Sharing lessons from the telecom industry with utility operators


Electricity demand and consumption patterns have evolved enormously in recent years, influenced by many societal, technological and market changes. Electric vehicles are growing in popularity due to growing climate awareness and high gas prices, and the pandemic has changed working patterns, with flexible remote and hybrid working becoming the “new normal”.

To add to this, operators have the added challenge of managing a rapidly changing grid due to the growing demand for renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, as well as the growing popularity of electric vehicles at as decarbonization becomes a higher societal priority. This has left electric utilities with the difficult task of predicting ever-changing usage patterns to meet ever-changing consumer and business demands.

To anticipate these new requirements, the current network infrastructure is currently being evaluated to verify that the technology and processes in place are still effective. But while operators understand what needs to be done, the scope and complexity of the changes are unprecedented and utilities are under pressure to respond quickly.

Changing demand and consumption patterns have created a sense of urgency within the electric utility industry and for operators to ensure reliable and sustainable energy supply and protect their business models, a change fast is imperative.

It’s easier said than done. Many utilities are finding that responding to changing demands is taking longer than expected due to significant disruption of existing systems. Valuable lessons can be learned from different sections, other industries have had to respond to changing demand at a similar level. While having its own challenges and drivers, the telecommunications industry has undergone a huge evolution to upgrade and digitally transform its networks and systems. For example, telecom operators have moved from cable and copper to fiber and 5G, reinventing their brands, meeting new demands and competing in a fierce market.

So what lessons can the telecommunications industry share with electric utility operators?

Perhaps the most important factor for successful telcos is how positively they embrace change. Operating in a highly competitive market means that if telecommunications organizations do not review their technology and react to change, they will be overtaken by their competitors. The market has ingrained a culture of constant innovation, which has allowed them to scale quickly and flexibly throughout the transformation process.

Embracing a culture of constant innovation to accelerate digitalization can help electric utilities meet changing usage patterns and demands through grid modernization strategies. Below are some of the key lessons learned from the telecommunications industry to achieve this culture and proactively plan for new technologies and changing customer demand.

Modeling scenarios will help operators prepare for any eventuality

Over the years, telecom operators have moved from copper to coax and from coax to fiber and 5G. These changing technologies require new network architectures that demand streamlined operational strategies.

Conceptually, the changes that have taken place in the telecommunications industry are similar to those currently taking place in the utility industry. The growing popularity of electric vehicles and the demand for electricity needed to support charging, along with the increased focus on achieving net zero goals and many other factors have created a cycle of energy production and consumption in constant evolution.

To cope with changing network needs, telecommunications operators have started to model different scenarios allowing them to manage parallel transformations. To do this, they created precise network digital twins with applications spanning the entire network lifecycle. This approach has accelerated network planning and design, while meeting changing service level requirements.

Utility operators can take a very similar approach. By integrating digital twins into their transformation strategy, operators can accurately model their network, creating an agile technology framework that can respond effectively to challenges.

Innovative telecom operators have taken the first steps in this process by abandoning the inefficient centralized legacy GIS orthodoxy. Instead, they rely on modern decentralized and mobile technologies that are available to all stakeholders and provide the agility to adapt to rapidly changing needs. Electric utilities can follow in the footsteps of telecom operators by constantly evaluating technology to ensure it meets changing business needs. If this is not the case, the strategy can be quickly adapted to achieve the objectives and remain competitive.

Although the power utility market is not the same as the telecom world, they can still benefit from the culture of innovation that major telecom operators have created. Competition is intensifying in the electric utility market, with major tech organizations creating their own power grids to take advantage of growing demand for electricity as well as the ever-increasing addition of solar and solar power. residential storage. If electric utility operators do not respond to this new competition, they run the risk of losing customers and market share to new, innovative players.

Decisions must be made from a single source of truth

While the list of demands from utility operators is already long enough, another challenge has been added to their list. Natural disasters and extreme weather events are on the rise, and this risk will only increase. The UN’s 2022 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction said “the number of disasters per year worldwide could rise from 400 in 2015 to 560 per year by 2030”. It’s critical that operators respond to this, creating real-time network situational awareness – something that can only happen effectively when critical data sources are viewed through a shared network view that creates a single source of truth.

Using data from multiple disconnected applications to make important decisions will produce suboptimal results. Very often, different applications provide conflicting information, which in turn undermines disaster assessment and response initiatives. To safely and effectively respond to disasters, operators need a reliable and accurate view of their network.

This is something telecom operators have recognized for some time. The “swivel chair management” of a variety of miscellaneous applications only serves to hamper business efficiency. To counter this, major telecom operators have moved to integrate all critical data sources and internal systems into a single source of truth that supports the entire network lifecycle. This provides operators with real-time situational awareness that improves response times, as well as proactive planning and operational decision-making.

Chubu Electric Power Grid in Japan is one such company in the electric utility industry that has effectively brought together all sources of data into a single source of truth to effectively respond to disasters. Chubu has created a shared disaster assessment dashboard that leverages all data sources. This gave Chubu teams in the office and in the field access to an accurate view of the network, enabling them to effectively assess disasters and pragmatically create a response plan. Chubu teams can work together to respond to the disaster, with dispatch teams advising field teams of where they need to be and providing them with live traffic data and hazard maps to help them plan their routes while capturing the rapidly changing situation on the ground.

Without accurate integration of all data, operators would not be able to respond effectively and efficiently to disasters, which in turn would risk costly errors during emergency incidents.

Continuous technological innovation will create a constant return on investment

On a daily basis, utility operators rely on a massive amount of IT infrastructure to serve customers. While this infrastructure addresses unique challenges, it often creates new, disconnected sources of information that cannot easily be shared and leveraged.

Following the same path as the telecommunications industry, utility operators can develop a culture of constant innovation, constantly evaluating their mission-critical technology, while striving to integrate all their different data silos into a single view. shared network.

This strategy not only ensures the best return on investment for operators, but also provides the innovative technology needed to achieve technical, business and customer service goals.

Develop a corporate culture of constant innovation

Ultimately, the biggest difference between the telecommunications and electric utility industries is the markets in which they operate. The telecom market is driven by competitive pressures, which has forced operators to develop a culture of constant innovation to stay one step ahead. Due to changing demand and usage patterns creating a void in the market, these conditions are now making their way into the electric utility space. To keep pace, utility operators can leverage the experience of the telecommunications industry by embracing a culture of constant innovation.

Electric utility operators that respond to new market competition, government mandates and changing customer needs by embracing a culture of constant innovation will outpace the competition and set themselves up for success in the years to come.

Adrian McNulty is the VP of Utility Solutions at IQGeo.

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