|By Scott Allen
|March 8, 2017 04:52 PM EST
Recent research estimates that the Smart Grid will be a $120 Billion industry by 2020. As Industrial IoT (IIoT) drives digital transformation for utilities, there are a fair share of challenges and opportunities facing the Smart Grid industry today.
To keep up with rapid growth and new technology that is shaping the utility markets in particular, Smart Grid decision makers must continue to improve efficiency. This allows the organization to leverage better data and make smart business decisions that align with an increasingly connected infrastructure.
The Convergence Challenge
In utilities markets, the IT/OT divide is rapidly shrinking, revealing significant challenges between the two groups. OT and IT each come to the convergence line with functional and operational differences, yet the changing technology landscape makes it impossible to avoid the inevitable meshing of the two formerly disparate organizations.
As Smart Grid decision makers adjust to this shift, strong communication between teams will be essential – as well as careful selection of technology. For example, if utilities can work to integrate their legacy systems on the OT side with the more modern IT systems through a carefully selected communication solution, the Smart Grid will become more efficient, leading to better business decisions, as well as improved system operations and overall visibility.
IT/OT convergence, coupled with the new digital landscape has also driven Smart Grid organizations to reorganize under IT and address new technology challenges from a jobs perspective. Utilities are facing an ageing, traditional workforce on the OT side coming head-to-head with a new digital-centric workforce on the IT side. For Smart Grid organizations, it is essential to find the balance between hiring new technology savvy talent and nurturing existing staff.
IoT will continue to drive automation, as Smart Grid decision makers either upgrade their legacy systems or figure out how to connect existing ones. We may see an increase in privately funded secondary education programs designed to create a more skilled workforce. If decision makers embrace the inevitable shift to digital, they will not only see the impact on efficiency, but they will stay competitive in an IoT driven market.
Smart Sensor Boom
IoT sparked a digital technology shift that resulted in the proliferation of Smart Sensors. Now utilities are able to monitor and transfer critical data from any asset – from the network Edge back to the central office. The demand for sensors hasn’t slowed – research is pointing towards continued and substantial growth in the Smart Sensor market between now and 2021.
As sensors bring connectivity to more endpoints than ever before, utility decision makers are able to obtain detailed data for Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and Distribution Automation (DA) networks. With rugged wireless solutions, the sensor data is readily available in real-time for IT decision makers. The unrestricted access to data from all network endpoints forces decision makers to shift their focus from Big Data to Smart Data – the data that matters most to the business. It also drives the need for real-time analytics in order to streamline operations. This not only simplifies the convergence issue, but it drives Smart Grid efficiency.
There are many factors contributing to the efficiency of the Smart Grid. While some initially present themselves as challenges, increasing connectivity and digital transformation give decision makers better data, connect more field assets and enable more opportunities to benefit the business.