With the advent of 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), and cloud technologies, smart infrastructure enabled by high-speed connectivity is now closer than ever to being truly ubiquitous. These trends are driving a variety of advancements across a wide range of industries — from cost-efficiency and better customer service, to enhanced safety and security. The utility industry, in particular, is in a prime position to put smart infrastructure technologies to good use.
Many of today’s utilities — whether they are public power, investor-owned, or rural electric cooperatives — are struggling with how to evolve their business model in response to several imperatives:
- De-carbonization – Reducing current and future carbon footprints by leveraging renewable energy resources
- De-centralization – Expanding energy solutions to include wind, solar, hydro, micro-grids and other distributed energy resources
- Digital transformation – Increased data harvesting to inform key decision-making
By embracing smart technology, utilities stand to benefit from the potential positive impacts of trusted data on their business operations, including service offerings that were not previously possible. These benefits offer utilities opportunities to preserve capital, increase revenue, build stronger customer engagement, and strengthen future viability to meet new or unforeseen challenges head-on.
Yet for some utilities, the path forward remains uncertain. What are the requirements for building out smart infrastructure, and what is the best route forward?
Building Blocks of a Smarter Future
Alongside the recent evolution of power transmission technologies, many utilities have modernized their communications infrastructure, for example by deploying advanced 100G networks to replace the old standard of 40 Mbps transmission. Investments of this type have provided greater network speed and capacity, creating a bedrock on which power providers can deploy the essential building blocks of a smart utility.
In order to benefit from this bedrock communications infrastructure, a utility needs trustworthy and actionable operating data. Trusted data is harvested, analyzed and contextualized only by putting in place all (five) smart infrastructure blocks, of which high-speed connectivity is one. Being a smart utility therefore is more than having a fast network, it is about having smart infrastructure. The essential infrastructure blocks of the smart utility include:
- Sensing Block – Gathers data from IoT devices and sensors, such as cameras, drones, and microphones. Key metrics gathered using sensors might include the speed and direction of turbine blade rotation, system voltage or current, outage detection, suspicious persons, weather conditions, tower pitch, or network connectivity status.
- Network Infrastructure Block – Fiber and wireless network infrastructure transmits data between IoT devices, cameras, microphones, data management systems and cloud services. Traditional interconnected networks include SCADA, AMI, fiber, core, FTTx, microwave and 4G/ LTE mobile networks. Newer technology options include 5G and Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technologies.
- Data Infrastructure Block – Data from the sensing layer is aggregated, stored and processed in the data infrastructure block, making it available for use. Data management consumes significant compute power both in the cloud and on premises, and requires high-availability databases, often referred to as data lakes, that are both secure and scalable.
- Cloud Services Block – The services block combines cybersecurity, managed network services, artificial intelligence (AI), and big data analytics to ensure data integrity; protect devices; secure and optimize the network; and extract insights. The cybersecurity layer is vital for compliance with NERC-CIP requirements designed to protect critical infrastructure, customer data, and community safety, especially in light of increased cyber and physical attacks aimed at utilities.
- Smart Applications Block – Smart applications are the user interfaces through which utility executives and employees consume actionable insights, such as real-time dashboards for energy consumption, flow control, leakage detection, and load monitoring.
By deploying these essential building blocks, utilities can infuse their operations with real-time trusteddata. Trusted data can help them increase productivity; improve reliability and efficiency; streamline regulatory compliance; reduce costs and risks; deliver new services; and enhance the quality of customer experience. Consider, for example, how smart technologies could be used to leverage thermal imaging data and the power of AI to identify overheated equipment, or spot emerging fire threats at remote utility substations.
Creating a Smarter Future
At Fujitsu, we’ve seen firsthand how smart infrastructure technologies can make a substantial difference to a utility company’s business and operations models — and their bottom line. As a full-service integration company, we recognize every utility’s unique situation and we help them develop a sensible business plan to deploy the building blocks of a smart utility, making the digital transformation journey together.
To learn more about how to build a smarter utility with the right infrastructure in place to inform better, faster decision-making, contact us to discuss your business case.