Utility companies have led the way toward broader Internet of Things device usage, implementing some of the first networks of connected devices to monitor usage. While other sectors are just starting to install sensors and generate data, Internet of Things for utilities management has already successfully operated on standards-based networks for a number of years. Because of their experience, they are positioned to stay at the forefront of IoT innovation as devices become “smarter.”
According to Business Insider’s research, the global installed base of smart meters will increase from 450 million in 2015 to 930 million in 2020. The report predicts utility companies will save approximately $157 billion by 2035 as a result.
Connected utilities management
Traditionally, utility sensors sent data back to a central point for assessment and analysis by a human. But newer, smarter sensors are able to process information and make decisions instantly, often at the edge of the network. “Micro grids” are replacing the centralized model, spurred by greater demands for electricity, and the decentralized sectors are regulated in real time. This new “active grid” can function with increased agility and often have the capability to address smaller problems instantly, saving time and effort for repair crews and other personnel.
This increased connectivity and capability of field devices like smart meters, water sensors and synchrophasors (monitors that track electrical quantities) means that rather than sending data back to the company’s main office, it can be processed and analyzed within the edge devices.
Because edge devices are getting smarter, they are better equipped to communicate with other devices with differing functions. For example, sensors that monitor water quality, usage, and pressure might communicate with smart meters to alert the company and its customers if there is a problem. Leak detectors can provide instant notification of a water line problem, potentially saving money for the utility company and preserving environmental resources. Additionally, diversion detectors can track fluctuations in the flow of electricity, distinguishing potential theft from metered use. Real-time updates can also reduce costs for companies as sensors can provide information on how severe a problem is and if it warrants a site visit from a maintenance person.
Smart meters also have the potential to monitor usage more closely than older meters, issuing comprehensive reports that are helpful to customers and companies alike. Customers can access these reports online and compare their individual usage with previous months and city averages.
Analytics to drive decision-making
IoT technology in the utility sector greatly aids in collecting data and notifying the company and customer when there is a problem, but that data also has tremendous additional potential. To leverage the information, companies must take it to the analytics level. While smart devices lend sufficient intelligence to make immediate decisions at the edge of a network, pulling data back to the utility’s main office for big-picture analytics is important as well. Constantly assessing data related to usage, peak times, outages, and product quality helps companies gain insights into customer needs, make important decisions and find opportunities for improved services or new revenue streams.