With 80 million smart devices deployed in the United States as of 2018, smart utility data and infrastructure has now reached 56% penetration nationwide and this number is set to grow with the completion of new rollouts planned or already underway. This proliferation of smart devices and data, and the supporting communications infrastructure, enables both core and advanced operational capabilities and can deliver a much broader range of benefits—which we call the Smart Utility capability framework or simply, the platform.
The industry landscape for utilities is evolving to adapt and accommodate new technologies and changing expectations of its customers and regulators. The platform enables effective adaptation to this changing landscape and is integral to grid digitization and modernization—or Smart Utility initiatives—and in mitigating disruptions to business as usual from evolving customer expectations, increasingly advanced technologies, growing distributed generation and regulatory changes.
Thus, the platform serves as a foundation that enables numerous analytics use cases, from allowing utilities to better integrate distributed resources to providing an IoT-style backbone that customers and communities can leverage to deploy smart sensors and devices and create smarter homes and cities. As an example, thanks to the growing adoption and integration of new technologies (which include, but are not limited to, DERs, EVs, LEDs, energy efficiency, intelligent switches and demand automation), the historically linear electric distribution system is becoming more dynamic and complex. In fact, PA’s Smart Utility use case repository currently consists of over 400 use cases (and growing)—that span the six Smart Utility capability dimensions: customer, enterprise operations, grid/network, city/community, products & services, and home/building.
As customers are becoming more educated about their electricity consumption and technologically knowledgeable, their demand for enhanced capabilities is increasing. Smart utility-enabled capabilities will help the utility better understand and engage customers through tailored new communication channels, tools, products, and services. Utilities will be able to provide real-time usage data through convenient channels (i.e. text, social media, email, etc.), tools to help them consumers understand that data, energy efficiency and savings tips, bill alerts, solar and electric vehicle support, access to customized rate options, and more. This interaction will also empower the utility to become proactive in developing smart products and services, staying ahead of the evolving customer demand.
Core operational analytics and automation can help reduce operational costs through fewer truck rolls, reduction in bad debt due to decrease in write offs, improve storm outage response, and even reduce overall energy consumption due to inactive accounts. Numerous other smart utility capabilities can unlock the untapped potential of data from across business units, applications, and data sources to derive actionable insights and deliver real business and customer benefits beyond those delivered by individual deployments. Benefits will include operations and maintenance efficiencies, improved asset and load management, reduced outage frequency, and improved customer service and engagement.
Central to the success of smart utility analytics programs is the capability development guiding principle. Successful analytics deployments are business-driven, approached holistically, and consider all interrelated dimensions of capability development—this is not just about not just technology and data.
The smart utility will need to operate in new ways, leveraging data and analytic capabilities to improve reliability, resilience, operations, and service, while empowering consumers. Several regulatory, customer, and technological trends are driving this need to adapt. Utilities need to build business capability and smart utility like platforms that will enable them to succeed in this new world. Hence, it is important to consider a smart utility philosophy in enabling a practical digital journey based on the prioritized development of business capabilities that drive real business outcomes and benefits.
Glen Mannering is an energy and utilities expert at PA Consulting