May 10th, 2019

Putting Web Technologies to Work in Energy Retail

A brief glance of why the private sector took care of energy retail. See how numerous companies strive to deliver value to this growing market.
It's safe to say that now the energy sector is no stranger to all sorts of IT solutions, as there are plenty of companies who have adopted web tools to make their products even better.
But, hold on...what do these areas have in common? First, they're both based on grids: whether it's electricity flow, data management, hosting, or IoT, they're all operated within a closed system connected by countless routes between peers. Also, don't you think that windmills are operated on their own? In reality, even things such as oil storages rely on smart cards/wells to improve operating performance to fully enable "Intelligent Operations" that automate gas and oil management to the maximum.

Solar energy is probably what needs no introduction since it was digitized from the get-go. Now, it's more about tracking solar panels' performance from a distance and regulating them via the console in case they need power adjustment or maintenance. Weather prediction is another powerful asset the technologies bring to the table—this allows to automatically schedule power consumption for both wind and solar energy stations.

But apart from delivery services, web-technology is great for billing purposes: currently, many companies have started digitizing the invoice system. You no longer have to keep an eye on monthly bills via tracking devices or clumped-up bills. Mobile apps are steadily becoming a go-to option, where you can get all the info regarding your energy spending in a user-friendly UI—the data integration doesn't take long and the consumption level is now fully under your control. We used the same approach when working with companies like BudgetEnergie. A neat mobile app was made for reaching customers—moving fully to the digital energy management was the way to replace costly local suppliers.

As the government-based suppliers are becoming obsolete, for example, in the US states where private energy retailers are legal (44% of the electricity grid is available for that matter), their market share has reached 20% by 2011 and keeps growing. Competition, in itself, proved to be a great way to shape up the market, since the customers got a few options on their hands, and the cheapest ones always prevail. Price-regulated electricity cannot fit the ever-changing consumer demands since they have no incentives to cut the costs or innovate to improve their product quality.

As for now, companies like ME SOLshare offer a p2p solar energy trading platform that uses a pay-as-you-go system for delivering electricity to the rural parts of the country. On the other hand, Grid Singularity was one of those who created Energy Web Chain, a blockchain-based platform that was made for operational and regulatory energy market needs.

Speaking of more down-to-earth examples, Israeli-based solutions proved to be great for energy management by capitalizing on its geographical strengths and weaknesses: sunny weather and a lack of water. Raytech has tailored for remote mapping for solar PV installations, while Utilis made great advancements in using satellite power - it is now capable of detecting water leaks by using its far sight. Moreover, the water question was also addressed by Watergen, a company that implements a technique of getting water from humid air and then delivering it to the end customers.

When it comes to energy storage, Cadenza is one of those who managed to bring it to the next level: their caching technique for both jelly rolls and large cells brought usage convenience where customers can deal with electricity on their own. Ceramic fiber cells became a well-rounded solution for housing energy that is free from combustion, cascading failures and is fire retardant. With a number of different prismatic cell sizes, it's now easy to adjust the customer needs for all sorts of low profile packs.

IoT can also have its spot in the energy sector—replacing regular sensors with smart devices can drastically improve production output and deliver it to the end customers. It's not as revolutionary as placing IoT-connected devices in households that were out of touch with a technological grid, but the plans to have over 300 "Smart Cities" across Europe by the end of 2019 is what pushed European Innovation Partnership to develop new protocols for digitizing energy operations.

Notably, some of the larger IT companies are steadily expanding their grasp on the energy sector. Although they don't contribute as much to the innovation itself, their expansion is worth noting since they bring solid amounts of money and adoption to this table:

IBM

This tech giant, usually associated with hardware and consulting, is among the companies that adopted the energy market. By using their widespread electrical grid, IBM offers the clients seamless:

  • electrical asset optimization

IBM Maximo is a powerful tool that allowed to combine complex geological and meteorological data, energy prices, aerodynamics, and turbine efficiency (if we take windmills, for instance). This and other patterns, including oil storage management, allowed for precise data modeling to know the amount of power output that is needed for delivering or consuming for the clients.

  • energy resource integration

This includes technology storage within any of the industries, distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) fusion within existing grids, and enabling these platforms to dispatch the energy on-demand effectively. IBM energy integration depends on 3 major factors: the essential grid, power of markets, and mantle of sustainability.

  • smart metering

This technology was designed to automate metering and transport data that operates in meters to count resource usage. It has the biggest value when dealing with high grid load and shortages, allowing to adjust the consumption and available power levels.

Fujitsu

Fujitsu, another IT company that is heavily invested in the energy and utility business, offers a wide range of services for that matter: connected assets, intelligent operations, smart connected workforce, and cybersecurity.

More specifically, Fujitsu works on creating neat applications that help their clients manage and enhance energy delivery via a network of 7,000km power lines and 48,200km of pipelines. Moreover, they're currently providing the software for wind energy companies to produce over 30TWh annually. Being a Japanese company, Fujitsu is well aware of the weather factor, so they're also developing software for power stations with an advanced warning system that is based on AI and relies on fiber-optic, multi-point, and temperature sensors for their security.

Cisco

Yet another example when a company heavily commits to a secondary area: this time it's Cisco, a well-known mogul in the technological world. They have made sizeable leaps in adopting energy needs by partnering with BC Hydro and SDEE Muntenia Nord.

In the first case, Cisco enabled their client's utilities to migrate towards digital business by using security, networking, and smart grids (Field Area Network). As a result, more than 1.9M customers are now receiving energy that is measured twice a day (instead of twice a month), outages are gone, and the remote grid control has been taken to a new level.

As for the second client, they have implemented automated control for distribution systems that utilize smart grids and moved energy distribution to be handled by software that uses a branded IOx IR 809G Router; meanwhile, SCADA is handled by Fog Director. This has drastically eased the management process and substation control with no real need for a physical presence when delivering energy to the end customers.

Conclusion

As you can see, the energy business is no different from the IT world: they're both pursuing progress and can benefit from each other. Apart from creating breakthrough solutions, web technologies can also improve existing practices in the energy sector by adding security, performance, and distant control over every production stage.

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