Change through digitalisation

In as little as a decade, digital disruption has changed the way we watch films, listen to music and do our banking beyond recognition. The energy business is widely expected to be among the next big sectors to go through such an enormous change. 

Behind the predicted disruption to the energy sector, lies a combination of technological advancements, environmental concerns and a move towards a smarter way of living. The Smart City concept is rapidly becoming a real possibility rather than a far-fetched futuristic scenario, combining a variety of infrastructure elements, including different parts of the energy business.

So, where to now? What opportunities will arise and how can we best utilise them to help our energy customers and others move forward? How can we create even better solutions, embracing concepts such as the Internet of Things, automation of knowledge work, big data, predictive analytics and machine learning?

For the last few years, Powel has had a clear focus on moving towards mobile solutions and cloud services. While this development is continuing, we are simultaneously moving towards more interactive thinking between and among business areas and products. Powel strives to always be innovative and ahead of the rest. With new technology and smart devices, we are able to add even more value to our solutions and services.

Challenges and opportunities

Referred to by some as the fourth industrial revolution, digitalisation, like previous revolutions, has produced both winners and losers as far as companies are concerned. One of the definite success stories of the digital disruption is Apple. In 2007, it reinvented the mobile phone. Just under a decade on, sales of the iPhone has reached a staggering 700 million.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have Kodak, for whom the digital disruption became the beginning of the end. Once an iconic brand, its bankruptcy in 2012 is a stark warning of what could happen if you fail to keep abreast of technological developments.

What this shows us beyond a doubt, is that when markets change; companies need to change with them. As part of the ongoing digital disruption, business process automation is creating new business models. We believe that as many as 50% of current processes in any sector can be automated in the future thanks to advances in machine learning, and we are already looking at how complex machine learning can be an asset to our solutions in the future.

Powel joined the digital game early on, first by making solutions accessible on smart phones and tablets. We have also tested solutions on smart watches and we are using sensor technology and drones to inspect grids. Solutions that provide real-time information to consumers have been a success. For example, the outage maps we provided to several Norwegian grid owners are now widely used nationwide by customers and the media during storms and other service disruptions.

An inevitable development currently is the change from monolithic systems to real-time cloud services. Rather than large, complex systems, micro services like apps, connected machines and sensors will add value. We are seeing a change from long-term product road maps to micro services that have an expected life cycle of only a few years. With solutions built on leading technology platforms like Esri ArcGIS and Microsoft Azure, one platform can support multi-infrastructure, supporting water, fibre, electricity, heat, gas and other connected smart city services.

Machine learning is an important aspect to the Microsoft Azure platform, and as one of a few select strategic partners of Microsoft in the Nordics, this presents many opportunities for Powel and our customers. The Azure platform will help us deal with the many changes ahead in the energy sector as well as other sectors we work in. Geotags are another important trend that enables all activities, events and physical assets to have a geographical location associated with them. Our close working relationship with Esri allows us to offer extremely powerful GIS solutions and spatial analytics for a variety of applications.

The customer is king

Electric grid companies are seeing a transition from monopoly to grid as a service and locally sourced energy. Today it is an asset-oriented monopoly. Tomorrow it promises to be about service-oriented, flexible markets and micro grids.

In the energy sector, we are seeing a switch from traditional off-grid cottages to self-sufficient off-grid homes. As well as the growth of self-sufficient homes, there is also a growing trend of prosumer homes, homes that can both consume and produce energy.

With the advent of electric cars and increasingly better batteries come other new opportunities. By the looks of things, it will not be long until cars can put electricity back into the grid as well as take it out. For a country like Norway, which has the highest number of electric cars per capita in the world, this will no doubt have an effect on grid companies. 

Increased efficiency in battery storage is another interesting trend having an impact on the energy sector. Advancements in energy storage will dramatically change how to handle peak demand and might even mean not having to build a new grid to deal with increased demand. Electric cars have been viewed as a problem for the grid. Now however, “vehicle-to-grid” technology is creating opportunities and cars may go from being a problem for the grid to an asset, maybe even lowering peak consumption rather than raising it.

Where to invest

Grid companies in Norway are facing huge investments. In fact, organisations including SBB, NVE, and Statnett have estimated the necessary investments to be over 140 billion Norwegian kroner. We believe that by introducing new opportunities in battery storage, solar energy and vehicle-to-grid technology, we can lower investment costs substantially.

There is no doubt that the changes happening create challenges, but it also gives us the opportunity to be innovative by forcing us to rethink our work processes and in many cases start from scratch.  The end user is becoming more important to us, and the services we offer going forward are the result of both a new way of thinking and the latest technology that have unlocked new possibilities.

Sensors and information are now everywhere. Gartner forecasts that 5.5 million new things will be connected to the internet every day and will reach 50 billion by 2020. By utilising technology from our partners, we are enabling new business models and creating solutions that are independent of legacy Network Information Systems or Geospatial Information Systems. Powel’s understanding of both these technologies and utility processes makes us uniquely qualified to offer guidance and valued-added services every step of the way.