Technology and future of public utilities
How does one get a larger audience to read their articles? Refer to something that almost everyone in the country has strong feelings about. Currently, this refers to the ongoing power cuts experienced by small and large businesses alike as well as public services such as hospitals, and of course, the domestic consumer.
With no end in sight, without higher costs, despite some optimistic claims to the contrary, it may be useful to look at how we can future proof the countries energy supply. Not doing so will undoubtedly destroy our economy further, let alone cause untold hardship (already felt) to vulnerable people across our nation.
The International Energy Agency, and organisation of 29 western nations, including the USA, has forecast that global energy demand will increase by 37 percent by 2040, which would put a strain on energy supplies.
I would hazard a guess that with the limited footprint of power supply in Malawi that our forecast in percentage terms would be far higher. The industry is under pressure to become more energy efficient, do a better job of conserving natural resources and reduce global carbon emissions.
Utility companies are finding solutions using the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT is making energy use more efficient, which should help relieve some of the stress on energy demand. I have referred to the IoT in many previous articles. So, how does this technology enable us to improve our national power requirements for the future? Specific to the supply of energy and IoT, there are currently three areas that all modern utility companies are researching and investing in.
The first is what is called the “smart grid”. This helps better maintain equipment, increase production, manage supplies, avoid outages, and identify safety hazards. Using sensors in IoT systems, the industry can build intelligent networks across their entire market region, which will enable them to understand and share peak loads, and monitor the electric grid in real time.
These sensors allow physical assets to be connected to other machines, systems and people. The data collected from these sensors talking to each other will help them anticipate breakdowns (and therefore reduce outages), improve energy efficiencies, and meet customer needs more efficiently.
The second area is in reference to “smart meters”. The “meter reader” that we know of now – would become extinct. Smart meters at every consumer site – be it business or consumer – would monitor power, (and other utilities such as gas and water consumption) in real time.
Remotely interrogating smart meters will provide a wealth of information that can help the power company in many ways, from allowing fully automated variable billing based on time of use or network to enabling meter-to-appliance communications to help change consumer energy behaviour.
Smart meters have become the most popular IoT device for utility and energy companies are continuing to grow. There are estimates that the global installed base of smart meters will increase from 450 million in 2015 to 930 million in 2020.
The forecast also highlights that utility companies will save $157 billion by 2035 by increased efficiencies from using smart meters.
The third area relates to asset monitoring and maintenance. Using small robots, embedded cameras and other IoT sensor devices, utilities operators can better understand the condition of the entire asset network in real time.
They can collect a variety of data, including temperatures, demand, and calibration. This can help plan for preventative maintenance on both above-ground assets as well as those below ground, such as buried cables and wires.
Benefits to clients are widespread. Consumers and businesses alike can use the IOT data to analyse and reduce energy usage and costs, by being able to identify areas of wasteful energy consumption.
So, this is the way that global energy suppliers are seeking to improve their level of service, reduce costs and increase profits in the next few years.
Does Malawi have the professional expertise and political will to embrace such changes to improve the quality of life for the nations people and economy?
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