In an Era of Innovation, the Smart Grid is Key

In an Era of Innovation, the Smart Grid is Key

By Stephen J Callahan, Vice President of Energy & Utilities as well as Global Strategies and Solutions, IBM Global Markets.

The power grid is transforming into a network of billions of linked devices with a flow of highly complex information, and utility companies are rushing to replace and modernize an aging infrastructure. As utilities become data driven enterprises, IOT, AI and blockchain technologies are dramatically changing how the industry operates.

AI or Cognitive Computing is gaining much traction among experts as a way to improve data management, operating efficiencies, and customer service. According to GTM Research, applying cognitive computing is projected to deliver an estimated $121 billion global ROI on grid analytics by 2020.

AI visualization tools and image analytics are driving new solutions to detect risks, spark innovation and solve difficult problems especially in operation areas. Drones can now carry the same LiDAR technology used by helicopters, allowing utilities to capture millions of data points and extensively map out power lines. By using cutting-edge automated analysis of these data points, utilities can make field inspections more efficient by only deploying crews to areas where the software identifies risks. Recently, IBM client OmniEarth use aerial imagery to help water districts identify properties that use more water than necessary and help owners adjust usage.

It is important to keep in mind that AI and IoT solutions are broad, complex, and often global, requiring a robust set of measures to ensure integrity and safety. In fact, the energy industry is doubly vulnerable to the challenges of maintaining a good information security program, and as the number of enterprise connected devices and sensors grow, securing the IoT endpoint will be a major challenge.  It is this security need that blockchain technology can solve for – its open ledger and advanced cryptography act as powerful safeguards against hacking.

However, while much investment is currently placed in blockchain technology, it largely remains in the concept stage for the E&U industry. One place to start could be by digitizing core operations transactions through a distributed ledger platform. An IoT messaging system, triggered by sensors, allows a supply chain to act autonomously—this is a fundamental building block of future energy systems. Moreover, in the coming years, there will be times when conventional sources will not be able to fully meet the electric demand, and blockchain can enable greater integration of Distributed Energy Resources and help accommodate a growing volume of renewable energy. Recently, TenneT, Sonnen, Vandebron and IBM joined forces to explore the use of a permissioned blockchain network that uses Hyperledger Fabric to integrate flexible capacity supplied by electric cars and household batteries into the electrical grid. TenneT is the first Transmission System Operator (TSO) to use innovative blockchain technology for managing the electricity grid, but definitely not the last. Technology and innovation are helping to break the status quo of the energy industry and make producers and distributors, as well as consumers, review their role in the chain – the future of energy is now.

To learn more about what the future of smart cities and grid may look like, join Steve Callahan at the ETS Panel Discussion on Sustainable Smart Cities and the Future Grid here.