5 New Year’s Resolutions for Utilities

Technology, Dev Tales, Horizon 2020

Like them or loath them, it’s the time of year for New Year’s resolutions. Even if resolution-making is not for you, it’s almost impossible not to reflect on the year that’s past and re-set your goals for the year to come.

In the utilities sector, 2019 was a year of change and we think that’s only going to accelerate in 2020. We’ve visited conferences around the world in 2019 and talked to people working in the energy industry from many different countries. One thing that seems universal is the urgency for innovation in the industry leading to the emergence of new directions for the sector.

Here are some ideas for New Year’s Resolutions for 2020 that will help utilities be at the forefront of these changes and enable them to make the most of the emerging trends.

1. Be Open to People with Different Attitudes and Backgrounds

    Innovation is happening so quickly in the energy sector that it is impossible for individual utility companies to keep up with every change. Being open to forming new partnerships is the only way to keep on top of the trends. It’s often a big cultural change for established utilities who are used to being self-sufficient but shifting from a competitive to a collaborative approach will bring returns in the long-term.

    Teaming up with other businesses and startups with specialist skills, is a way to introduce cutting-edge technology that has already been tried and tested. In this way, utilities can leapfrog the time-consuming and expensive period of developing new technologies from scratch.

    One of the routes to collaboration with other players in the energy sector is to become a platformed utility. This puts utilities at the center of an energy ecosystem, where data flows are integrated from a variety of sources such as Distributed Energy Resources (DERs), Smart Meters, IoT devices, Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations and even other utilities.

    Research shows that working with people from diverse backgrounds increases the rate of innovation. In a sector that is rapidly changing, the pooling of ideas from a variety of sources can only be beneficial.

    2. Say Hi to your Neighbors

    As we race around our day-to-day lives, we often don’t pay much attention to the things or people around us. Sometimes we can work in the same organization as someone, but in different departments for years without saying hi.

    2020 is the year for neighbors, Operational Technology (OT) and IT, to say hi to each other.

    OT plays a vital role for utilities in controlling business-critical processes and assets, frequently overseeing the systems that control the core grid functions. As it is so crucial to utilities, OT is traditionally isolated from the rest of the organization’s IT infrastructure for security reasons. Organizational barriers can also play a part in hindering the adoption of OT/IT integration.

    Yet siloed data flows hamper technological innovation. This is especially true with the potential innovations that emerging technologies, such as digital twins and the Internet of Things (IoT), could bring. Data is their lifeblood and getting the most from these technologies depends on integrated data flows.

    There are so many benefits to OT/IT integration that it is well worth overcoming the security concerns. We explored this in a recent blog,

    “OT/IT integration will lead to new revenue streams for utilities, due to two factors: 1) the creation of new business models and 2) happier customers who have their demands met.

    More importantly, it will unlock the full potential of data to transform utilities into smart, highly-connected organizations that will adapt well to the impending 4th Industrial Revolution.”

    In fact, we have solved the OT/IT integration conundrum by leveraging data diodes (or "unidirectional security gateway") connected to our digital integration platform Utilihive.

    3. Live in the Moment

    There are benefits of looking back and reflecting and (as we are doing now) re-setting goals for the future. However, as our heads flip between the past and the future, we often miss what’s happening in the present. It’s time to focus on what’s happening in the here and now – what’s happening in real-time.

    Today’s energy consumers are used to fast response times. Real-time data can provide the flexibility, energy efficiencies and improved customer services that are demanded of utilities today. The benefits of real-time data include, improving operational efficiencies and improving the service to customers by reducing the frequency and duration of power outages. Insights into a customer’s energy consumption can help to optimize their usage and even deliver customized energy plans.

    As the utilities sector turns increasingly to smart technology, utilities will be gathering an abundance of real-time data. The challenge will be to deliver real-time visibility, both to consumers through apps and to the utility companies themselves so they can identify service interruptions or equipment failures. Integration is essential for this to happen, both across the value chain and between OT and IT.

    For utilities to be successful in delivering real-time insights, establishing a data-driven culture, where data flows freely around an organization is a pre-requisite.

    4. Take more Time to Listen

      “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Said Epictetus.

      Very often we talk twice as much as we listen, but we learn much more by focusing on what people are really telling us.

      Utilities have frequently come from a monopoly supplier background. They have not had to listen to their customers; their job has been to deliver power to households and businesses. However, times have changed.

      “Customers are now leading innovation in the power sector both to save money and save the environment. It is consumers who are driving change in energy technology.”

      A recent survey of utility executives found that 94% think that customers increasingly compare the experience they receive from their utilities companies with that from tech-savvy service providers in other sectors.

      A key strength for utilities is the huge quantities for of data they hold. ‘Listening’ to this data makes utilities well placed to get closer to their customers and offer them the services they want. New technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data analytics offer the potential for personalized and tailored energy packages and services.

      5. Change Your Lifestyle to Reduce your Environmental Impact

        One of the stand-out features of 2019 was the global protests against climate change. A recently published scientific study concluded that, although the increase is slowing, CO2 emissions were still rising in 2019. The United States Environmental Protection Agency identifies the energy sector as being responsible for 35% of greenhouse gas emissions, while the EU has called for 32% of its energy to be produced by renewables by 2030.

        Power utilities are under pressure both from consumers and governments to introduce changes that will reduce CO2 emissions.

        The energy industry is rising to the challenge. In the U.S., renewable energy generation has doubled since 2008 and in 2017, renewable energy represented 17.5% of the energy consumed in the EU.

        However, reducing emissions is not only about transitioning to renewable energy sources. Reducing wasted energy is also a key component. Data driven smart grids and smart meters are essential to both increasing the energy sourced from renewables and increasing efficiency.

        The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the deployment of smart grids can cut the energy sector’s carbon emissions by 25%. Smart grids rely on data generated by technologies such as AI and the IoT and the ability to apply data analytics to gather insights from the data.

        The energy transition and the ability of utilities to cut CO2 emissions relies on utilities becoming digital organizations and using their data to generate insights.

        We hope we have given you some ideas for your New Year’s resolutions, or at least some food for thought so that you can re-set your utility’s goals for the year to come.

        The Greenbird team wish you an amazing and transformative 2020.

        Greenbird offers out-of-the-box system integration for utilities. We are a true DevOps company, delivering unique time-to-market and reliability. We were named a Gartner ‘Cool Vendor’ in 2018 because of our domain specific and flexible integration capabilities, crucial for creating easy-to-consume integrated solutions. Utilihive empowers utilities to manage their data flow faster and smoother than traditional system integration models while accelerating the journey towards the energy revolution. To learn how you can unleash the value of data while removing silos click here and request your copy of the Utilihive executive brief.