Hurricane Ida knocked out power to the entire city of New Orleans. Severe winter storms in February caused a massive failure of the Texas electric grid, leaving millions without power or heat. The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in May created fuel shortages across 11 states and Washington, D.C.
These recent events illustrate why the energy sector is increasingly looking to modernize through the use of advanced digital technologies. Beyond such catastrophic incidents, the industry must improve resilience to other disruptive forces such as supply chain vulnerabilities, price volatility, regulatory changes and environmental concerns.
In addition, the industry is under pressure to find ways to increase the use of renewable energy sources to supplement conventional sources in order to meet rising demand. Industry analysts say global electricity demand is likely to increase by about 50 percent over the next 20 years.
In the face of these increasing pressures, 95 percent of energy executives believe that digital transformation is now a top strategic priority. According to a recent survey by Deloitte, most executives said they want to use emerging technologies to improve reliability, productivity and operational efficiency.
Here are some of the key technologies energy and utility companies are using to transform the industry:
- Internet of Things. In the oil & gas industry, IoT sensors are increasingly being embedded in drilling equipment, pipelines, storage facilities, vehicles and other equipment to collect, process and transfer data to manage and monitor key resources. For example, predictive analysis of pipeline and storage tank IoT data can help ensure timely maintenance and repairs, and seismic sensors are used to evaluate subsurface drilling sites for offshore rigs. Sensors that monitor conditions of drilling rigs, pipelines and storage tanks improve safety and help prevent leaks or spills that could have serious environment impacts.
- Advanced Analytics. Digital technologies produce vast amounts of data that can be analyzed with machine learning algorithms to produce insights about production levels, transport mechanisms, supply chain processes and more. Such analysis can help drive improved decision-making about workflows, production planning and market forecasting. Utility companies use analytics to optimize power generation, manage grid loads, evaluate trading patterns and reduce costs.
- Cloud Computing. As in other industries, increased use of the cloud is necessary to increase computing power and storage space while reducing IT infrastructure investments. It is essential for enabling almost all other digitization efforts, including data analytics, equipment monitoring and energy optimization. Cloud-based accounting and transaction management software offers energy companies a unified and modular framework for running critical business processes.
- Smart Technologies. The U.S. electric grid was built in the 1890s and has been continually upgraded ever since, but is now being pushed to its functional limits. Current modernization efforts are focused on creating a smart grid that uses digital communications to automatically detect and react to any problems or disruptions and enable self-healing measures. The technologies include advanced sensors that provide continual updates on grid stability, smart meters that track monthly energy usage and automatically report outages, smart relays that sense and recover from substation faults, and feeder switches that automatically reroute power around trouble spots.
- Cybersecurity. As energy and utility companies move more operations online, they become increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks. In fact, the energy sector is among the top targets. Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies allow companies to identify and remediate threats across their entire ecosystem. Self-learning solutions can continuously analyze data from all systems to identify the telltale patterns of advanced threats.
The Department of Energy notes that the secure, reliable and efficient delivery of energy is essential for ensuring “the nation's security, economic prosperity, and the well-being our citizens.” Recent events have demonstrated just how true that is. Contact the experts at Technologent to learn more about achieving digital transformation within the energy sector.