The Internet of Things: Will Utilities Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way?
By Ryan Gerbrandt Throughout the smart grid era, utilities have evolved their approach to communications, achieving in AMI networks some of the first scalable and business case driven IoT deployments. Is the industry ready to lead in the increasingly interconnected IoT era? The internet of things, more commonly known as IoT, is a concept whose definition is emerging. Futurist Jacob Morgan, in a 2014 Forbes piece, described it as ?the concept of basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other.)? IEEE, which invites input on the subject, currently defines IoT as ?a network of items -- each embedded with sensor -- which are connected to the Internet.? Fundamentally, IoT is the communication between two devices ? not just the transfer of data, but data that is understood at some level by some form of intelligence among the devices. ATMs, developed in 1974, were among the first smart devices included in IoT. It did not take long for this new ?talkable? technology to take hold in our culture. By 2015, there were 2.6 billion smart phones worldwide, according to a November 2016 Ericsson Mobility Report, which predicts 6.1 billion devices by 2022. The number and type of devices poised to be IoT participants is constantly expanding: TVs, coffee makers, washing machines, thermostats, headphones, lamps, cars, bridges, buildings, roads, wearable devices and much more. IoT in the Utility Industry AMI was one of the earliest examples of IoT in utilities. Today, it is among the most widespread examples. As of 2015, U.S. electric utilities had roughly 64.7 million smart metering infrastructure installations according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. With nearly 88 percent of these installations being for residential customers, utilities? use of AMI continues to transform many of their key business processes, especially those related to the way they engage with end customers. Today utilities are poised for even greater IoT growth as digital control infrastructures and new low-cost digital sensors permeate networks ? and may introduce additional connectivity from beyond the utility enterprise. As the rollout of AMI revealed, utilities face the challenge of not only capturing and storing large new data streams, but also figuring out how to identify actionable business intelligence from this data. The rise of AMI and other smart grid applications saw utilities building out various purpose-built networks, leaving many struggling to make sense of it all amidst a ?data tsunami? often worsened by siloed devices that couldn?t readily share or understand each other?s information. Terabytes Ahead The AMI data challenge is only a small taste of things to come. In the area of vehicles alone, Gartner, Inc. predicts that by 2020, there will be a quarter billion connected vehicles on the road, enabling new invehicle services and automated driving capabilities. As distributed generation, energy storage, and other grid edge resources including EVs proliferate, the growth in data and the need for tools to make sense of it is growing exponentially. How will all this equipment communicate securely and meaningfully -- and over what communications networks? Utilities learned important lessons including how to deliver mission critical communications across different terrains and how to balance access, privacy and security. These utility challenges helped shape the communications platforms we have now. The utility industry has come to appreciate the complexity and importance of integrated communications. 28 ElectricEnergy T&D MAGAZINE I MARCH-APRIL 2017 Issue