The Digital Power Revolution Is Coming, and C&I Customers Will Benefit

When it comes to the power of information technology, thing big. Think of the way electricity is generated, delivered and consumed. That’s the essence behind General Electric’s digital power revolution, a company that says its machines are already providing a third of the world’s energy – and end-use customers are the primary beneficiaries of those technological advances.

Today, the machines are all interconnected, driven by data that is collected and centrally stored. 

It’s all tied to the Industrial Internet that analyzes tens of thousands of data points every second, which is driving higher output and improving productivity while also creating new revenue streams for customers, says GE. For the power sector and its customers, it means making grid operations more efficient to avoid congestion and possible brownouts while also minimizing emissions. 

“For the energy industry, a confluence of factors will drive the shift to digital,” writes Peter Kelly-Detwiler, a principal at NorthBridge Energy Partners, in Forbes.  “The availability of cheaper sensors and connectivity, as well as the emergence of industrial strength platforms to digest and run analytics on high speed and large scale streams of data, will enable intelligent digital solutions …”

“Perhaps the greatest driver, though, is the simple fact that there is simply so much inefficiency embedded in the current electric grid,” he adds. “Whether it’s uneconomic utilization of existing infrastructure, inefficient end-use devices and generation, or simply better ways to predict maintenance on assets using analytics, there’s a lot of value available to be harvested.”

The greater productivity resulting from new efficiencies can mean increasing the value of existing assets by hundreds of millions of dollars. Moreover, the technologies change how machinery is run, eliminating downtime and optimizing maintenance schedules, Kelly-Detwiler adds.

How do commercial and industrial customers benefit? Whereas older grid technologies may have used 3,000 sensors to provide real-time information, modern tools may use 6,000 sensors. That allows utilities to more quickly respond to market conditions.

The Galvin Electricity Initiative is also making the case for grid modernization. It says that for every dollar spent on the smart grid, $4 or $5 is returned. That’s a figure arrived at by calculating not just electricity savings but also by added productivity and job growth.

“The untold story is that the hidden cost associated with doing nothing — enduring the outages, wasted energy and antiquated technology — far outweigh the investment needed to make the grid stable and efficient for the future,” says the Galvin initiative, in an issue brief.

The technology must initially optimize wholesale energy markets by, first, assessing how much energy is needed to meet the demand within a ‘controlled area’ and, second, by determining the best generation sources to dispatch while it considers all the potential constraints on a transmission system. 

To that end, there is increasing demand for wind and solar power and the emerging digitization tools can help ensure they can gain access to the grid and that they are delivered to customers. The same technologies will also be an integral part of climate mitigation strategies and energy efficiency goals.

Indeed, the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., says that deployment of a highly automated system could severely cut greenhouse gases and limit electricity consumption by reducing sales by 1.2 to 4.3 percent by 2030.

Just as importantly, a proactive system will find any disturbance on the grid. It will isolate it. It will then address the issue by protecting those businesses that are unaffected by such a disturbance. 

“The Industrial Internet of Things is inevitable,” says Kelly-Detwiler. “Sensors and connectivity continue to fall in price, as does computing storage and processing capability. Meanwhile, the opportunities to harvest value across the energy chain – whether applied to existing or brand new power plants or wind turbines – are simply too large to ignore.”

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