As we adapt to new norms of “shelter-in-place” and “social distancing” invoked by COVID-19, we are undoubtedly accelerating as a digital society. Finding new ways to interact with each other virtually means activities like work, school, events and local gatherings are shifting from the physical to digital world. As we do so, we are also increasing our demand for energy, a fundamental resource powering our daily lives.
Rapid growth in the global digital economy, as well as varying temperatures and weather conditions are only increasing the demand. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global energy consumption grew by 2.3% in 2018, the fastest pace in a decade (nearly twice the average rate of growth since 2010).[i] While traditional energy sources still supply most of the demand today, renewables are growing the fastest and expected to be the primary energy source by 2050 as shown in the chart below.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), International Energy Outlook 2019[ii]
Digital technologies can help energy businesses manage supply and demand more efficiently, optimize operations, and avoid costly failures.
In addition to variable and rapidly changing market conditions, energy producers and utilities face a number of other challenges including fluctuating supply and demand, shifting environmental and regulatory policies and growing cybersecurity risks. Moreover, pressure is mounting to shift from traditional to low-carbon energy sources but moving to renewable energy is a complex process. To address these concerns, energy firms need end-to-end visibility and real-time insights to tap into new production techniques and energy alternatives, achieve greater efficiencies and minimize risks.
By leveraging an IT architecture based on a globally distributed interconnection platform, energy firms and grid operators can integrate digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and the internet of things (IoT) to capture data in real-time and generate the insights needed for optimal product and service delivery. Interconnection helps expedite the secure transmission of data from IoT sensors to the nearest cloud aggregation point for rapid AI/ML analysis. Additionally, they can exchange data safely and securely with partners in digital ecosystems for increased collaboration, optimization and productivity.
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5 examples of smarter energy
There are a number of use cases where digital technologies are making energy smarter and more efficient such as intelligent energy storage, building automation, digital twins, software-defined power and more. Some specific examples include:
1. Smart grids: Traditional power grids were built for one-way interaction where a utility supplies energy to local homes and businesses. A smart grid incorporates digital technologies to accommodate a two-way flow of energy and information for supply and load forecasting, usage tracking and managing distributed generation sources. For example, the Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO) uses the Vermont Weather Analytics Center (VWAC) to improve operational efficiency and renewable energy management. VWAC leverages an advanced ML model that combines weather and renewable energy forecasts with demand and distributed sources to deliver more precise hyper-local forecasts that include local solar farms and homes as energy sources.[iii]
2. IoT microgrids: Microgrids are subsets of the larger electrical grids that can operate in grid-connected or island-mode. In addition to improving resiliency in the event of power outages, microgrids enable organizations to improve efficiency and optimize utility-provided energy with locally produced power.
3. Smart meters: Unlike traditional electricity meters that require manual readouts by the power company, smart meters can automatically transmit readings in real-time or near real-time for more precise consumption tracking and dynamic energy pricing. Embedded sensors also enable outage alerts and power quality monitoring, as well as two-way communications for remote services such as service disconnects or time-based pricing. Smart meters are the endpoint devices in Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) that deliver wireless communication between utilities and customers, energy suppliers and service providers. Itron, which is innovating the way utilities and cities manage energy and water, was recently recognized by Frost & Sullivan for best practices in the AMI industry for its AMI deployment in Southeast Asia that included more than 100,000 smart meters. With distributed intelligence in every meter, utilities can manage rapidly changing grids more efficiently through real-time sensing of current conditions. That enables grid operators to take action at the right place and at the right time for optimal system performance. Itron also recently announced an expanded collaboration with Equinix in EMEA to strengthen its software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform for utilities and smart cities.[iv]
4. Failure detection and predictive maintenance: AI/ML can be applied to data captured from IoT sensors, satellite imagery and drones to monitor energy assets and detect failures such as power outages, water quality issues or methane leaks . This intelligence can also be leveraged to ensure worker safety and predict when maintenance is needed to avoid failure.
5. Pipeline management: Traditional energy producers have to manage a complex pipeline from the time oil is extracted to the time of shipping it to downstream providers. Automated AI-powered geological / subsurface modeling can help ensure the precise location for drilling and schedule shipments to downstream providers.
Energy is essential to everything we do. Energy producers and utilities are under constant pressure to deliver power continuously without failure while responding to fast changing market needs. Digital technologies can help energy businesses manage supply and demand more efficiently, optimize operations, and avoid costly failures. Interconnecting IoT systems and processes at the digital edge in proximity to users enables energy companies to tap into distributed energy and data sources, collaborate with partners and achieve the performance, security and scalability to stay competitive.
You may also be interested in reading about how Equinix is leveraging renewable energy.
[iv] Itron, Itron Recognized for AMI Leadership in Asia-Pacific by Frost & Sullivan, Feb 2020;Itron to Deploy OpenWay® Riva Solution in Thailand, June 2018; Itron Expands Collaboration with Equinix in EMEA to Strengthen Software-as-a-Service Platform, Jan 2020.