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5 Big Trends in Utility Technology for 2019

© Alexandersikov | Dreamstime.com

While utilities are using any number of technologies to deliver power and to support customers, the following five stand out as having great potential to influence the industry in the coming year.

1. Apps

Utilities are using, and will continue to use, apps in countless meaningful ways – both for backend operations and for customer service:

  • In emergencies, first responders are accessing communication and reporting tools for, improving safety and response time.
  • Crew managers are taking advantage of tracking tools to increase maintenance and repair crew efficiency.
  • Repair crews are using mapping tools to create a visual representation of equipment, speeding up and simplifying maintenance processes.
  • Maintenance crews are referencing repair guides, creating an instantaneous knowledge base during field operations.
  • Consumers and prosumers are using meter reading scanners to improve their energy efficiency.
  • Customers pay bills, get help, and activate or deactivate services using interfaces designed to walk them through these tasks.

2. Artificial Intelligence

While many utilities already use artificial intelligence (AI) in one form or another, usage is likely to grow in the coming months. According to Gavin Mooney, writing for Digitalist Magazine, AI can be used for a number of backend functions, including load forecasting, yield optimization, predictive maintenance, demand management, and energy theft prevention. In addition, writes Mooney, “AI can…transform the user experience” with applications like customer insights, energy trading, and virtual agents. Finally, states Mooney, AI-based programs for customers can help them select the appropriate energy retailer, or learn details about their own energy use.

3. Drones

Though still relatively new on the scene, drones are quickly becoming indispensable for utilities, especially as the technology improves. “Recently, drones have become vastly more affordable and high-tech,” writes Henry Craver for Energy Central. “Newer models fly farther and longer, take crystal clear images, shoot 4k video, and can even include infrared scanners.” Utilities can accomplish numerous tasks using drones, including the following:

  • Collect data that can be used in conjunction with AI (see above) for a variety of functions
  • Perform dangerous tasks previously performed by humans, increasing worker safety
  • Monitor equipment construction, and identify any challenges before they worsen
  • Monitor the condition of existing equipment, enabling repairs prior to equipment failure
  • Map vegetation to determine where it needs to be addressed

4. Internet of Things

The energy industry may be one of those that could be most improved by the growing Internet of Things (IoT), which is set to thrive in 2019. With the help of IoT devices, “suddenly there is an influx of data streaming into the utility that they can harness to make decisions,” writes James McClelland for Digitalist Magazine. For example, companies can utilize home automation to monitor consumer use, then adjust access as necessary. They can gather information on how to deliver services, manage infrastructure, and continue to meet consumer needs.”

Further, sensors placed strategically throughout the grid could help personnel identify equipment problems, or even predict them before they happen, enabling utilities to resolve these issues before they worsen, or before costly equipment must be replaced.

In addition, IoT technology can help integrate distributed energy resources (DERs) into the existing grid, and enable suppliers of these resources to play a larger role in energy provision, including demand spike management.

5. Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) is one of the valuable outputs derived from using analytics to process big data input. It can be used to create visual overlays on photos to create helpful images. For example, a photo of grid equipment could be overlaid with measurements, product numbers, maintenance history, or other data to guide maintenance and repair crews in the field. In the case of damaged parts, “the field technician can immediately order the correct parts and mobilize the crew with the specific skills needed for repair work,” according to Ron Chebra, writing for Electric Light & Power. “That simple act will expedite repairs and power restoration much faster than a manual response does today.”  

Data presented in this way could be especially valuable as younger, inexperienced utility professionals begin to replace those with more institutional knowledge as they retire.

While this list could just as easily be 10 or 20 trends, including blockchain, chatbots, edge and fog computing, big data, analytics, and many more, the five listed here have significant potential to enhance, and even transform, utility business in 2019.

What technologies seem especially promising for your utility in 2019? Please share in the comments.

Image Credit: ID 99872833 © Alexandersikov | Dreamstime.com

Karen Marcus's picture

Thank Karen for the Post!

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