Mankind has found a way to use digital technologies to optimise and improve the usage of renewable energy, by providing the necessary visibility of consumption of fuels to daily users and help them plan better.
“I would put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we do not have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that,” said Thomas Edison, according to a memoir by James D. Newton. The statement seems simple at first, especially remembering the fact that it was said in the first half of the 20th century. But almost a century later, it proves to be a cautionary sign hung in the office of every aware enterprise and nation leader across the world.
We are all talking about renewable energy today, focussing on spreading awareness about its benefits to the masses as an alternative to exhaustible fuels. The good news is that mankind has found a way to use digital technologies to optimise and improve the usage of renewable energy, by providing the necessary visibility of consumption of fuels to daily users and help them plan better.
How modern technologies complement renewables
Energy management has been an important use case for technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics. So far, we are aware of smart plugs and sensorised devices that can analyse and notify us about the electricity being utilised inside buildings. Now, solution providers are coming up with devices that can monitor renewable energy directly.
Smart grids and net-metering are being taken up by discoms rapidly to make the overall energy transaction scenario transparent. Smart grids, along with smart meters, help discoms keep an eye on the generation and distribution statistics of energy in real time.
These also give them macro- and microscopic analytics into the distribution and consumption trends of energy according to such parameters as time and region. Net-metering enables buildings that have solar panels installed to submit excess energy generated to discoms to earn money, or store for later use. These statistics can also be monitored in real time by discoms as well as customers using IoT-enabled solutions.
India’s minister of power, R.K. Singh said at a recent event, “It is important to improve India’s net-metering facility alongside the adoption of smart meters to propel the renewable energy ecosystem of the country. We have set ourselves a target of converting 100 per cent of energy meters in India into smart meters in the coming three years. This will complement our target of installing 175GW of renewable energy by 2022 and enable the nation to adopt solar energy rapidly.”
Artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics technologies are also playing an interesting role in digitising renewable energy. Once thought to be completely unrelated with renewables, AI-powered software can crunch through historical and real-time energy statistics that are recorded through sensors, and provide predictions for future power generation and consumption trends. It can also notify about power pilferage.
The IoT combined with AI platforms can be used by utilities for infrastructure maintenance, too, to have clear visibility of defects in the grid or power assets on the ground, and to take immediate action. In short, these modern technologies are kicking in predictive maintenance in utilities.
Opportunities for solution providers
The energy sector has great potential for renewables equipment and solution businesses as well as digital technology solution providers. A recent report by Allied Market Research states that the global solar energy market is set to grow to US$ 422 billion by 2022, with a CAGR of 24.2 per cent (2016-2022). Given India’s ambitious renewable targets of 175GW renewable capacity (including solar, wind and biomass) by 2022 and noticing that barely 74GW has been installed so far, demand for renewable solutions will remain at its peak, especially in the next four years.
The India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) reports that India’s electricity demand will shoot up to 15,280TWh by 2040. This demand can only be quenched through a strong renewable ecosystem, and this shows us a longstanding business ecosystem. Since India needs to maintain the infrastructure and emphasise on reduction of energy wastage and theft, smart solutions will be in high demand, too.
The smart meter business sector is already quite competitive. Teaming up with Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL), New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) has become the first discom to have converted all meters under their area into smart meters. Connectivity of smart solutions using cellular, Wi-Fi and low-power WAN technologies will also drive the demand for telecom and connectivity businesses, simultaneously.
In short, equipment manufacturers, software providers, system integrators, communication partners, distributors and supply partners in the IoT and renewable ecosystem are looking at strong business opportunities.
Both renewable and digital technologies have their own separate set of challenges that need to be addressed. From the renewable side, proper technical installation and maintenance need to be attended to carefully.
Regarding digital technologies, finding the right solutions partner, proper on-field deployment and upgradation of legacy systems, ensuring their compatibility with digital platforms, will not be easy tasks. The initiatives will be capital-intensive and, hence, will require steady support from the government.
Deeper analyses will reveal granular challenges. However, longstanding benefits will be much more emphatic than immediate hardships.