Tech-keen utilities firms ready to embrace 5G

74 percent of utilities firms are planning to spend on 5G in the next five years.
28 November 2019

Drone with thermal camera for inspecting high voltage lines. Source: Shutterstock

Facing pressure to become more sustainable, cut costs to remain competitive, and provide enhanced customer experiences, the utilities sector is one of the most eager when it comes to adopting emerging technologies to provide differentiators.

A staggering 75 percent of this industry— which comprises water, energy firms, and even sewage services— are early adopters of new technologies, according to a new report Driving a Trusted Future in a Radically Changing World by Fujitsu. And that can include anything from artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing, drone technology, and robotics.

In the UK, the National Grid is working with Google’s machine learning product DeepMind to forecast supply and demand in energy, with aims to reduce 10 percent of national energy usage. Offshore wind farms in the North Sea, meanwhile, are exploring how autonomous drones can be used to make repairs in high-risk situations.

Overall, more than a third of utility companies are embracing AI (35 percent) and 3D printing (36 percent), while blockchain solutions and robotics are being employed by 34 percent respectively.

Ready for 5G

Far from shy investors in the potential of new technology, 5G technology presents the next grounds for potential innovation for utilities firms, and the vast majority (74 percent) are planning to spend on 5G-enabled solutions in the next five years.

In the water industry, predictive maintenance— based on data fed back from IoT sensors— has become an established method of avoiding downtime and maximizing efficiency, and 5G could level-up the speed and quantity of data volumes fed back from systems. It can also enable more enhanced abilities for automated inspection by sensors and devices. 

The speed and latency offered by 5G could see further adoption of drone technology to facilitate inspections where it is unsafe or costly for humans to do so. Drones could eliminate the need for the inspection of power lines with helicopters, for example, and could stream footage of a site live to a team of engineers, rather than just one.

Data gathered from multiple endpoints will enhance the Research and Development (R&D) of organizations, leading teams to focus on automation in maintenance. Thus, improving customer services and higher satisfaction. 

One example would be providing wider coverage and access to remote areas. Smart planning and management of utility infrastructure enables both public and private sectors to reach out to demographics with unreliable access to water or electricity. 

Moreover, technological advancement has been contributed to the progression of off-grid energy in emerging markets. Based on the current development, the majority (85 percent) of leaders in utilities are optimistic about future developments brought about by technology.

However, they also acknowledge that customer’s acceptance towards change is a challenge that needs to be addressed before further integration.