Gartner expects Australian utilities to spend more than $2.6b on IT products and services in 2013, an increase of 3.69 percent over 2012. According to Kristian Steenstrup, Gartner vice president and Gartner Fellow a top priority for the industry is to find the business models that will address these issues and generate shareholder returns. “Public and private utilities are looking at how technology can reduce cost, drive efficiencies and enhance competitive advantage,” he says.
Steenstrup says that the industry -- once considered conservative and slow-moving -- has seen a wide range of innovation from within and outside the traditional IT organisation. He believes that utilities must understanding business if they are to create a successful IT strategy. He has recently authored a Gartner report which identifies the top ten information technologies that Gartner expects will impact the energy and utilities sectors in 2013.
These are, in no particular order.
Social Media and Web 2.0
Gartner says that social media can be used to acquire and retain customers, to drive customer participation in energy efficiency programs and for crowdsourcing distributed energy resources coordination. “Social media for outage communications is also rising in importance and value for utilities and customers experiencing outages,” Gartner says.
Smart grid development will increase data quantity by several orders of magnitude, driven by a host of edge devices, as well as new applications such as advanced metering infrastructure synchrophasors (devices for measuring the waveform of the alternating current in the electricity grid), smart appliances, microgrids, advanced distribution management, remote asset monitoring, event avoidance and self-healing networks. Gartner says that, “In addition to significantly impacting data volume, smart grid initiatives will produce a different variety of data, such as temporal, spatial, transactional, streaming, structured and unstructured.”
Mobile and Location-Aware Technology
Lowering costs and improving the accuracy and effectiveness of the field force are the main drivers for utilities to deploy mobile and wireless technologies such as ruggedised laptops, PDAs and smartphones and navigation, routing and tracking technologies.
Cloud Computing and SaaS
Security and reliability concerns have limited the take-up of cloud computing by utilities but solutions are beginning to emerge in areas such as smart metering, big data analytics, demand response coordination and GIS. “Early implementers of utility cloud and SaaS include organisations interested in providing common application and data services to multiple utility entities, such as cooperative associations and transmission system operators, smaller municipal and cooperatives without extensive infrastructure or budgets, and investor-owned utilities (IoUs) conducting short-term smart grid pilots interested in quick time-to-market, with minimal impact on production systems,” Gartner says.
Sensors are already used extensively throughout the supply, transmission and distribution domains of utilities but sensor fusion -- the addition of onboard digital signal processing and associated software development capabilities -- is accelerating potential applications, according to Gartner. However “Widespread utility adoption is challenged by specific implementation requirements, such as ruggedisation, electromagnetic shielding, temperature extremes, cybersecurity and remote access.”
“Increasing use of in-memory computing (IMC) application infrastructure technologies as enablers inside multiple types of software and hardware products will result in rapid IMC adoption by mainstream, risk-averse IT organisations,” Gartner says. “The ability of IMC to support high-scale, high-throughput and low-latency use cases will make it possible for IT organisations to implement innovative scenarios, such as those addressing processing of the smart-grid-generated metering and real-time sensor data.”
IT and operational technology Convergence
Virtually all new technology projects in utilities will require a combination of IT and operational technology investment and planning, Gartner says, but it warns: “More than any industry, the utility sector faces the challenge of the separation between IT and OT management, coupled with the importance of hybrid projects that link IT and OT systems.”
Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)
AMI constitutes a cornerstone of the smart grid by potentially providing a communication backbone for low-latency data aimed at improving distribution asset utilisation failure detection, and facilitating consumer inclusion in energy markets. However: “Different market structures, regulatory drivers and benefit expectations create different ownership models for components of the AMI technology stack, which favour different technology solutions across the globe.”
The distributed nature of utility assets, combined with the need for more efficient asset management and labour use, makes mobility and supporting communication technologies high investment priority areas for utilities. The smart grid drive toward better observability of the distribution network requires machine-to-machine (M2M) monitoring systems.
Predictive analytics has become generally used to describe any approach to data mining with four attributes: an emphasis on prediction, rapid time to insight, an emphasis on the business relevance of the resulting insights and an increasing emphasis on ease of use, thus making the tools accessible to business users. According to Gartner, “Common applications include understanding the future failure patterns of equipment, or the likely load from certain customer groups or regions.”
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