Electrical generation is no longer entirely the domain of large centralized energy companies. Two segments of electricity consumers are becoming significant contributors because of the availability of renewable energy systems like solar and wind generation. Energy production frequently exceeds their consumption needs and the excess power is being fed back into the electric grid. This reverse transmission is transforming centralized electric companies into service providers that need to understand and manage the multitude of distributed generating facilities that are now part of the electric generation process.
The number of household generation systems is rising as acquisition costs of solar roofs and wind turbines decline, and as IDC predicts, by 2020, 20% of Fortune G500 companies will be producing 2.5GW of electricity, and what they don’t use themselves will either be sold back to existing utility companies or to energy providers that compete with traditional electric utilities. Electric utilities are finding their business changing as they need new capabilities to manage their new energy providers. This new set of prosumers will require more agility from the electric utilities to accommodate their demands in order for legacy utility companies to remain competitive.
The majority of the distributed energy provider equipment is built to include automated intelligent capabilities that qualify them as IoT devices. These IoT devices will spawn large quantities of data as part of their standard operating process. That data is used to advise the prosumers about how much power is being created, used, and distributed back across the grid. But portions of that intelligence is also available to utilities to monitor functions and perform maintenance when necessary.
Acting on intelligence
While prosumers have their own uses for the intelligence in their generation equipment they don’t generally have the staff or expertise to install, configure, and maintain the equipment. Those tasks fall to the providers of the systems or to a company contracted for the job like an electric utility. Those companies need to be prepared for the demands of their customers that are beyond the traditional ‘fix on failure’ mode of operation.
New ways of interacting with IoT generation systems require robust management systems that can analyze and respond to the flood of data created by thousands or millions of devices in near real time. Those systems are charged with managing stores of big data and applying analytics to understand issues as they develop. The best systems automatically diagnose problems and attempt to resolve them remotely by communicating with the IoT-enabled device. But when remote resolutions aren’t successful they need to dispatch field technicians as needed.
Service tools for distributed generation
Field technicians need to be armed with advanced mobile computing devices including tablets and laptops that can connect wirelessly to their offices and to IoT-enabled devices regardless of local conditions. In addition to robust communication capabilities, their mobile devices need to be rugged enough to withstand harsh outdoor conditions like rain and cold weather without the need for additional protection. Since technicians may be called to remote areas, the units need to have battery life that will last longer than a standard work day, and their displays need to be viewable not only in dark areas but also in bright sunlight where most consumer grade systems are unreadable. New capabilities like augmented reality require powerful processors and cameras combined with high speed communication to help technicians maintain more complex systems without having to return to their offices to retrieve documentation or get expert level help from senior members of the team.
Today’s energy providers are being asked to act and react in new and different ways to their customers who are becoming providers. They are no longer the sole sources of electrical power and face competition from alternate energy management companies that may be more nimble and able to deliver services that more closely match consumers’ demands. Meeting those demands means implementing advanced systems that take advantage of new IoT technologies and arming technicians with mobile computing devices able to operate under often difficult conditions.
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