By Simon Vardy, Utilities Strategy Lead, Accenture Australia and New Zealand; Tony Histon, Transmission & Distribution Lead, Accenture Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa

The convergence of information and operational technologies (IT/OT) enables cost savings, reliability improvements and new services across the utility sector. More efficient investments, greater customer choice and lower risk operations can result where digital technologies are applied to the operational sphere. However, these benefits are only possible where the enabling technologies are integrated, coordinated and secured to deliver better insights, automation and control.

At its most basic, IT/OT integration is simply about making information available where and when it can have the greatest impact.

Data abounds in modern distribution systems and the Internet of Things (IoT) has seen data stream from network and customer equipment, as traditional supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems extend deeper into the network.

As energy distribution networks become more complex, understanding how to use this data is essential to improve rather than confuse network operations.

The case for investing in new technology to translate data into actionable insights still faces opposition due to upfront cost, time commitments, scarcity of skills and cybersecurity concerns and the challenge of legacy system integration.

These concerns can be addressed by quantifying the benefits, roadmap, architecture and risk mitigation strategies for IT/OT integration.

By defining clear paths toward integration, Australian utilities can realise unprecedented cost and operational efficiencies from outage management, Distributed Energy Generation (DEG) and asset management.

Optimising outage management

Unsurprisingly, unplanned outage management tops the list of concerns of utility providers. Australia’s vast landscape and remote geography add to the complexities of managing these issues and necessitates a technologically assisted understanding of power network performance, and the ability to accurately detect and respond to network failures.

IT/OT enabled smart metering can provide near real-time status of any unplanned outages and improve fault identification. This is especially important when outages occur along radial lines in remote areas.

More efficient unplanned outage management will reduce end-user downtime, and in turn increase consumer confidence and community support. Efficient outage management will also minimise the business impacts from lost productivity.

Supply can be restored efficiently using intelligent systems and devices that isolate faults and restore supply promptly, whilst assigning available crews based on skills and fault proximity.

Integrated distributed generation

Australians are increasingly taking energy into their own hands, with a newfound reliance on distribution generation (DG). According to Accenture’s 2017 Power Surge Ahead Report, 15 per cent of residential households own small-scale PV systems.

Advanced operational systems are now necessary to support DG growth and avoid costly network reinforcement to support such forms of power generation.

IT/OT integration allows smart devices such as intelligent inverters to manage DG locally, minimising network augmentation costs.

Smart inverters will create a more flexible grid by controlling DG output to maintain network stability and power quality in response to real-time changes in demand.

Advanced asset management

Fundamentally, IoT will enable data to be more effectively incorporated into network planning, with the eventual goal of holistic network monitoring.

Traditionally, asset management has been plagued with poor quality practical data. Hypothetical analysis and trend-oriented modelling often inform decisions when estimating a grid’s health and performance.

This guesswork is often ill-equipped to precisely estimate the outcome of asset operations under varying network conditions.

IoT will provide real-time data, allowing up-to-the-minute monitoring of asset health and performance to facilitate decisions based upon predicted outcomes.

A new cybersecurity frontier for utilities

Whilst IoT and SCADA promise benefits such as enhanced performance and cost reduction, with that comes the requirement to build cybersecurity into the implementation plan.

Accenture’s 2019 Cost of Cybercrime Study revealed cyberattacks to be on the rise for Australian organisations, which experienced an 18 per cent increase in the number of security breaches in 2018.

However, the research also found that cyberattacks are now taking less time to resolve, demonstrating an improvement in security capabilities.

It can be argued that the bigger risk for utility providers is to avoid innovation entirely, and to maintain organisational silos around infrastructure, technology and operations.

Australian utilities must now look toward IT/OT based technologies to provide sought-after bottom-line benefits and increased operational efficiency.

Utility companies across the country have a profound opportunity to realise unprecedented benefits associated with these new technologies, thereby overhauling the provision of energy in Australia.

Siobhan Day is the Assistant Editor of Utility magazine and Pump Industry magazine, and has been part of the team since early 2019. With a background in management in the non-profit sector, Siobhan has extensive experience in communications, professional writing and client management. She holds a Bachelor of Business and Communications and is currently completing a postgraduate degree.

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