The business challenges that the power utility industry see today are dynamic and regionally diverse.
The utility service model is evolving to more effectively integrate new distributed resources while better serving customer bases that have a growing interest in energy consumption and service provider quality.
The impact on the utility industry creates opportunities to transform operating processes while evolving the prevailing business models with new value centers. At the same time, utilities are under pressure to reduce costs, streamline operations and meet more stringent state and national regulations in security and environmental goals. By strengthening the information and communications technologies (ICT) in the grid, the power of a smart grid shapes the future capabilities of utility infrastructure and services. Today, and in the future, the power utility industry
is driven by business imperatives that are enduring for the next decade and longer.
Industry Drivers for Power Utilities
Globally, power utilities operate in diverse market conditions with varying levels of government regulation, economic growth, and infrastructure maturity. With a global perspective in mind, what are the shared industry drivers leading to utility technology investments? The following provides a summary perspective.
• Increasing asset utilization: In markets with mature utility businesses, the need for more efﬁcient operations is a key business driver for future technology investment. Generation capacity, for example, is driving utilization rates higher by running plants longer and harder, increasing operating levels from 70-75% (common in the Asia region and developing countries) to 80% peak maximum output (common in North America, Europe and industrialized countries).
• Optimizing grid operations: The smart grid enables efficient power delivery that is sorely needed to reduce levels of standby generation and improve peak period constraints. Equipment sensing and control have been available for decades. However, as a manual decision process, results are limited to only the most critical equipment. Grid optimization relies on automation through an expanding grid’s edge of smart devices and robust networks and made possible through analytics using real-time and near real-time grid data. Optimization technologies are essential to manage the inherent intermittency of distributed energy resources, which are proliferating globally.
• Improving reliability: Reliability improvement goals partly drive investments in grid infrastructure for more stable generation to faster recovering distribution equipment. The case for smart grid investments to improve reliability is backed by the desire to create a satisfied customer, both commercial and residential. In some regions, like parts of coastal Europe, recent investments for reliability are driven by historically powerful storms. In other areas, like developing countries with growing tourism economies, reliable service improves the customer experience.
• Managing demand: Utilities have a keen interest to manage the demand side to economically and efficiently maintain grid balance and operating parameters during peak times. While consumer inﬂuence on the utility business is multifaceted, utilities are involving consumers with more options to curtail and shape usage patterns at the home with networked smart meters and intelligent in-home controls. At the same time, consumers are increasingly purchasing distributed energy resources (DER) such as solar arrays and electric vehicles.
• Energy savings and reduced green house emissions: State and country green house gas emission regulations continue to place higher but attainable goals. A proportionate share is falling on the utilities to seek solutions to support emission targets and increasingly a mix of solutions are used to offset generation including consumer demand management, capacity demand response and distribution optimization.
To meet the imperatives that these industry drivers catalyze, the utility relies on using a mix of business systems and control systems to support the fundamental utility processes in operations, customer service & marketing, ﬁnance and (wholesale) market operations. Building upon that infrastructure with innovative technologies, these systems must be able to adapt to new business realities. Let’s take a look at the innovative technology developments trending in the power utilities industry.
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