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Utilities: Technology Investment Needed to Reinvent the Industry

By Dick Weisinger

The utilities and energy sector has been a notorious laggard in modernizing and keeping pace with new technology. That may begin to change as climate change, energy prices, and energy-grid stress drive utilities to be more efficient in their operations.

Much of what is enabling change is the greater availability of data and the ability to analyze it. For example, many energy utilities are upgrading their grids and installing customer smart meters to get more data, data that can help in understanding current customer usage patterns. Rick Perez, a principal at Deloitte Consulting, said that the transformation goes way beyond just installing smart meters. “Some of the largest utilities in the U.S. are taking the first steps of creating a data engineering platform and an edge-computing practice, using sensor arrays and real-time analysis.”

IDC estimates that by 2025 utilities companies will increase their spending to automate operations, investing in edge, AI, and machine learning technologies. This includes investment into areas like digital twins, AI-based risk analysis, predictive usage demand, and digital transformation.

Just one example is how AI and data analytics can help utilities identify weaknesses in their infrastructure is using data to perform risk analysis and simulation. Risk analysis can help identify infrastructure assets that are due for replacement and help assess how best to schedule, repair, and replace assets to minimize disruption.

One big question though is how much money utilities will have available for investment. Edison Electric estimates that utility companies invested $140 billion in 2022. But despite that, ASCE (the American Society of Civil Engineers) predicts a funding gap of $200 billion.

We’re at a point now where new investment will become critical for future success. Perez commented that “we’re at an inflection point, and there simply is no viable plan for utilities’ future without technologies like AI and high-performance computing.”

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