Utilities will have to take intelligent decisions in terms of providing, managing and sustaining themselves in the wake of copious amounts of data that get generated by smart grids of the future. Analytics will play a fundamental role in grid asset maintenance and optimisation.
In an exclusive interaction with INFRASTRUCTURE TODAY in New Delhi, Francois Vazille, Vice President, Japan & Pacific (JAPAC), Oracle Utilities says, 'Utilities will have to identify the tools that they need to implement in order to take advantage of technologies such as smart metres, and network and voltage management systems. Because of the application of Internet of Things (IoT), you are going to have a lot more field and energy devices.' In this regard, what will be important is how the data aggregated by sensors is utilised to facilitate effective and proactive decision-making. Vazille points out that a beginning has already been made in this direction. 'Scheduling of proactive maintenance of some of the assets during business hours helps improve network reliability and efficiency of utilities,' he observes.
Three core areas of digitalisation; headcount reductions inevitable According to Vazille, ongoing digitalisation is an important link in the evolution of utilities. 'The process is active in three areas. The first one is transformation of information technology through increased use of analytics. If utilities wish to take advantage of data and add value to businesses dependent on them, they have to get the right tools and technology to capture data for analysis. The data must then be transformed into meaningful actions that executives within utilities can implement.' remarks Vazille.
The second change would be at the workplace. 'With digitalisation, you are going to have massive improved access to information, new business processes, better integration and automation. All this is going to completely change the way utilities work,' he says. This is likely to result in reduction of workers managing infrastructure, both on-site and off-site. New technology would provide many new ways of understanding a fault in a grid and sending the most appropriately-trained person to rectify it,' adds Vazille.
However, it is the anticipation of the third shift that excites Vazille the most. And that is the transformation of the customer experience. 'Utilities will have to look at deploying new digital capabilities to go deeper into customer engagement. Of course, that would all be through different channels,' opines Vazille. 'You will start comparing how you use energy versus your neighbour who uses the same wattage of power on similar types of kits, but still manages to use 20 per cent lesser units than you do. You will be able to add some comparison point and then influence the community on how to best leverage the use of electricity,' he says.
In an Oracle blog post, Vazille defines this process as transformation enabled by smart grid technologies that provide utilities with automation, self-healing, remote monitoring and control, and more as being vital to the evolution of the modern utilities.
Problem of information overload
A few domain experts have suggested that new sources of energy and increased monitoring of ageing grids are creating an abundance of data silos. Consequently, apprehensions are raised that this might make a smooth transition to customer-centric grids extremely challenging. But Vazille sees this as an evolution.
'Yes, there is ageing infrastructure. Yes, there are new sources of energy that are going to be leveraged. But they are not going to meet 100 per cent of the demand. Because on days when there is no sun or wind, you will still need the traditional power plants to be active,' he said. In his opinion, this challenge will be best understood along the way, as new smart grids of solar and wind power plants get launched progressively.
India making right moves
When asked if the rapid urbanisation taking place in India has placed the country at an advantage over developed western economies as far as smart infrastructure solutions are concerned, Vazille replied that though several cities in the developed world have not added new infrastructure in years, they do understand the need for change. Although they might not have received the same energetic push that the drive for smart cities has received in India, major changes are taking place across most countries.
In Japan, for instance, Oracle is assisting with the deregulation of gas and electric utilities. Similarly, since markets in Australia and the US are already quite mature, one does not witness significant changes happening there, as that of what is happening in India presently. 'India is in a fantastic position. You have got a very strong will at the government level to support modernisation. Moreover, some of your private utilities are introducing the world's best practices here. And you have global thought leaders coming here to support those initiatives,' he asserted.
Vazille feels that upgradation of India's ageing utilities infrastructure with high levels of aggregated technical and commercial losses is one of the biggest challenges the country is facing. He is keen to enhance Oracle's participation in the country's transition to smart grids.
- Manish Pant