New Horizons for Utilities
On the heels of the digital revolution, the new era of digitally-empowered utilities has officially arrived. It’s predicted that electric utilities will install more than 90 million smart meters by 2020, and investments in smart grid technology grew by 12 percent from 2014 to 2016. As the utility industry adopts new edge technologies (such as AI, blockchain, the Internet of Things and computer perception) at an increasingly rapid pace, it’s created a massive evolution in customer need and behaviors, and ultimately opened doors for entirely new business models.
Blockchain for Energy Trading
Though decentralized blockchain technology first became a household name with the rise of crypto-currency, it stands to change how utilities and their customers produce and consume power. The earliest stages of this trend can be seen in an experiment currently taking place in Brooklyn, New York. The Brooklyn Microgrid, a blockchain-powered community electricity grid, is connecting home solar energy producers to a smartphone trading platform that allows neighbors to buy and sell power. Customers can then choose whether they utilize energy from the utility or from solar power, increasing competition and providing access to sustainable energy. The company works in partnership with the local utility, Con Edison, to maintain and support the grid. Currently, the project has approximately 50 participants.
Smart Meters for Water
While smart meters have already been deployed by electric utilities in 50 percent of U.S. households, water utilities have not adapted them at the same pace: only 20 percent of U.S. water utilities are using smart meter technology currently. While the technology has yet to be widely adopted, its potential ability to change how water utilities operate is substantial – it can be used not only for billing, but to identify leaks and increase efficiency and resiliency of water delivery systems.
“If we only use these meters for billing purposes then its use is very limited, but we can use this infrastructure to provide us with a picture of the watershed,” West Monroe Energy and Utilities Senior Manager Peter Mulvaney said in an interview with Bloomberg BNA. “We not only find out about the movement of water through the ground, but also through the pipes.”
Fiber-powered Energy Grids
A new report suggests that investments in fiber optic cables, commonly known today for providing internet access, would have benefits for electric utilities as they roll out smart grid technology. Just as fiber enables better internet connectivity for residential customers, it can also enable more efficient connections between smart equipment, meters, the cloud and other devices utilized in smart grids. Canadian startup Hyperion is developing a fiber solution in partnership with Missouri University of Science and Technology that detects the temperature of powerlines and transformers. Powered by the Internet of Things, the technology enables energy utilities to better track delivery and maintenance needs, and therefore increase reliability.
As ground-breaking technologies are adopted by utilities, new applications and advances are being developed. Utilities must stay at the forefront of these changes to better serve customers and evolve to meet industry trends.