How the IoT is changing the energy industry

By: Steve Jones

2, September, 2016

Categories:

Connected Industry - Smart Cities - Utilities -

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As we move forward and learn how to harness energy in ever more complex, diverse ways, it makes sense to take stock of how something as huge and fragmented as the energy industry has changed with the Internet of Things. The IoT has provided energy with an opportunity to re-examine itself, a chance to overhaul everything from recruitment to manufacturing through deployment, maintenance and even CRM.

While it’s easy to see the various sub-verticals within the energy industry to be in strict competition for market share, it’s also unsurprising how many processes these sub-verticals share when it comes to the areas potentially changed by IoT. From petroleum, natural gas, nuclear, coal, renewables (solar, wind, hydroelectric), the IoT has the opportunity to reinvent energy for the better – if it hasn’t already started.

All parts of the energy industry will benefit from the predictive maintenance capabilities that connected, data gathering devices will bring. While this means lower bills (say goodbye forever to bill estimations, people) and more efficient energy usage, which in turn will drive down CO2 emissions, it also means efficiencies in the workforce for many energy companies. These will be in part due to automation but also through putting some of the transactional process back in the hands of the consumer, through the integrations of apps with beacon technology.

As consumer energy companies multiply, the popularity of the Big Six could weaken which, while turning it into a buyer’s market, will leave the consumer with a degree of option paralysis. While smaller service providers such as a Ovo Energy and Ecoctricity may focus on agility, consumer power and a technological edge to make the most of IoT benefits, larger energy providers will most likely go down one of two routes:

  • Focusing their service on add-ons, packages and tie-ins with other domestic service providers, with a CRM focus on convenience, brand recognition and heritage. OR…
  • Talking up their prospects as being first to market with NEST, Philips Hue and other IoT brands to leverage their identity as the homeowner’s ‘provider partner’ for the connected home of the domestic IoT future.

Meanwhile, out in the North Sea…

Petroleum companies have long been champions of tech-enabled exploration in offshore fields for oil and natural gas. Out at sea with only a helicopter for a taxi service, oil rigs have made great use of technology such as video conferencing for a very long time. Now, drones and AI play their part too, and this confluence of elements is the exact combination of tech, processes and data that the IoT requires to work properly. Drones routinely feed back data to maintenance machines, and 3D and 4D rendering software maps underground reservoirs for drilling machinery to adjust drill depth, angle and other variables for optimum exploration, and safety features are maximised by the predictive maintenance capabilities of smart machinery.

Back on-shore, nuclear power and coal mines are also reaping the benefits of IoT. Much like other areas of the energy industry, machine learning and continuous data gathering help equipment essential in the process of nuclear fission and the discovery of coal stay functional, operational for longer and most importantly, safe to use. As this MIT paper suggests, IoT-enabling networks could increase coal power plant efficiency from 33-49%.

It may be a well-worn subject but safety is crucial in both nuclear and coal, and if IoT-enabled machinery can improve processes and ensure workforce safety, these marginal gains can help reinvigorate an industry, parts of which are in decline.

Across the entire energy industry, the IoT will make its most immediate impact in two ways: safety and efficiency. Its biggest impact, however, is up for debate. To detractors, the energy industry will be seen to have succumbed to the ethos of automation at all costs, laying off staff to drive up profits. But let’s look at the issue from a supply chain perspective: The energy industry as a whole is wasteful in many areas; a crucial resource in desperate need of reinventing its production and deployment. The IoT will revolutionise the energy supply chain, allowing it to communicate with itself: constantly in contact, on time and not prone to wasting resource.

As with manufacturing, finance and any other key vertical you care to name, energy has the opportunity to embrace developments in the IoT or reject them. It has the opportunity to pioneer, and it already is in some quarters. The IoT future’s bright and the energy industry is in a good position to keep that bulb shining brightly.

Author: Jon Kennard

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