At the rate the Internet of Things space is progressing, it’s not going to be long until our daily lives consist of a series of interlocking IoT-enabled services. Whether it’s household items like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Nest thermostat, or the connected technology powering newer vehicles, already millions of households are experiencing this shift from sunrise to sunset. However, the rise of ‘smart utilities’ is a major trend happening alongside the growth of the ‘smart home’—and it deserves far more attention than it’s currently getting.
Smart meters are already proliferating within our communities, where they help better monitor and manage household electricity and water usage, and as we move forward, this kind of Industrial IoT (IIoT)-enabled technology is going to help utilities better deploy and scale renewable energy. In fact, one of the big advantages that IIoT-enabled services are providing utilities is the ability to mitigate much of the weather-related risk that comes with deployment of renewable power via constant and comprehensive monitoring of backup power used with utility communications equipment. This is hugely important for the future of renewable energy, as communication is critical for energy companies when major weather incidents such as hurricanes and tropical storms threaten the stability of their smart grids.
At Plug Power, we’re already seeing some of these benefits among our utility telecom customers, including SouthernLinc’s deployment of hydrogen fuel cells as a clean backup power source for its communications towers. While utility telecom providers purchase fuel cells because of their myriad benefits, including capital and operational cost savings, reduced physical footprint, and significantly reduced maintenance costs, the importance of IoT-enabled monitoring must not be overlooked. The IIoT enables utilities to stay ahead of refueling needs and operational situations that threaten the functioning of the hydrogen fuel cell power source, ensuring robust reliability in their operations. With 99.6 percent uptime across all our customers, this is a use case that can easily serve as a blueprint for other utilities!
"The rise of ‘smart utilities’ is a major trend that deserves far more attention than its currently getting"
It’s likely that in the near future, utilities will be able to automate significant portions of their operations via IIoT-services as the different components of their grids and systems are able to ‘talk’ with one another. This will help them trigger mission-critical functions throughout the day or in exceptional circumstances with human operators able to status monitor and dispatch service calls when needed from a central hub. In addition to making daily operations more effective and efficient for the utilities themselves, the IIoT can greatly benefit households by empowering utilities with the ability to respond to natural disasters and critical service outages through more efficient allocation of critical resources—all with minimal down-time due to significantly accelerated response time.
Whether it’s protecting against interrupted communications during severe weather events, or ensuring that water purity is being constantly monitored, the ability for the IIoT to improve utilities provision will provide immediate, tangible benefits to everyone involved. And as cities look to the various ways they can develop and employ IoT-enabled smart city services, utilities will be a critical stakeholder in these conversations. In doing so, utilities and municipalities will be better able to provide their constituents with the powerful potential benefits enabled by the IIoT, while bolstering reliability and safety for the years to come.