Digital disruption in electricity, water and gas utilities. The utility sector is at a turning point as digitization is now an unstoppable force that brings significant economic advantage to those that embrace it.
The permanent shift to renewables and natural gas for power generation, for example, gives electricity companies the chance to build automation into new networks and platforms and complement base load with near real-time data-driven decision making.
Off-grid and hybrid-grid power generation and distribution systems also disrupt traditional pricing models by allowing on-demand distribution of energy-as-a-service.
These issues also affect the water sector, where energy is typically 30% of water utility costs. Water scarcity is, of course, a worsening problem, as the ongoing crisis in Cape Town shows. The United Nations has warned that nearly half the global population could be facing water shortages by 2030.
Australia, China, India and many of their Asian neighbors are at severe risk, which also has implications for the power sector, where water is used for cooling. Pundits see the possibility of water being traded as a commodity in the future, as energy is today.
Urban gas services are also beset by challenges as they balance energy demand and supply. Individual gas meters built into walls require manual reading are very expensive to manage. What’s more, residential and commercial gas networks laid across Asia and into densely populated buildings are now in some cases 50-60 years old and susceptible to leaks, posing a significant danger to communities.
The gas market itself is becoming contestable, with data as a differentiator for market disrupters.
The Internet of Things (IoT) offers a way for utilities to manage these challenges.
n the gas sector, for example, smart meters allow more frequent and accurate meter reading to enhance profitability and customer satisfaction, while pipelines can be monitored for leaks, corrosion and other problems, mitigating serious safety issues.
Furthermore, utilities can use their data analytics to offer high-value energy-management services to help industrial and commercial customers reduce consumption and expand their energy options.
Belgium’s Water-link presents us with a business case for the water sector. Supplying drinking water to more than 650,000 residents across the city of Antwerp and surrounds, it is now installing more than 200,000 smart water meters to eliminate the need for on-site meter reading. This saves a month in manpower each year, plus related cost, and helps the utility understand and respond to its users to boost customer satisfaction.
The new system also provides accurate real-time data to improve water management and resource allocation throughout the year. And, it detects pipeline failures and leaks to enable fast fixes and preventative maintenance.