A quick look at how IoT technologies are transforming utilities…
The utility sector was among the first industries to experience the impacts of the Internet of Things. As smart meter deployments gained prominence around the time of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the utility sector initiated a large-scale move toward intelligent grid operations.
When the dust settles on grid modernization, the market for IoT solutions in utility settings will have climbed at a compound annual growth rate of 20.4 percent for the period of 2015 through 2020, a MarketsandMarkets study found.
The IoT has been transforming the utility industry by giving power companies access to data that they would not have been able to obtain easily in the past. As a result, utilities have been able to pinpoint specific problem areas, including renewables integration and frequency regulations, to address as they dig deeper into IoT use. Over time, diverse capabilities could form a fully connected, IoT-enabled grid, something that is no longer a pipe dream but is not entirely realized. However, there are three tiers of technology innovation that are making these possibilities a reality:
Tier 1: Utility-level IoT management:
Keeping track of diverse connected devices while making data from those systems actionable for teams in the office and in the field isn’t exactly easy. What’s more, these types of data-driven operations are far out of the core competency range for most utilities, as power companies have traditionally stuck with highly secure technology methods that don’t pave the way for simple data sharing. Because of this, an entire ecosystem of specialty companies has emerged to support large-scale IoT use across the sector. A couple of leaders in this space are:
Silver Spring Networks: This IoT leader is focused on helping utilities go beyond simple smart meter deployments by creating systems that unify IoT functionality across multiple applications.
OSIsoft: Focused on helping utilities glean value from data, OSIsoft emphasizes enterprise-wide utility IoT deployments that bring diverse data sets together to improve utility decision-making and allow power companies to take advantage of emerging solutions.
Tier 2: Energy storage:
Lauded as the key silver bullet in the effort to integrate renewables into the utility, energy storage is critical in the move toward grid modernization. Very simply, wind and solar power generation resources are variable in nature, and therefore inherently unreliable unless excess power can be stored and applied across the grid. Leading energy storage systems combine advanced batteries with processing functionality and IoT devices to allow for robust grid integration. Two top energy storage companies include:
Tesla and Johnson Controls: Both Tesla and Johnson Controls share a similar heritage – a foundation in automotive batteries – and a common focus – building-level energy storage. Utility-scale storage isn’t beyond their reach, however. Tesla is particularly notable for its battery manufacturing efforts, while Johnson Controls has been getting recent attention for a deal to provide energy storage for a new NBA arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Tier 3: Home energy management:
Major upgrades to the grid are happening, in large part, due to a societal need for more efficient, reliable power. As such, utility innovation needs to be accompanied by gains in the home. The IoT has been rising in the consumer sector for a while now, and home energy management solutions are already emerging. In most cases, this innovation is coming from three key sectors:
Device manufacturers: Smart appliances, thermostats, and similar solutions are increasingly being integrated into home energy management systems. A nest is leading the charge here, but there are plenty of other players getting in the game.
Security companies: ADT is a shining example of this trend as security companies take their know-how from connected cameras and apply them to the home.
The utility industry may be the closest thing we have to a mature IoT sector, and if there’s one lesson we can learn from utilities, it’s that solving specific problems is often the first step into much deeper IoT investments.