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From intelligent
lighting to smart
metering: how
energy and utilities
are transforming 

Author: Phil Muncaster

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been gaining ground in the energy and utilities sector for several years. But applications like intelligent lighting and smart metering are set to drive an explosion in adoption. Why? Because the pandemic is creating new financial, operational and customer engagement incentives for your organization.

The market for IoT in utilities is estimated to reach nearly $54 billion by 2024, which in turn means there is a growing number of vendors to choose from. The key, as always, will be choosing the right partner to enable this journey and then deploying and actually using these tools.

Turning up the pressure

COVID-19 has had a major impact on many sectors of the economy, including utilities and energy. Among the top concerns for the industry identified by PricewaterhouseCoopers are financial consequences (71%) of COVID-19 and its effect on workforce and productivity (41%). Let's take a look at these challenges in more detail.

Financial challenges

Power demand has slumped significantly across much of the world thanks to the shutdown of many industrial and commercial facilities. This led to a decline in wholesale prices, with some European countries even seeing prices turn negative. McKinsey is not expecting levels to recover fully before the end of 2020. At the same time, operating costs may have increased as providers pay to cover sick employees and deploy computing equipment to support the shift to remote working. Extra costs may also come from investments in personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect staff not working from home. A temporary end to disconnections, late fees and debt collection has decreased revenues further still. All of these factors could reduce the availability of capital for a period of time; however capital that is available may be directed to smart infrastructure projects that could help reduce costs going forward.

Productivity and safety

The crisis has also created greater pressure to enhance worker safety and maintain social distancing while at the same time maximizing productivity. Smart systems can help with both by supporting remote access to data and systems, meaning less time spent on the road for engineers and more accurate information on the precise location of faults. The ability to carry out more work remotely can also help reduce "windshield time" where most accidents occur, according to McKinsey.

Sustainability

While energy consumption has dropped over the first part of 2020, economic recovery will drive demand back up. This will likely put the financial and reputational pressure to enhance sustainability initiatives back on. Customers, shareholders and institutional investors are paying increasing attention to the green agenda.

What IoT offers

IoT devices such as smart metering and intelligent lighting can help your business maintain productivity, control costs, drive profitability and improve customer service. IoT can also add a new layer of visibility and operational insight that was not possible before, helping to save energy, increase cost efficiency and safety.

Smart metering

Smart meter systems include connected devices that collect data on consumption and supply of energy and water and send it to back-end management systems for analysis. Data can also be accessed on mobile devices by field engineers. Such systems enable utilities firms to:

  • Manage operations remotely to reduce operational expenditure.
  • Enhance worker productivity and improve safety via remote management.
  • Collect and analyze smart data to pinpoint outages and restore service more quickly.
  • Personalize customer service with automated alerts on energy consumption.
  • Enhance forecasting and power supply efficiencies with detailed consumption data.
  • Create new services and suggest new pricing models for customers.

Verizon's Grid Wide technology provides energy, gas and water grid modernization through smart metering and analytics for increased efficiency and cost control.

Intelligent lighting

Smart lighting systems augment traditional street lights with connected sensors that collect and transmit data on lighting levels, energy consumption and potential faults. This enables real-time remote management of lights. Intelligent lighting systems allow organizations to:

  • Get real-time information on lighting which helps reduce maintenance costs by minimizing unnecessary truck rolls.
  • Adjust lighting levels depending on time of day and area, enhancing public safety.
  • Remotely monitor energy usage to control costs.

Verizon's Intelligent Lighting offers remote control of city lighting systems to help save energy, reduce costs and improve operational efficiency, while streamlining maintenance and enhancing safety.

What to look for

With a market flooded with smart grid and intelligent edge devices vendors, it can be a challenge knowing where to start. Consider asking the following questions when shortlisting a potential partner for smart metering or intelligent lighting:

  • How many disparate elements of the IoT ecosystem do they handle? IoT requires a blend of devices, cloud systems and applications, as well as expertise in system integration, networking and data analytics. It pays to find a provider with expertise across all of these areas, whether in-house or through close industry partnerships, to minimize costs and integration work.
  • Do they offer a compelling infrastructure roadmap? Replacing legacy networks with technologies like Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and private wireless to usher in a new era of IoT with potential major cost savings, operational efficiencies and customer value.
  • Do they offer professional and managed services? This could remove complexity of deployment and help take the strain off your in-house IT staff, especially if they lack the requisite expertise and resources.
  • Are their technologies based on open standards? This is important to ensure you don't suffer from vendor lock-in, in a sector where integration with disparate systems is key to driving value from investments.
  • How capable are their cyber security and threat intelligence features? IoT is a popular target for attackers searching for sensitive customer data and/or looking for infrastructure to disrupt and hold to ransom.
  • Do they have a broad eco-system of additional IoT sensors and applications to deploy beyond Lighting and Metering solutions.? Examples include fleet management, video surveillance and environmental sensors.)

Learn how Verizon's smart energy and utilities solutions could help modernize your business through smart technologies.