How Modern Utilities Harness the Power of the IoT

iotThe Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) is a subset of the quickly growing Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT is the entire collection of internet-connected devices throughout the world, including smartphones, cars, smart home equipment, connected security systems, robots, and household appliances.

The IIoT refers to internet-connected devices used in industrial settings in industries like manufacturing, aviation, and logistics. Both the IoT and the IIoT use a combination of other technologies, including sensors, edge computing, big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and standard or custom software. These technologies make possible data collection, distribution, and analysis that can be very useful for a wide variety of applications.

The electric utility industry is beginning to realize the benefits of the IIoT for maintaining electrical equipment, making the power grid more secure, and managing distributed energy resources (DERs), which are sources of power generation other than the utilities themselves.

Greater Efficiency

Energy efficiency is highly important for power utilities. The more efficient energy can be deployed, the more these companies can lower their costs, passing the savings on to customers and helping the environment along the way. Utilities use a range of methods for increasing efficiency, including encouraging customers to purchase efficient appliances, use efficiency devices in the home, and engage in time-of-day energy use and other types of self-monitoring programs.

IIoT technology can help electric utilities more efficiently manage assets, or power distribution equipment. Service to customers improves when these companies can know when it’s time to purchase new equipment rather than waiting until something breaks down. Power equipment can be outfitted with sensors that relay information about the assets to a maintenance manager who deploys field crews as needed.

The ability to detect, and even predict, equipment failure results in a higher-performing electricity delivery system that costs less for utilities and, therefore, customers. This approach also helps with the planning process so maintenance professionals can be proactive about managing equipment.

Better Security

Another critical concern for utilities is security. Within the security industry, attacks on power systems are well-known and highly concerning. They include the Russian attack on the power systems in Kiev, Ukraine in 2016, and another on U.S soil, a Denial of Service (DoS) attack on power grid control systems in Utah, Wyoming, and California in 2019.

The hard truth is that internet-connected power equipment will always be vulnerable to cyberattacks. The more utilities and other types of companies use IoT and IIoT devices, the more points of entry are made available to hackers. However, the distributed nature of the IIoT can also be a benefit. POWER Magazine states, “When there are no single points of failure, fault-tolerance increases dramatically.”

Better security means an improvement in what the utility industry calls resiliency – that is, the ability for companies to continue delivering power consistently over time. While the goal is a complete smart grid, the current grid can become smarter by installing IIoT components on legacy devices as part of an ongoing modernization effort.

Improved Management

One of the biggest recent changes in the power industry is the introduction of DERs. While customers can now, in theory, produce all their own electricity using solar panels or other means, utilities still have a role to play. Utilities can use their size and budget to help customers integrate DERs into the existing power grid, providing both parties with flexibility in energy distribution and use.

DERs include rooftop solar panels, wind power, and even electric vehicles (EVs). As these energy sources become a bigger part of the entire energy delivery system, the method of energy delivery must change as well. The grid of the past was pretty simple: energy was delivered by utilities to homes and businesses. Now, these customers can provide the energy they don’t use back to the utility and even share it between themselves.

IIoT technology can help simplify this system with sensors that transmit data back and forth to determine when energy transfer should take place. According to Electric Energy Online, “IIoT sensors and actuators, designed to consume little power and use the Internet for communication, can be deployed very fast, most of the time without causing disruption to the grid, and without having to build a communication infrastructure to support them.”

In Summary

Electric utilities are in the process of moving from the original power grid, built in the 1800s for one-way power transmission, to a smart grid that allows for two-way communication and power flow between themselves and their customers. The IIoT offers state-of-the-art technology to help evolve in that direction, resulting in a power delivery system that is more efficient, more secure, and better able to manage the realities of today’s energy exchange system.

While the IIoT is still new and has some issues to be worked out, the benefits of this technology — including greater efficiency, reduced costs, higher security, and improved energy management — outweigh the risks.