How technology is helping utility companies transform

If technology has its way, your energy bill will be reduced significantly over the next few years — and the environment will be saved.
24 September 2018

With support from drones, AI can help utility companies find faults. Source: Shutterstock

In an age where everyone is looking to conserve the natural resources of the Earth, utility companies are in a unique position.

Using new age digital tools, utility companies can transform how they run their business — which not only generates short-term savings and accrues long-term environmental benefits but also enhances the customer experience (CX).

“Today’s [utility] companies need to keep up with changing customer expectations. Data and new technologies help them do that quite effectively,” said IBM’s VP for Environment, Energy & Utility Brad Gammons.

What’s most exciting is that these utility companies, if local legislations approve, can collect and analyze a great deal of data from customers — individuals and businesses.

That data is the fundamental building block of modern technologies such as big data and analytics, cloud services, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and is facilitated by virtual reality, drones, and the internet of things (IoT).

Understanding the role of new-age technology

There’s a lot that technology can do for today’s utility companies — from combining data from the environment, the market, and the customer to create models that maximize capacity utilization to using AI to manage load in real-time.

However, in most utility businesses today, AI is the technology that seems to have the greatest potential — although a combination of technologies is needed to create a solution said Gammons.

Take physical infrastructure for example. It’s the greatest asset of a utility company. Now, if they use IoT to track and monitor its state and structural integrity or use drones to capture video footage that AI-engines can review, then maintenance becomes infinitesimally easier — and effective.

“AI opens a wide range of exciting possibilities for utilities but the changes will not be simple. Early evidence suggests AI can deliver real value to serious adopters, but current uptake outside of the tech sector remains low,” said SAP Utilities Industry Solutions Advisor Gavin Mooney.

In the UK, for example, Google is working with the National Grid on an ambitious project that leverages AI to balance energy supply and demand across the nation. The project is expected to shave 10 percent off the power bill nationwide.

On the other hand, GE is using machine learning to build a new digital wind farm. The project, according to the company’s analysts and managers, has the potential to increase energy production by as much as 20 percent, creating around US$100 million in additional revenues over the wind turbine’s lifetime.

“But don’t forget the CX. AI can also help utility companies build chatbots — an important tool — something that significantly transforms how these companies interact and engage with their customers,” said Gammons.

There’s no doubt that new technologies have a key role to play in the digital transformation of utility companies. Leaders are only limited by their imagination.