated utilities promoting curiosity among technopreneurs in exchanging ideas, trend spotting, and spot innovations and implications in new-age integrated utility environment.