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The role of electric utilities in smart city planning

May 20, 2021

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The playing field for electricity providers has forever changed. “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile,” said the car ad tag line from 1988. Well, we’re no longer living in an age of your father’s or grandfather’s electric utility.

For decades, the traditional electric utility was a simple ABC construct: The electricity is generated in one place (A) and sent down a wire (B) to the customer (C). In today’s electric world, power is generated from many sources, and wires carry the current to and from diverse points, switching in fractions of seconds.

Renewables like wind and solar, along with the increased imperative for sustainable energy sources, are driving the changes in the electric utility industry, but so are new and different demands on the utilities from customer expectations of immediate and 24×7 accessibility to new operating environments, which include aberrant weather such as the Texas ice storms, wildfires in California and beyond, and cyberattacks globally.

To cope with this more difficult environment utilities are digitizing and moving to a cloud infrastructure: They are rapidly becoming connected and improving agility. The future utility will be driven by data analytics plus communications. But that future is now.

Instead of a decade to transition to a new paradigm, the shift that’s necessary in the electric industry happened virtually overnight. Dependence on broadband delivered residentially and the massive traffic incurred by video conferencing alone was staggering. In April 2020 for instance, CNBC reported that daily downloads of cloud-based video communications provider Zoom’s app increased 30 times year-on-year, and the number of daily users on the platform spiked at 200 million in March—up from 10 million just three months earlier, all of which burdened the grid in completely new patterns.

The implementation of AMI meters allows the harvesting of vast amounts of data almost instantaneously and it is available to be analyzed and acted on in something close to real-time in the case of electricity management.

Data is being called the new oil and not without cause. It contains a treasure chest of information which, when unlocked, can reform utility practices, and can help prepare for emergencies.

Arshad Mansoor, president of the Electric Power Research Institute, said recentently that data can help utilities “wring more” out of the existing infrastructure. That is more power from everywhere—from big central stations to dams to wind turbines and solar arrays. And data will be the cornerstone of smart city planning.

It isn’t like it was in the old days. It’s time for communities of all sizes to embrace the opportunity to leverage the data available all around them to begin to craft their future connected community. Electric utility providers could be leading the charge. It’s a process, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. ESC is here to assist in building a concise, manageable blueprint that can take you there one step at a time. Connect with us to learn more.

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