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Expert Speaks | November 2017

Smart Grids will boost efficiency of utilities

<span style="font-weight: bold;">Francois Vazille, Vice President, Japan &amp; Pacific (JAPAC), Oracle Utilities</span> <p></p> <p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">What are the disruptions underway in the utilities space?</span><br /> There are the two aspects with smart grids that are changing the industry. India is definitely moving towards implementing a smart and sustainable system. I want you to see smart grids in terms of their application in the Internet of things (IoT) technology. You need to have smart sensors and a two-way communication, and most importantly, analytics. The key to that is we continue to gather data.</p> <p>As a smart grid will generate a lot of data, utilities should be able to make more meaningful decisions in terms of investments in how they provision to manage and sustain the grid based on understanding the information generated and its utilisation.</p> <p> Therefore, analytics is going to be fundamental in maintaining their infrastructure. For example, in carrying out proactive maintenance and grid asset mainten-ance to optimise productivity. The utilities will have to identify the tools that they need to implement in order to take advantage of technologies such as smart meters, and network and voltage management systems. Because of the application of IoT, you are going to have lot more field and energy devices. And what is going to be important is how the data that we collect at the sensor level is going to be operationalised. Once you are able to do that, then the utilities are going to make more effective and proactive decisions. And that is already happening. Scheduling of proactive maintenance on some of the assets during business hours is helping improve network reliability and efficiency of utilities. That delivers a lot of benefits. It reduces costs, human error and improves reliability of the network and efficiency of the utility.</p> <p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">How is this transformation likely to pan out?</span><br /> The other thing in the evolution of utilities is what we call digitalisation or digital transformation. The smart grid is on the operational side while digitalisation is within a utility and plant. Therefore, there are three areas of digital transformation. The first one is transformation of information and technology. Returning to analytics, if utilities want to take advantage of data and provide real value to businesses, they will have to get the right tools and technology to capture information and analyse it. And analysis must be done from a technology perspective. It must be transformed into meaningful actions that executives within a utility can take on board. That's the transformation of information. This change in mindset will lead utilities to seek information rather than wait for it.</p> <p>The second change will be at the workplace. With digitalisation, you are going to have a massively improved access to information, new business processes, better integration and automation. All that is going to completely change the way utilities work. Lesser number of people will be required to manage infrastructure. If you need to deploy field workers to install smart meters or service transformers, the new technology is going to provide them with several ways of understanding the nature of a fault and sending the appropriately skilled person to correct it. Presently, utilities often end up sending a person who doesn't know what to do. All these changes in terms of digital capabilities will ensure that utilities function in a smarter manner.</p> <p>The third one, which I am most excited about, is the transformation in customer experience. If you look at what happened in banking or telecommunications, we have been given services that, as end users, we expect any service industry to deliver to us. Therefore, customer expectation from utility providers is similarly changing. Utilities will have to look at deploying new digital capabilities to go deeper into customer engagement. Of course, that will be all through different channels. It is going to be quite fascinating since that will have severe repercussions on the way we educate people to use energy. When you capture data on how energy is utilised, then you can also look at starting some energy conservation programmes. You will start to compare how you use energy versus your neighbour who uses the same wattage of power on similar type of kits, but still manages to use 20 per cent less units than you do. You are going to be able to add some comparison points and then influence the community on how to best leverage the use of electricity.</p> <p><span style="font-weight: bold;">At a time when increased monitoring of ageing grids and new sources of energy, which are creating even more data silos, do you see renewable based grids playing a more prominent role going forward?</span><br /> Yes, there is ageing infrastructure. Yes, there are new sources of energy and those are going to be leveraged. But they are not going to meet 100 per cent of the demand. On days when there is no sun or wind, you will still need the traditional power plants to be active. It's a building block in the ongoing transformation. It will be crazy to embark into very big renewable energy projects at this stage. It will be an evolution as we embark on new smart grids of solar and wind step-by-step and understand the requirements in terms of electricity generation and demand, and what needs to be done with our existing plants. We are going to learn as we go.</p> <p><span style="font-weight: bold;">Urbanisation has picked up traction in India only towards the end of the last millennium. Does that provide us with an advantage over developed economies in adapting smart infrastructure solutions?</span><br /> Every country is evolving and every country is looking at developing smart cities. Those of us in the utilities space have a leading role to play in the Indian market as well. If you want to have successful smart cities, you need to ensure supply of safe power, clean water and piped natural gas to them. The concept of smart cities is big in India. Then there are cities in other countries where hardly any additions have been made to infrastructure in the past several years, but even they understand the need to modernise. They might not have received the same invigorating push like the concept has received in India, but things are changing across countries. In Japan for example, we are assisting in full deregulation of gas and electricity. Since the Australian and the US markets are a lot more mature, you don't necessarily see the massive changes that you are witnessing in India. There it is more about how we touch the customers and, potentially, provide them with some value. India, therefore, is in a fantastic position. You have got a very strong will at the government level to support modernisation. Moreover, some of your private utilities are introducing the world's best practices here. And you have global thought leaders coming to India to support those initiatives.</p> <p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">What role do you see for Oracle Utilities in the India growth story?</span><br /> Enhancing digitalisation and connectivity in order to empower its citizens are among the key challenges before India. Ageing infrastructure with a high-level of aggregated technical and commercial losses have affected the country's development. We can support you with our ability to work with utilities in providing technology to support the transition to smart grids as well as carry out the transformation on the digital side. We have been here for a very long time and are well-represented in government and private utilities. Together with our strong network of partners, we are very much a part of the ecosystem here.</p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">- MANISH PANT</span> <p></p>
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