Smart, Internet-connected devices are transforming the utilities industry. From real-time incident response and automated load and distribution management to enhanced consumer-centric offerings, IoT-enabled systems can gather data, provide insights, automate processes, save time, and lower costs all across different utility service value chains. Here we explore trends we see in utilities and the energy sector and the increasingly important role of IoT in these industries.
What Is the IoT?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a global network of physical objects that are connected to the Internet. Wearables, vehicles, buildings, home appliances, and industrial systems outfitted with embedded sensors, software, and network connectivity can gather data from given endpoints and transfer that data for analysis without any human interaction. This allows organizations to quickly, easily, safely, and cost-effectively gather vast amounts of data which can then be analyzed and used to guide decision-making.
With the right tools and applications in place, organizations can gather important operational and environmental data that can help them uncover trends, extract insights, discover new opportunities, and improve efficiency – all while lowering costs and enhancing user experiences.
IoT Applications in the Utilities and Energy Spaces
In the utilities and energy spaces, IoT-enabled devices can gather operational and/or environmental data and send it back to a central monitoring system or platform to then determine the optimal course of action – for example, initiating an on-site visit by a technician, ordering a replacement part, or stocking up on fuel. Here are a few examples of how and where we see this happening.
Surveying and Predictive Maintenance
IoT devices installed anywhere – from substations and hydroelectric dams to supply lines – can reduce inspection and assessment costs while enabling predictive maintenance, thanks to better tracking of device and machine usage over time. Sensors installed in the right places can spare technicians from having to survey or assess systems or networks in dangerous and hard-to-reach locations.
Power Management and Conservation
Real-time monitoring of electrical consumption can help power companies generate and distribute power based on demand. Furthermore, users (whether private consumers or large corporations) can better manage energy usage with smart appliances and devices. For example, consumers can remotely turn off their home thermostats to restrict energy usage, and utility companies can use consumption data to incentivize better usage behavior to promote energy conservation.
Smart sensors in water management facilities can gather data on water pressure, temperature, quality, and consumption. Leaks and other issues can also be more easily identified and more quickly addressed than would be possible manually.
Related: IoT Applications in Waste and Wastewater Management
Supply Chain and Logistics
Trucks and shipping containers outfitted with location sensors or RFID tags can make it easier to track shipments and cargo and improve scheduling. Procurement and planning can also be improved for oil and gas companies in the same way while helping these organizations avoid bottlenecks and shortages while better handling supply crunches and demand spikes.
Key Characteristics of Effective IoT Systems
There are a few items that utility and energy companies should consider for their IoT networks if they are to efficiently and effectively provide services and manage costs over the long term.
Firstly, what kinds of communication are required? Frequent vs. infrequent communication will determine whether continuous vs. long-term battery power can be used. While legacy smart meters in the electrical space rely on cellular technologies such as GSM, 4G, 5G, and LTE, water and gas companies have different needs. As these new players deploy meters throughout their networks, we see newer LPWA technologies such as LTE-M and NB-IoT increasingly in use since they have low energy requirements and can reach underground devices.
Related: NB-IoT: Functionalities and Applications
Next, device and sensor installation must be easy and cost-effective. Today’s best-in-class smart metering devices have a lifespan of 20 years or more and can withstand environmental conditions such as high and low temperatures, vibrations, corrosion, and changes in humidity or pressure. These are important considerations for different industries, such as particularly pressure and temperature for oil and gas companies.
Your IoT devices must be efficient and future-proof as well. Executing a network-wide revamp every few years to upgrade your systems is not feasible, so your devices and networks should be able to adapt to new technologies over their lifespan, easily integrate with legacy technologies, and support over-the-air/remote upgrades.
Finally, your devices must come with in-built data security and fraud prevention measures, including time-restricted or biometric access, data lockdowns upon unauthorized access, and sandboxing from other devices and/or networks to prevent lateral attacks against the entire network.
IoT Business Decisions in the Short and Long Term
Utility and energy companies must understand the following short and long-term trends unfolding in the IoT space before embarking on new IoT initiatives.
Short-term IoT investments typically focus on compliance, efficiency, and conservation. Issues such as access and sustainability have had a major impact on business investments in smart grids and networks, and direct communication links to end-users have created new business opportunities for organizations – something we see happening in the electric vehicle and smart home segments. Understanding customer needs and adjusting business strategies in the short term to overcome obstacles is an important first step to take before transforming into an IoT-powered services provider.
Over the longer term, utility and energy companies must understand that existing grids will need to be updated to handle increased demand, and near real-time data collection will be required to facilitate cost-effective electrical generation and distribution. Depending on your industry, the type of services your organization provides, and your needs for connectivity and other services from external parties, you may need to invest in private networks or roll out better customer-facing applications that will, for example, make it easier for them to understand consumption patterns and for you to manage billing.
Similarly, over the long run, utility and energy companies may wish to invest in value-added services such as mobile visualization that can reduce the reliance on paper documentation, as well as automated response handling solutions to ensure that technicians who are sent to the field have the data and tools they need to quickly resolve customer issues. Similar opportunities for enhancing efficiency, lowering costs, and improving customer service metrics exist in the fields of fraud detection, risk mitigation, cargo tracking, and contractor/vendor compliance.
Smart metering for electricity, water, and gas has long been the main use case for IoT applications in the utility space, but industrial players are increasingly looking for new opportunities to leverage the IoT to lower costs, reduce times to market, improve customer service, manage maintenance, and automate processes.
Depending on your industry and use cases in specific verticals you operate in, our Kajeet Utilities Solution Specialists can consult with you to identify the right IoT solution for your needs.
Kajeet provide private cellular network access for utility companies, as well as threat protection, security and control regarding usage, open APIs for easy integration with your existing platforms, and customization options that can help us tailor your system to your exact needs. Contact us today to speak with a member of our team.