Internet of Things (IoT): Transforming Energy & Utilities Sector
A brief explanation of Internet of Things (IoT)
Internet of Things (IoT), is a mammoth network of things connected with one another as well as individuals. This relationship could be between people to people, people to things and things to things. Basically, IoT is the concept to connect any device with an on and off switch with Internet or with each other. It is also applicable to any machine component e.g. airplane’s jet engine, an oil rig drill or even the engine of a car. There is a chance that everything is a part of IoT if it has an on and off switch. According to Internet research firm Gartner, there would be more than 26 billion connected devices by 2020. It’s a very huge number and few are expecting this to be even higher, over 100 billion! In this blog, I will discuss the implications of IoT on the energy and utilities sector. As I always say, its not only about collecting more and more data, but the important thing is “What we do with the collected data?” So, let’s begin with a brief overview of this industry.
A brief overview of the Energy and Utilities industry
There is huge expectation, that the Energy and utility industries would take new strides to fulfill the demand as well as protection of environment so it can give a way for the discovery of efficient ways for procuring oil, installation of huge wind farms, production of cheaper solar cells, development of next generation nuclear facilities and exploration of alternate sources of energy. For shaping the future of the energy industry there will be continuation of conflicting forces. This continuous expansion of industrial development all over the planet would shoot global consumption of energy. On the other hand, it will also increase pollution as well as the natural resources are reducing by the day. But in near future, neither the concerns for environment nor the volatility of oil prices will hover the role of the energy and utility industry along with the chief energy providers, suppliers for technology as well as expert services. At present, it is enjoying hundreds of billions of dollars as annual revenues and a demand which could be doubled up by 2020.
The arc of technology availability is being closely followed by the use of IoT applications in the electric utility industry. Even though seldom being on the bleeding edge, the electricity sector always has opted for the new available technology to enhance and controlling assets, for increasing safety, controlling grid and for keeping the lights on. There are two such kinds of examples that illustrate the benefits of IoT, first is the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and next is Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) in the electric power industry.
Tighter emission regulations, greater reliability expectations, and the aging transmission and distribution system require more than maintenance; they need expensive upgrades and replacements. The most straightforward response—rising rates—is not always attractive, as both utilities and their regulators are charged with keeping rates affordable, and higher rates increase the competitiveness of alternatives to utility-provided power.
How IoT is helping to solve these challenges
The industry, then, is looking beyond its traditional cost-of-service model and focus on asset utilization and streamlining costs through improving operating inefficiencies. Technology, particularly Internet of Things (IoT) applications, offers a range of possibilities on how electric utilities can move forward. IoT can improve the efficiency and performance of the power grid in three phases: first, by gathering data from sensors to improve the resilience of the grid; then through enablement, where utilities use that data to actively manage resources; and finally, optimization, where all stakeholders are able to make informed decisions about power usage and generation. Through these three phases, IoT offers some indications of how utilities can not only survive, but thrive, in this new competitive environment.
This could really impact the operational efficiency for the electricity industry. The data collected through the sensors could very easily predict and alert about any failure in the grid. Also, any threat to life could be very easily predicted and alerts could be sent in advance to avoid any accident.
No doubt that you will be aware of importance of water conservation like do not run water while you are brushing or do not let the shower open when you are not in it, etc. It is more significant for drought prone area. Moreover, conservation of water is very necessary for the efficient existence and functioning of the smart homes and smarter cities.
Though forecasters could accurately predict that some areas could receive record amounts of rain during winter, due to lack of systems for conservation of water all the excess water cannot be harnessed. Thus, Smart Water management is important in times of no rain or too much rain so our conservation efforts keep continuing. The Internet of Things (“IoT”) can help the water supply rains be used more efficiently and with less waste.
How IoT is helping to solve these challenges
IoT can help in conservation of water by implementation of smart sensors. These smart water sensors track water quality, temperature, pressure, consumption, and more. These devices typically communicate directly with a water utility company, which uses software to analyze the data and then returns it to the consumer in an easy-to-understand format. Users can then understand how their consumption compares to city averages, previous months, and more. Consequently, the popularity of smart water management is growing, for it provides the consumers the facility of monitoring easily their consumption of water as well as gives public the useful information. The smart water sensors can monitor quality of water, pressure, temperature, consumption and many other things. These devices directly communicate in a typical way with water utility company where software analyzes the data and after that in an easy to understand format gives back to the consumer. Then a user can understand his consumption comparing it with the city averages, former months etc. Imagine, if every week people start getting insights about their water spending behavior and recommendations on how to optimize their water spend and reduce wastage.
Wind Energy Sector
Unlike light switches at home, failures that occur in remote locations such as wind-farms result in interrupted power generation leading to decreased productivity and increased system downtime. Furthermore, fluctuating energy prices make optimal project efficiency and uptime critical to a wind farm’s profit margins and bottom-line. Interruption in power generation causing large maintenance issues can also lead to increase in energy prices.
Wind power’s unique features—including large turbines and remote locations where wind farms are built—both contribute to its success and pose challenges for maintenance and repair. Wind turbines are huge pieces of equipment. The sheer size and remote locations of wind turbines pose unique challenges for routine maintenance and triggers a need for regular on-site inspection and preventative maintenance to sustain long-term returns. Due to the remote location of these turbines, it is very expensive to have a dedicated resource available at the location, hence it takes time for an engineer to reach the location let alone fix it. Large gears in traditional gearboxes can become misaligned due to the uneven loads that are generated by damaged blades. Hence, wind turbines require a great degree of maintenance to ensure a safe, cost effective and reliable power output.
How IoT is helping to solve these challenges
Through remote access, IoT can bridge the gap between a wind farm located several hours or even days away and a local control center with access so attendants might adjust switches, software, or equipment from a distance. IoT gives wind-farm operators control to monitor and regulate much of a turbine’s operation no matter how much distance separates the two. The size and remote location of most wind farms is no longer the issue it once was before the Internet of Things. An industrial networking system and remote data collection and communication provides real-time troubleshooting and advanced management at wind sites. The IoT data can help predict minutest of issues within the turbines, whether hardware or software, so they can be addressed at the earliest without leading to large scale damage. As they say, “Prevention is better than cure”. Just in case, issues or equipment failures occur at a wind farm, detection and recovery time is reduced significantly. What’s more, data collection can lead to predictive operations and maintenance — or advanced management — of turbines so failures are caught before causing turbine downtime.
How will the consumer be impacted by each sector?
IoT devices are used to monitor and control electronic, electrical and mechanical systems in homes and buildings in order to improve convenience and safety. The tasks of IoT in this domain that impact consumer are:
- Smart lighting by adapting ambient conditions based switching
- Web application and mobile apps enabled wireless and internet connected lights
- Smart appliances management and control
- Intrusion detection systems, alarm systems and surveillance systems
- Safety systems such as smoke and gas detection
- Home entertainment management such as video, audio and projectors
For example, imagine you have gone to a long trip and accidentally forgot to close lights and other electronic equipment, you will receive an alert and asked if you want to switch them off. So, you can remotely control your electric equipment.
I believe that even the simplest form of smart water meter installed at homes and businesses on a wide spread basis can provide actionable information, which if applied with common sense, can help save millions of gallons of water. If the water utilities can provide the smart meter and basic water management platform, private vendors can offer more sophisticated features that are accessible as an app on a mobile phone similar. Private vendors are already offering advanced features such as water leak detection. The information can be actionable.
IoT gives wind-farm owners or operators an ability to monitor and analyze onsite data on a daily, monthly, and even yearly basis, and can provide a detailed look at individual turbine performance. For example, based on this data, an optimized maintenance strategy can prioritize turbines that experience less than expected performance losses and therefore minimize downtime. Industrial-grade networking equipment provides a high degree of reliability and control pertinent to smart energy-management systems and offers a variety of solutions to the unique networking challenges at wind farms.
To conclude, we can say that IoT is creating a fundamental shift in advanced energy production and distribution technology, management and services while leveraging existing investments in infrastructure and operations. A deeper level of inter-operability, connectivity, and automation through IoT will enable Energy and Utilities companies to:
- Be more agile, flexible and efficient
- Improve their outage management
- Enable automation and remote fine-tuning
- Create new services by transforming, storing and analyzing energy/utilities data
- Predict performance of their assets and smoothly integrate all types of energy sources into a connected system.