technologies

Energy & utility sector plugs into new-age digital solutions

As India gears up to meet the climate challenge, the energy sector is undergoing a radical transformation. Many new technologies will be crucial in this change

With the emergence of the digital era and the increasing uptake of disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, data analytics, cloud, internet of things (IoT), machine learning (ML), and robotic process automation (RPA), organisations across sectors are undergoing major business transformations globally. The energy and utility sector too is rapidly realising the disruptive roles these new-age technologies can play in enabling business growth and process efficiency, and how they have become the key accelerator of this transformation story.

For the energy and utility sector, service continuity and operational efficiency are paramount. Fuelled by digitisation and automation, industries across the globe are witnessing a massive shift in consumer behavior and in the way businesses are functioning to cater to the changing market dynamics and demands. With enterprise digital competency becoming the core of an organisation, the emergence of new operational and business models that are leading to transformational delivery capabilities and improved performance is becoming the new norm. Recognising the need of the hour, the energy industry in India is also rapidly adopting automation and digital technologies and is going through massive transformation and redesign.

Digitisation for the changing business needs

While a combination of socio-economic factors and technology innovation is driving energy and utility organisations to transform into digital enterprises, it is important to evaluate the emerging technology trends and implement an effective digital transformation roadmap that is reliable, scalable, secure, and can enable the utilities to deliver enhanced customer experience and improve performance. These solutions are also expected to achieve desired business objectives, gain competitive advantage as well as meet regulatory compliances. This is not an easy task!

As the digital journey of the energy and utility sector advances, companies need to devise and execute an effective and innovative digital business platform that will help to deliver operational excellence while ensuring a smooth transition from legacy technologies. “Since many utilities still use legacy applications with proprietary standards, it becomes a challenge to enforce integration of different solution components. This has to be addressed by upgrading certain solutions to conform to open standards,” explains Bragadesh Damodaran, Director, Energy, and Utility Industry Hub, Capgemini.

Today technology is driving the way energy is sourced, delivered, and consumed. In addition, factors like the increased adoption of renewable energy, battery storage, distributed grid-edge generation (prosumers), a rise of electric vehicles, decarbonisation, and decentralisation are disrupting the energy and utility landscape like never before. “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further stressed the need for digitisation and business continuity through strengthening IT infrastructure and deploying innovative solutions that will result in optimised business processes, differentiated delivery models, and create new business capabilities,” Damodaran adds.

Keeping pace with this global trend, India too is rapidly adapting itself to be a frontrunner in this digital transformation story. Adoption of new-age technologies like AI, advanced analytics, cloud, and IIoT is witnessing great traction and is likely to gain momentum as companies are transmuting their business processes. Chatbots and voice assistance, RPA, and blockchain to are evolving as strong technology growth drivers in the near future.

Bragadesh-Damodaran
Manisha Sharma | DATAQUEST

The need is to ensure the adoption of industry standards for smooth migration to new platforms on cloud, 5G compatibility and IoT-based systems.

— Bragadesh Damodaran, Director, Energy and

Utility Industry Hub, Capgemini

Martin-Hauske
Manisha Sharma | DATAQUEST

Private LTE and 5G will be crucial for grid management by enabling grid edge automation and real-time asset management through drone, VR/AR, and teleprotection.

— Martin Hauske, Energy Segment Leader, Asia Pacific & Japan,

Nokia Solutions & Networks

“India is very much at the forefront of this global transformation. Aligning to its Paris agreement commitments, the country has set an ambitious target of renewable energy (RE) generation of 450GW by 2030, a substantial reduction in fossil fuel dependence by 2030, a Go-Electric campaign, and incentives for faster EV adoption,” highlights Martin Hauske, Energy Segment Leader for the Asia Pacific and Japan, Nokia Solutions & Networks.

While there is a fast-emerging market for IoT in the Indian power sector for applications like planning and forecasting, utility asset monitoring, and predictive maintenance, opportunities are rising in the mobile computing front to enhance digital experience, workforce management, SaaS, and technology-on-the-go. A growing market is also foreseen in India for hyper-personalisation solutions, using real-time communication systems and RPA to enhance the user experience.

“The Indian power sector is contemplating different solutions to meet the energy demands in the most sustainable way, with focus on long-term energy security and sustainability,” points out Damodaran, adding that, “The need is to ensure the adoption of industry standards for a smooth migration to new platforms on a cloud, 5G compatibility, and IoT-based systems.”

Emerging trends, and technologies too

The combined impact of energy transition and the pandemic has set the stage ripe for this digital reform for the energy and utility sector and it is pushing them to think afresh and innovate. The advent of new technologies, both at grid and utility levels are not only forces organisations to restructure business models but address the changing consumer behavior and consumption patterns effectively. On the other hand, by leveraging new technologies, the companies can monitor and distribute assets in a more efficient and cost-effective way and gain a competitive advantage.

If digital technologies were crucial for modernising extractive industries, their role is now getting redefined for above-the-ground energy production, transmission, and distribution. As energy companies are moving towards adopting Industry 4.0, the role of network and communication technologies has become more important. Moreover, the trend towards electric cars and subsequent recharging infrastructure creation accentuates the need for network technologies aligning with the smart grid and EV info ecosystem.

A combination of socio-economic factors and technology innovation is driving the energy and utility organisations to transform into digital enterprises.

Dr-Pramod-Paliwal
Manisha Sharma | DATAQUEST

As traditional energy companies add renewable to their portfolio, network and communication technologies will need to keep pace with the phenomenon.

— Dr. Pramod Paliwal, Professor & Dean,

School of Petroleum Management, PDEU

Experts also point out that renewable energy technologies, which were till recently considered a threat to conventional oil and gas (O&G) companies have now become a part of their own portfolio. The industry as a whole is refocused on carbon management, making the goal of decarbonisation part of their fundamental strategy.

Radical changes in the energy mix are leading to several challenges for utilities, central transmission grids, and state transmission/distribution grids – from managing the intermittency and variability of generation, to maintaining grid stability and responding to new and surging demands from moving electric loads.

“Potential revenue erosion with the growing prosumer generation and energy-aware and energy-efficient consumers are forcing many utilities to redefine their business models for survival and growth. This is driving higher levels of instrumentation using industrial IoT or IIoT for primary distribution grids. This provides utilities with the ability to sense, respond, and react in real-time to manage the supply and demand balance and stability challenges of the future grid. Digitalisation and automation will be an essential imperative in managing grid operations and market transactions among grid participants,” states Hauske.

Several players are engaged with utilities globally in enabling their future grid transformation with end-to-end communication network technologies like private LTE, 5G, optical, IIoT platforms, and digital automation cloud. Besides, there are also technologies that help utilities plot a path to Industry 4.0, by providing a framework for controlling and managing assets and field resources everywhere; and the adoption of digital value platforms to manage and control the generation, distribution, and operation of energy services.

Exploring new energy sources and fuel alternatives is high on the agenda for the Indian market as well. This includes solar-thermal, solar-wind hybrid, smart battery storage, green hydrogen, and carbon sequestration, as well as the use of AI/ML to manage the distributed energy resources to optimise generation is the new norm.

There is also a growing trend in India to add more intelligence and improve communication and security in the humongous rollout of smart metering in India. The need for the creation of robust and secure communications (e.g., 5G), smart bots and energy data analytics (using AI/ ML), and solutions like load management, energy efficiency management, network health monitoring, predictive analytics, and customer services are on the rise too.

The Indian energy and utility sector is also looking to use the new-age technologies and solutions to measure asset performance and enhance its life while obtaining a better overview of the diverse assets and take “retain or retire” decisions of its enormous burden of aging infrastructure. These needs are pushing the adoption of cloud-based services on the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model in the Indian power sector. The solution will further boost the demand for enabling technologies like 5G, edge analytics, cloud computing, and cybersecurity. The use of AR/VR and digital twins are other technologies that will dominate the Indian market space in the future.              

As many leading Indian power distribution companies are setting up the infrastructure to develop EVs as a potential source of clean energy powering the grid, India is also witnessing growing demand for EV infrastructure solutions that track grid parameters, energy demand, pricing, and weather predictions, using AI/ML, to enable EV owners to make informed decisions on charging their vehicles and exporting power to the grid. “The manufacturing of EVs in large numbers and gradual phase-out of petrol and diesel vehicles will spur the demand for charging infrastructure, which is essential for a healthy growth of EVs in the Indian market,” says Damodaran.

There is a growing trend in India to add more intelligence and improve communication and security in the humongous rollout of smart metering.

The new road ahead

The energy sector in India is expected to reform in multiple ways as it is looking up positively to far-reaching transformation and progress the sustainability agenda to achieve near net-zero targets by 2050. As the country continues to adopt clean technologies, there will be a growing penetration of renewable energy into the grid, and more independent microgrids – solar, wind, biomass, battery energy storage, waste-to-energy – will continue to power communities.

It is estimated that by the middle of the century, India can expect four times as much renewable energy generation than what it has today. “The scenario in India presents a very interesting case study. As the world strives towards cleaner energy, the country’s hunger for energy is set to overtake the EU by 2030, making it the third-largest energy consumer of the world,” says Dr. Pramod Paliwal, Professor, and Dean, School of Petroleum Management, PDEU.

“The country will continue to see three times increase in imports by 2040. It is fair to argue that India finds itself in an unusual position of having to pioneer a new low-carbon economy while also striving for growth. If India is able to achieve this, it will be a role model for other developing economies, especially in the African continent,” he says, stressing that as traditional energy companies add renewable to their portfolio, network and communication technologies will need to keep pace with the phenomenon.

Dr. Pramod Paliwal further adds that “If digital technologies were earlier crucial for modernising extractive industries, their role is now getting redefined for above-the-ground energy production, transmission, and distribution.”

“Going ahead, private LTE and 5G will play a crucial role in the management of future grids by enabling grid edge automation, real-time asset management through drone-based line inspection, VR/AR, and teleprotection,” says Hauske. These technologies will enable energy companies to convert into a distribution service operator (DSO) with multiple types of energy service (and potentially adjacent types of smart city services) offerings to consumers, and help build smarter communities. Since energy efficiency will continue to be a focus for these companies, the role of ICT in sharing real-time information, analysing, and taking corrective actions will become more critical.

By 2050, more bioenergy will be added to the energy landscape. It is estimated that liquid biofuels will surpass petroleum products is fuelling the industry and transport sector, before the mid-century. Also, there will be a big push for green hydrogen as a fuel for the industry and transport, as well as, in carbon sequestration technologies.

Driven by actions to reverse climate change, India will continue to invest in processes, technologies, end-use energy efficiency, and carbon footprint reduction. Besides, market-driven mechanisms, such as peer-to-peer energy trading, carbon pricing, congestion-based pricing, and green certificate trading will become more innovative with AI/ML, which will stimulate reallocation of capital and resources to fund these opportunities.

However, as these trends and opportunities grow bigger, so will the competition. Players, who are nimble enough to develop new business capabilities, customer-centric products, and services delivery models, who can continue to offer improved and cost-effective traditional producer-centric commodity products, will have the edge for sure.

By Piyali Guha

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