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3 Ways the IoT Improves the Utilities Industry

Le Toan - via Unsplash

The Internet of Things, or IoT, has been around since the 1990s. However, it didn't get much recognition until much later in its existence. Currently, it's implemented in almost every business decision and has become a source for vast amounts of information. Any industry can find useful information in the IoT, and one that's improving a lot from this data is utilities.

The utility industry's main goal is to maintain public infrastructure while providing the service it's there for. Everything from electricity to water to sewage goes under the utility umbrella, but they haven't seen much impact from IoT until recently. Utilities have been a part of civilization as far back as societies have formed, so bringing in the IoT sounds like it could make things more complicated. In actuality, the IoT can streamline things and finally create modern infrastructure for our technological world.

1. Water and Energy Efficiency

Our waste in utilities is staggering. This doesn't mean literal trash, but in the services we need but don't use. We lose a lot of water to pipe leaks, bursts, theft and inaccurate meters. We also waste more than double the amount of energy we use every year. It's such a big problem that many different sectors, from corporations to cities, have teamed up to find a way to combat this issue.

It turns out that the issue can only really be tackled at the distribution level. Without a way to know exactly how much everyone needs, it's hard to distribute what's needed. Thankfully, the IoT has given us enough information that we can accurately measure how much water and electricity is required in different areas. The more efficient use in our utilities can cause a waterfall of surplus throughout other sectors, too, allowing for a better economy all around.

2. Consumption and Conservation

Putting efficient measures in place at the distribution end is wonderful and important, but this does not address the consumer's end. The problems of burst pipes and theft are still very relevant, even with the extra knowledge. However, knowing about the problem is half the battle, especially when it can be fixed. With more help from the IoT, the whole system can become as efficient as possible.

The most important component after the IoT itself is the equipment used to measure our data. Products like smart meters, smart thermostats and other AI-enabled technology that can judge information for itself is integral to getting precise information into the IoT. A smart energy grid helps with the flow of electricity and increases efficiency. There's something to be said for the amount of money it would take in upfront costs to update infrastructure. However, it should be looked at as more of an investment than anything.

3. Find Patterns and Make Predictions

Having the numbers certainly helps, but we don't know the future until things happen. What we do have is information to make a good guess of what may occur on the horizon. Disastrous, sudden events can't really be accounted for except in separate incident planning, but day-to-day operations should be fairly predictable.

Most of the predictions lie in the customers and area the utilities are based in. Consumer behaviors will show in your data, like if they water their lawns regularly or if they have gardens that need extra hydration. The area is just as much a factor, though. Storms, reoccurring natural events like floods and earthquakes, climate models and local weather forecasts can help the utility industry get an idea of what to expect. The only downside is that this is a job that never rests and is constantly changing.

Integrations

For the IoT to work as intended, it has to be a part of every aspect. There's a lot of potential to be had from the IoT, but not a lot of data can be garnered if there's little information to gain. Implementing sensors and other smart equipment will help immensely to set this up. However, money is always going to be an issue. It's vital, then, for the utility industry to include IoT development and use in its budget

We all have to start somewhere. Even if you start using the IoT with the infrastructure and equipment you currently have, you should see a rise in efficiency and lower waster numbers in no time. This could save money and leave the door open to better equipment in the future, which will result in even more money down the road. The cycle will just keep going to bigger and better things so long as we work smarter instead of harder.

With the IoT, we can turn any sector into a more efficient version of itself and make room for the future. That's what the utility industry needs to focus on.

Megan Nichols's picture

Thank Megan for the Post!

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 6, 2019 9:47 pm GMT

With the IoT, we can turn any sector into a more efficient version of itself and make room for the future. That's what the utility industry needs to focus on

Couldn't agree more-- IoT has quickly gone from 'nice to have' to 'necessary in order to have any chance at keeping up.' The utility of the past decade will quickly make us wonder how we ever did it without the AI, connectivity, and other tech the IoT is bringing

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 7, 2019 12:18 am GMT

Curious Matt - how is IoT necessary for you to "have any chance at keeping up"? What are you trying to keep up with?

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 9, 2019 12:51 pm GMT

The ability to collect and process utility data and empower both customers and the energy providers with that data is the current revolution undergoing the industry. This trend will make efficient matching of supply and demand at optimal prices more optimal, IoT devices allow utilities to respond to issues and outages more expediently, increasing the abilities of the smart grid and DER installations, etc. I certainly wouldn't want to be a customer of a utility that was ignoring the possibilities already in the works with IoT

Alan King's picture
Alan King on Sep 11, 2019 10:49 pm GMT

Another area for the energy industry to keep up with is cost pressure, to run smarter operations that drives investment decisions on technologies such as IoT. From the regulator through to the consumer, both want to see savings, coupled with the press reporting the topic pitched against industry peers.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 12, 2019 1:41 pm GMT

It's a unique market with those who don't live in deregulated areas not being able to threaten to leave their utilities if they don't meet their demand, but you bring up a good point that the pressure comes from press coverage and comparison with other utilities anyway

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