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Faster Acceleration Of Digital Technology?

Aug. 31, 2020
The benefits afforded the power delivery industry from the wholesale adoption of digital technology have been amazing. No one dreamed of the actual impact that this transformation would have.

Recently I was researching a new technological development I had heard about from a friend. It sounded like something that would make an interesting topic for an upcoming article, but my best-laid plans fell apart. I got sidetracked by a couple of splashy headlines designed to catch my attention. Like the Siren’s Song of Greek mythology, they could not have lured me off course any better. I couldn’t ignore them.

One headline said something about how the COVID-19 was pushing the population deeper into cyberspace. Another discussed the technological war on the pandemic. But the one that really hooked me said that COVID-19 was accelerating the evolution of digital technologies.

Heck, I thought the pace of technological advancement was moving along extremely fast without any additional help. If something was increasing the speed of digital development, I wanted to know about it. A quick read of several of these attention-getting articles revealed the actual emphasis wasn’t about how fast new technologies were emerging or evolving.

New or Existing

They were about the speed at which the general population was installing off-the-shelf digital technologies. In a nutshell, texting, social media, and streaming are on everyone’s smartphone, but because of COVID-19 people have recognized they need more helpful digital tools. So rather than seeing an acceleration of digital technology, we are experiencing the widening use of digital technology - a transformation.

That got me thinking about the digital transformation that is taking place on our electric grid as informational and operational technologies converged. It all started with smart grid’s digital technology replacing the legacy analog technology, and then went on to include everything from cloud-based services to artificial intelligence, from advanced management systems to energy storage.

Fast forward to present day, the benefits afforded the power delivery industry from the wholesale adoption of digital technology have been amazing. No one dreamed of the actual impact that this transformation would have. Digital technologies made it possible for the industry to grow new products, provide customer services, and open fresh markets. The growth in renewable generation plus storage is allowing for decentralization. Distributed energy sources have made bidirectional power sources and the prosumer possible.   

Digital Advantage

This growth of the cyber-physical interface allows the utility’s personnel to interact with our self-aware grid from central offices or remote work locations needed in today’s COVID-19 environment. Thanks to a great deal of forethought the power delivery industry has been able to keep the power flowing throughout the pandemic.

Utilities have spent a large amount of time and resources deploying the digital building blocks necessary to provide us with today’s digital grid, which has opened up a larger segment of cyberspace to its workforce. As a result the stakeholders have more capability than ever before. This virtual smart grid with its smarter-ware is permitting all branches of the enterprise to respond quicker to both normal and emergency situations.

Manufacturers have played an important part too. Suppliers such as GE, Hitachi ABB, Mitsubishi, Siemens, and others have pushed the technological envelope on their sophisticated applications. We have the interconnectivity we need where we need it.

The result of this partnership is tangible advantages for utility personnel. The technology allows for the workforce to relocate to offsite locations. These remote workplaces are virtually connected to the enterprise’s centralized work centers, permitting people to have less exposure to large numbers of employees.

Technology also locates personnel closer to where they are really needed reducing response time so important for outages as more people depend on the electricity flowing. It’s also making a more agile workforce able to respond faster and more efficiently. There is also the benefit of opening more avenues of communication between field personnel and office workers.

Mixed reality allows crossover between the virtual and physical worlds. It’s not unusual for personnel in the field to be utilizing bodycams that are connected to the office using video conferences through their smartphones. Technicians can send video to the engineers. The engineers review video and annotate video stills. Information is returned to the field and the problems are fixed more quickly than waiting for someone driving out to the job site.

There is a lot of speculation about what the post-pandemic grid will be like, but it is all speculation right now. What we do know, however, is the fact that there is a lot of solid science behind the smart grid’s technology and it will only get better!

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