Smart utilities were once able to ensure grid security and reliability using a minimal amount of asset information from substations, RTUs, relays, transformers, meters, and lines. They relied on an overdesigned system that tolerated generous margins of error and strong redundancy. Now, however, utilities face growing pressure to maximize investments by efficiently managing physical assets as near to their physical limits as possible, using streamlined operations and dynamically adjusted settings. The crux is that while doing so requires information, utilities frequently struggle to collect data and convert it into information that can be integrated into systems and applications in ways that allow operators to make better decisions.
So how can utilities surmount these obstacles? They can start by adopting an Internet of Things (IoT) strategy. IoT is a network of physical objects or “things” that contain technology to send and receive data. This allows organizations to gather a multitude of data that can be used for many purposes including asset management. A critical piece of this strategy is building cooperation among departments. Traditionally, IT managed information for humans, such as billing systems and workforce management tools, while Operations Technology (OT) controlled data for machines, such as relay positions and metering data. IT and OT operated as distinct domains controlled by separate corporate resources. This framework is now changing as OT systems are now connected through recognizable Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to the same networks as IT resources.
IoT, IT-OT convergence, and the proliferation of big data allow a new level of asset management efficiency. Utilities can make decisions about their systems based on the actual capacities of their assets because they now have real-time knowledge of the condition of their assets. For example, advanced metering and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms help customer service representatives troubleshoot common problems using local data, such as allowing a representative to confirm the type of outage a caller is experiencing. This communication between the utility and its customers also provides the opportunity for utilities to introduce energy incentive programs that encourage customers to change their energy usage to off-peak times – easing the burden on the grid and its assets.
IoT also offers cost-saving opportunities for maintenance programs. Routine maintenance programs are a time-consuming process for grid managers. By integrating connected hardware and software applications into the network, the performance of equipment in the field can be measured remotely using a central control panel. New technology also extends to asset management through predictive asset monitoring. Predictive models built from data can assist in identifying weakened assets, which can then be proactively replaced, saving time and money by avoiding unplanned outages.
IoT, big data, and IT-OT integration are driving huge changes in asset management programs. It’s important for utilities to explore these technological advances in order to understand their benefits and avoid wasted investment or exponential growth of maintenance costs.
To learn more, read this ebook full of relevant content for smart utilities, Powering an Always-On World.