Technology is a powerful asset in the race to decarbonize the energy system. But to meet its full potential, technology needs to be one part of a long-term business strategy.  

My recent article on the types of data that make Layered Intelligence possible is a prime example. Although deploying different sensors across the grid can offer invaluable insight to inform short- and long-term decision making, taking charge of the energy transition is not just a case of switching on a new system and sitting back.  

Leveraging the potential of layered intelligence calls for a clear strategy; the utility will be making an investment not only in the physical devices, but in the technology solutions to connect the devices and leverage the data.  This will bring the inevitable scrutiny that comes with new digital offerings and also that from intervenors considering implications of the data. 

From resilience to interoperability, it’s critical that operators know where they’re heading before embarking on their journey to digitalization, because the road ahead is constantly changing.  We’ve moved from fixed targets to a flexible approach. From single devices to arrays of complex platforms that all need to work together. And that means there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution.  However, I believe that there are four fundamental considerations that will empower any utility to make the right strategic choices about layered intelligence. 

Strategic imperative 1: Start with a strategy focus on resilience 

Much like the different data sources that make Layered Intelligence so powerful, a utility’s technology implementation strategy needs to consist of multiple, complimentary levels to successfully create a resilient, reliable grid. This concept of a dual grid (data and commodity) is essential until these forces fully converge. Setting a strategic vision aimed at improving the customer’s operational experience has many benefits. 

Apart from helping to clarify the direction of travel, and thus meet key business objectives, it also simplifies the task of staying on the right side of changing regulation, especially for utilities managing multiple regulators across jurisdictions. Reacting to new rules can be costly and impractical: but, if disruptive forces like Distributed Generation, customer data and capacity are all factored into the picture early, changing regulations become easier to navigate – and the customer experience is never at risk. 

Strategic imperative 2: Focus on interoperability 

Even with a thorough strategy, maintaining resilience and reliability will call for flexibility as the digital landscape changes. Utilities must try to find the sweet spot between fixed processes and plans, and flexibility. As powerful as today’s technology is, the accelerating rate of innovation means that best-in-class products can soon be replaced by something better. This constant evolution can have a huge impact on a utility’s strategy. That’s why interoperability - the ease with which different technologies can be interchanged while operating seamlessly– is key. 

Interoperability offers two clear advantages:

  • First, taking a flexible approach means utilities may not be locked into a meter replacement cycle to take advantage of Layered Intelligence.  
  • Second, it’s more cost-effective than maintaining multiple networks and solutions. Although true interoperability at the network and application layer is still evolving, it’s evident that creating a network that supports multiple solutions and empowers operators to replace parts rather than rebuilding the entire network every time technology and trends change, will allow for faster adoption of next generation solutions.   

The key comes in partnering with vendors to understand the way in which technological advances may impact operations, in order to build a viable path through changes – both anticipated and unforeseen. 

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Strategic imperative 3: Diversify data sources  

The rapidly-changing grid cannot be tamed (or fully managed) only through the strategic placement of meter endpoints alone. If (or when) operators decide that it’s time to expand their ability to source grid data, it is important to consider the strategic placement of multiple device types as well as additional sources of data. 

Creating a converged network solution calls for the deployment of a diverse range of devices across multiple locations as well as diverse data sources such as security camera or drone footage. Device placement (e.g., sensors, DA devices, SCADA devices) and data source management is about anticipating shifting grid behaviors and ensuring that it’s possible to gather insight no matter how the grid composition and configuration changes as renewables and distributed generation are integrated. 

Strategic imperative 4: Be prepared 

One of the first proving grounds for a proposed digital or data strategy is the inevitable influence from third-party intervenors responsible for protecting customers. Plans that check all the boxes internally may not meet the needs of all third-parties The energy transition has accelerated beyond the ability of regulators to rewrite the rules, so they are actively looking for thorough, long-term promises of stability and safety. 

Similarly, efforts to reduce climate change and renewed interest from ESG-focused investors means strategic plans are poked and prodded to ensure they serve long-term sustainability ambitions. Given the size of the potential reward, it is simply too risky to enter these types of conversations unprepared. It is important to be prepared for difficult conversations around the possibilities of any utility having a “data monopoly”, and to have a clear vision on the way in which advances in data and devices remain in the best interest of utility customers.  

It all starts with strategy 

Technology that isn’t tied to a strong strategy can only take a business so far. To access the potential of Layered Intelligence, utilities need to match their focus on reliability and resilience with an awareness of the importance of interoperability.  Coupled with diverse device deployment and a readiness to have difficult discussions, it’s possible to deliver long-lasting Layered Intelligence in an affordable, sustainable way.  

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Megan Krug

Managing Director – Consulting, Utilities, Grid Modernization

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