Digital transformation is a known factor that fosters operational excellence and the creation of new value streams. This is especially valid for utilities companies, which are facing a challenge to decarbonize and decentralize their sources. As utilities’ core services are becoming a commodity, the companies require new, augmented value to stay competitive in the services market.
The areas impacted by digitalization in utilities
For many plant and infrastructure operators, digitalization helps manage plant lifecycles and ARO (asset retirement obligations) processes, from design to dismantling. It also brings numerous solutions to different working areas, including safety, collaboration, work quality, and environmental impact. Let’s look briefly at each of these areas.
Digitalization is a game changer when it comes to tracking hazards and providing excellence in crisis management. New, user-friendly FSM (Field Service Management) tools ensure full situation awareness through features such as geolocation services, real-time alerts, assisted video-calling, real-time photo or video exchange, remote monitoring of life signs and assistance in the event of emergency, as well as deployment of drones in unsafe areas.
Digital technology also provides an important communication safety factor. Acting as a “single source of truth” and integrity enabler, it prevents miscommunication, errors and incidents.
In terms of cooperation, digitalization provides tools for operators, business managers, experts, customers and communities, stimulating collaboration and information exchange with collaborative platforms. The technology provides solutions based on sharing insights and expertise, and connecting people. It breaks down silos and fosters more open knowledge exchange.
Most utilities companies reach out to the next level of business intelligence: KPI monitoring, risk management and dashboards, where data can be aggregated and visualized at different company levels (plant, fleet or portfolio), which enhances the speed and quality of decision-making.
Thanks to uninterrupted access to technical data and input options, which enable secure knowledge exchange and advanced data analytics, utilities companies can improve operations and maintenance. This means they can produce actionable insights and optimize their own processes.
Digital technology is also a precious ally in meeting CO2 emission targets and achieving energy consumption reductions. It enables intelligent asset management, maintenance and optimization. Digitalization introduces new solutions and business designs to successfully bring about the shift to renewable energies, to manage the replacement of ageing infrastructure efficiently, and shift to paperless operations.
Digital technology and digitalization processes create entirely new ways of working that can help tackle important challenges faced by utilities companies (competition, retirement of ageing legacy infrastructure and shifting towards decarbonized and decentralized sources). Achieving these goals is vital, as studies suggest the ICT (information and communication technologies) industry along with Industry 4.0 could consume 20% of all electricity and emit up to 5.5% of the world’s carbon emissions by 2025. Thus, ensuring that energy comes from green sources will be high priority.
While we can see the many opportunities and benefits of digitalization, we must not forget that there are large discrepancies in the adoption of digital tools and the digital maturity of utilities companies in different countries. Even though a digital future seems clear, the subject of digitalization will be an ongoing topic for discussion in the sector in the coming years.