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The digital advance leading the reform of utilities supply

Utility companies need to invest in edge intelligence and draw on real-time analytics in order to create efficiencies

Chile inaugurates Latin America's first thermosolar plant
Cerro Dominador is the first thermosolar power plant in Latin America - Copyright POOL/AFP PHILIPPE DESMAZES
Cerro Dominador is the first thermosolar power plant in Latin America - Copyright POOL/AFP PHILIPPE DESMAZES

Advanced technologies are helping to shape the way utility firms operate and provide services to their customers. Stefan Zschiegner, VP of Product Management at Itron, tells Digital Journal precisely how digital technology is helping to reshape and refocus the supply of utilities to homes and businesses. Many of the changes are likely to come into effect during 2022.

The Rise of AMI 2.0

There will be intense pressure for utility companies to invest in edge intelligence, with emphasis on real-time analytics to support artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). These are commonly represented as ‘advanced metering infrastructure’ (AMI 2.0).

Taking these technological concepts, Zschiegner says: “Utility companies will view the grid as a connected IoT network, increasing capabilities to gather more accurate insights at the edge versus estimating based on data from old models.”

There are complications too, says Zschiegner: “Since the consumption of AI and ML capabilities requires big data, the challenge here will be deciphering how to deploy these tools within a company’s IT infrastructure while also maintaining security throughout development.”

Utilities will reimagine customer engagement 

The popularity of technology with consumers could, in some cases, leave utility companies behind. Zschiegner says that: “The COVID-19 era has established technology as a central aspect of everyday life for most consumers. Utility companies must keep up with these new demands by finding innovative ways to better engage with customers. This will include programs for demand response, energy efficiency, customer choice, and SmartPay solutions.”

This means several utility firms needs to adapt. Zschiegner explains how: “Stakeholders have recognized this and are providing customers with access to their energy consumption data and allowing third parties to monetize it.”

With this: “Decision-makers should monitor the progress of these programs closely, as they present an expanded interface for software developers to bring more innovation and customer engagement opportunities to the table at an accelerated pace.”  

 With challenges, Zschiegner points to demographics, stating: “Utility companies will need to take generational differences into account, as more millennials desire digital experiences that manage their energy usage and bill payments. These programs will equip customers with the tools to save on their energy expenses, fostering a more sustainable environment and ultimately empowering them do their part in combatting the climate crisis.”

The U.S. Infrastructure Bill will accelerate key investments 

Looking at the U.S. market specifically, Zschiegner takes account of major new legislation. He says: “In order to both improve disaster preparedness and accommodate for the inevitable electricity load that EV adoption will incur, the aging grid requires modernization. According to the Itron Resourcefulness Report, COVID-19 has been the top barrier to upgrading the grid. Fortunately, the recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will accelerate these key investments, as there are now several resiliency and grid funds that utility companies can leverage. These investments will shift to the low voltage grid, where the issue ultimately lies. Integration of AMI will also be prioritized into the broader utilities management of cities.”

As with anything, context is important. Zschiegner notes: “Since many utilities in the US are still in the middle of their AMI life cycles, they do not have the opportunity to refresh from the ground up. Successful companies will take the ‘system approach,’ remediating issues in their entirety as opposed to a fragmented ‘points approach.’” In summary, Zschiegner concludes: “If we look forward to the next decade from a macro perspective, the system will adhere to energy supply and demand, with AMI-powered financial transactions occurring at the edge of the distribution grid.”  

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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