Despite the utilities sector being one of the first areas of industry to digitalize its operations in the 1970s, business leaders have been slow to make systematic changes in recent years.
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At COP21 in 2015, world leaders agreed to take united action in limiting the rise of global temperatures to less than two degrees Celsius.

The pressures to reduce carbon emissions, as well as the shift to post-recession, less energy-intensive industries, have led to a surge in demand for new power and utilities offerings across the globe.

Fossil fuels currently account for 82 per cent of the world’s primary energy usage, but as governments begin to tightly regulate this usage and renewable energy generation is on the rise, utilities need to evolve.

This presents several growth opportunities for the utilities industry to integrate additional services into their portfolio. However, one of the greatest challenges facing utilities companies is the integration of new and emerging technologies into their business models.

Utilities need to begin by evaluating their current systems and infrastructure against their business goals. At Novotek, we’ve found that many utilities are using legacy equipment or disparate systems from a wide range of suppliers that, often, are out of sync with other operations in the facility.

While global investment in digital electricity infrastructure and software may have grown by over 20 per cent annually since 2014, utilities in particular must move faster. By modernising and consolidating a facility’s existing systems into one, businesses can make a significant return on investment.

Because data comes from a broad range of sources, consolidation allows organisations to present data easier, while also facilitating effective data analysis. Data consolidation techniques reduce inefficiencies like data duplication, costs related to reliance on multiple databases and multiple data management points.

Currently, the utilities sector is greatly fragmented as a result of decades of outsourcing in incremental functional and geographic silos. With technologies that exist today, like GE Digital’s Predix Plant Applications software, which is part of the Predix manufacturing execution system (MES) suite, utilities can now manage the hundreds of devices and pieces of equipment operating simultaneously across not just one plant, but an entire portfolio from one system in real-time.

Combining predictive machine learning and advanced analytics, the technology can help utilities managers to transition from a reactive to a proactive and prescriptive operating model.

This is because plant applications allow plant managers to analyse and configure insights from the data collected, to make informed business decisions and establish new unfragmented processes, to improve other areas of the business, like reducing waste.

By 2025, data analytics will to be a core component in assisting utilities in making key business decisions. By consolidating various processes and integrating automation technologies, utilities can optimise their operations to significantly improve performance and retain a competitive edge.

Sean Robinson is service leader at utilities control system provider Novotek UK and Ireland.

Digitalization is a key area that will explored at European Utility Week in Vienna next week. Click here for details.