Intelligent grids pt 3, Role of the utility industry as the middle man

 

Transformation of the industry

 
The once top-down, centralized framework of the electricity and energy production industry is currently flattening into a more interactive and distributed system. This is transforming the way we produce, deliver, manage and consume energy. Electric utilities play an increasingly major role in engaging and supporting various stakeholders involved in this transformation of energy consumption. Better educated consumers means an upgrade in the job requirements of utility industry actors and electric contractors to address the increased involvement of their clients. With the understanding that both parties have something of value to offer, the intelligent grid insists on being used to its full potential.

In order to fully realize the benefits of modern technology and the intelligent grid, the electric utility workforce is required to streamline and manage the production process, any emerging innovations, varying systems, and services for both customers and organizations.
 


 

Industry and company needs

 
As hardware and software companies compete to leverage the capabilities of the intelligent grid, they are constantly expanding to provide an array of management services. Some of these services include:

  • Advanced metering infrastructure
  • Distribution and substation automation communications
  • Asset management and condition monitoring
  • Software solutions, and analytics
  • Demand response technology
  • Home energy management

 

Image courtesy of leadentsolutions.com

 

The smart grid is one of the most critical developments for the electrical contracting industry. More and more, we hear electric contractors can prosper as energy-solution contractors. The smart-grid-to-smart-building is a critical aspect of that work. Buildings will be controlled by a brain that will manage many functions from lighting and HVAC to integrated clean-energy sources. That will require more electrical energy systems housed in the building and controlled for efficiency.Bernie Kotlier, director, Green Energy Solutions, California Labor Management Cooperative Community

 

However, there has been concern about the workforce in the electric utility industry. Many in the industry are aging and less aware of the technologies transforming the shape of the energy market, and the several phases involved in creating and delivering value. There is growing urgency for a workforce that understands current market disruptions and the implications that will be felt through IoT and other technologies in the industry.
 


 

Keep up with technology

 
Such a workforce thinks less traditionally and must be comfortable dealing with the nature, pace, magnitude, and possible risks driven by IoT changes. They should have the mindset and capability to adapt, and create opportunities and solutions that result in augmented intelligence and behaviours enabled by the Internet of Things.

Due to the rising number of systems involved in the grid, next-generation utility staff will be expected to be as knowledgeable about the physics of the grid as they are about the operations of sophisticated monitoring, control, and analytical systems. The type and nature of the work involved requires multidisciplinary teams composed of employees as varied as linemen to data scientists. Not only will technical skills be crucial for these teams and individuals, but strong leadership skills are paramount to the success of the future of smart grids. This will enable them to organize, direct, and inspire those around them while also educating consumers, managing the system and working cohesively with all stakeholders.

Lots of other trades—be they IT folks, HVAC installers, ESCOs, or building engineers—want to install, integrate, commission and maintain this building brain. Electrical contractors need to master these control systems, or we’ll be shut out of this work.Bernie Kotlier, director, Green Energy Solutions, California Labor Management Cooperative Community

Image courtesy of clp.com.hk

 

As consumers become active players in the production of energy, they will continue to seek new ways to invest smart energy solutions into their lives. The electric power industry system thus transforms from a unilateral system into an integrated network ecosystem. The role of electric contractors will be to engage, support, and help consumers transition into making smart decisions and becoming active participants in the system.
 


 

Support customers

 
Electric contractors and utility service providers will have two main roles in engaging customers:

  1. Ease the integration and implementation of intelligent grids into our systems and infrastructure
  2. Help customers, or prosumers, produce and sell energy produced at home

Other than offering the standard electric products and their associated services, electric utility service providers will have the opportunity to offer a range of new energy-related services to actors such as technologists and marketers that include:

  • Life-cycle EV battery change-out
  • Home-related convenience services such as new utility service setup coordination
  • Management selling home-produced energy to the grid

 

Image courtesy of bridgeenergygroup.com

 

 

Educate customers

 
Another skill crucial in the interaction of utility companies and their consumers is that of marketing and advising. Customers will seek empowerment. How will homeowners adopt and implement renewable energy solutions? How can they gather insights about their energy consumption patterns? What’s the best way to manage their usage during peak demand periods in order to minimize their bill? The utility service provider’s role will be to provide customers with the right tools and knowledge to answer these questions and allow them to realize the benefits of managing energy usage.
 

If a utility can engage customers to use energy more wisely, then their customers can become an integral element in improving overall grid and energy supply efficiency. Armed with appropriate financial incentives or rate structures, both utilities and customers can share in the benefit of a more efficient energy distribution network.Jeff Evans


 

Masters of the trade

 
In order to push intelligent grids to their full potential and improve consumer involvement, all electric utility service providers will need to become experts at gathering, synthesizing, and analyzing data. Converting and reading such data from our smart devices and appliances, combined with supplementary layers of information about demographics, behaviours, and lifestyles will produce insight into consumption habits and patterns. This will allow service providers to guide their clients towards a more innovative and energy efficient future. Through education, leadership and innovation, we look to utility service providers and electric contractors to guide us in energy consumption and delegation.

 

We hope the Intelligent Grids series got you as excited for the future of energy as it got us. Keep checking The Electric Blog for updates on all things electric!