Narong Jongsirikul - Fotolia

What are the benefits of IoT for utilities and their consumers?

Saving energy and optimizing distribution are benefits of IoT for utilities. But, without consumer buy-in, IEEE senior member Shawn Chandler said, utilities' efforts are for naught.

Power suppliers and utilities looking to utilize IoT technologies to drive internal and external benefits will achieve success as they develop programs that encourage their customers to participate.

Smart metering and advanced metering infrastructure are the first steps in this progress, developing near-real-time measurement of power use and reliability metrics in the distribution grid. These systems enable greater forecasting capabilities, thereby driving down costs of generation through more efficient scheduling and reliability in the grid, as well as enabling customers to foresee spending patterns and better plan their energy usage over time.

Awareness and education programs for IoT integration with systems of systems are vitally important to keep customers aware of the benefits of any new IoT-related project. IoT activities with utilities, such as smart city applications between public and private partners, have the potential to transform customer experience, lower costs, improve efficiencies and drive greater business agility. For example, smart buildings might provide population mobility patterns that help transform traffic management systems. Smart streetlights can reduce lighting pollution, for example, by dimming when pedestrians and vehicles are not present, as well as provide the infrastructure needed to deploy gunshot detection technology to improve regional security. Smart water networks can use electric distribution sensing networks to gather information and identify leaks in real time. All these systems can transfer information over utility-sponsored communication networks. However, if citizens aren't supportive of these systems, all the planning and upfront investment for the communication and integration activity may be in vain.

We've already entered the IoT age. Unlocking value from these technologies requires more than blind investments in technology. Those organizations most likely to pull ahead of their competitors will be the ones that focus on security, performance and standards implementation to drive success, as well as get their customers on board early.

A few applications and benefits of IoT in utilities:

Smart meters are IoT-connected sensors on consumer utility lines. Rather than traditional metering systems that require monthly manual reads, residents and businesses are connected to Smart meters that automatically report data back to utility providers, enabling real-time usage monitoring and reporting. Sensors and smart meters also can record and analyze data in near-real time, alerting companies of maintenance issues before they arise and helping to locate outages, thus restoring service quicker.

Utilities use sensors connected to their infrastructure to measure resource performance and improve condition-based maintenance routines. Flow rates, temperatures and voltage data are gathered via communications networks to pinpoint problems and forecast possible issues based on analytics.

Smart buildings can control light and temperature in real time for maximum comfort and efficiency using interconnected sensors and building control systems. For indoor agriculture specifically, LED lighting is often used to dramatically reduce costs, while maintaining full-spectrum requirements and offering precision control over photoperiods and temperature.

Precise water irrigation systems with IoT sensors, including trickle and subsurface methods, greatly reduce water consumption and have the ability to integrate with utility demand response systems. Demand response programs help reduce peak demand during periods of electrical supply constraint in the grid. Irrigation systems often utilize large electric pumps that can be controlled remotely to respond to utility needs and can aid in regional electric grid reliability.

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