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Powering the digitalization era

Convergence of Information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) becoming increasingly important.

The world around us is changing at an incredible rate. Previously unconnected “things” are being integrated, devices are getting smarter, automation in the home and office is making our lives easier and our use of time more efficient. Technologies are improving in performance while decreasing in cost and by 2020 Gartner Inc forecasts that there will be more than 20 billion connected things. At the same time, this is enabling innovative new businesses to leverage control and visibility to deliver ever more increasing value to their customers. And there is no better example than the unprecedented changes within the energy industry. In fact, Gartner also predicts that utility companies will be the largest user of those connected things.1

This increasing connectedness is driving both organizations and individuals to expect more flexibility and an up-to-date flow of information – even in the most demanding environments, such as the more commonly occurring extreme weather conditions. We are going through a market shift that is transforming the energy industry. We call this digitalization, and it is changing the world in which we live.

Digitalization enables unprecedented visibility of a customer’s assets and systems and the efficient harnessing of huge volumes of data. Digitalization enables the easy integration of IT and OT systems enabling operators in control centers to interpret key insights in real time and, as a result, prevent critical failures. This allows for unprecedented integration of people, process and priority bringing numerous benefits, which includes boosting productivity, increasing the level of integration of renewable energy resources and enhancing power quality and reliability, while saving energy and costs.

In ABB, the digitalization journey actually started a long time ago. We are the world leader in SCADA control systems, the back-end infrastructure that helps to keep the lights on in many cities around the world. ABB enables operators to monitor and control electric power networks.

The expanding availability of sensors adding intelligence to geographically distributed assets has increased the importance of integrating IT and OT to improve asset management. Now with all the smart sensors in the field, the amount of process data being collected and analyzed within the substation is increasing dramatically, whether that is for protection and control or for aggregation of condition monitoring to be analyzed with predictive models and machine learning in the cloud. As this article by Jason Kasper from LNS Research2 points out, utilities see promise for a connected asset lifecycle management strategy, which also explores areas such as workforce management and planning.

A global ABB survey of over 200 executives at electricity, gas and water utilities, during 2016, showed that they increasingly believe that IT-OT integration is a key component of any effective asset management strategy. According to the survey report3, some 80 percent held IT-OT integration for asset management as valuable. 58% of respondents either have, or are planning to have, a strategy leveraging the IoT for asset management and 55% reported the importance of asset management has increased over the past 12 months.

The evolution in today’s digitalized world is also making a difference in New York City following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when the area suffered significant flood damage from the saltwater storm surge, which resulted in widespread power outages. Con Edison operates a bulk power substation, among the largest of its kind in the US, which supplies electricity to hundreds of thousands of customers in lower Manhattan. They recently invested in digital substation technology to secure power supply as a critical part of their storm protection program, which is also enabling extraction of critical asset data and mining of business intelligence to make faster decisions in a crisis.

Another opportunity in the digitalization journey is artificial intelligence (AI) such as machine learning, which is starting to make giant leaps toward revolutionizing asset health assessment and risk-based asset management capabilities. Machine learning models extend the capabilities of handling enormous volumes of data generated by online sensors to then quickly learn, generalize and make inferences with limited or no human intervention. This improves the effectiveness of condition monitoring and predictive failure analysis.

The introduction of the new digital technology is manifested in more powerful real-time control systems, digital substations, digital distribution transformers and smart sensors in the field. These all serve the purpose of allowing for maximum flexibility through IT/OT integration, so that we can predict mission-critical failures on assets, avoid power outages and continue to always keep the lights on. It is the most critical innovation in the last 200 years.

With ABB’s help, the power system is evolving into a resilient, agile and powerful fully interconnected system of substations, generation stations, meters, distribution automation devices, renewable energy resources and storage systems. These will all drive the digital grid of the future. It is a privilege to be part of this digitalization era that is greatly benefitting the energy industry.

Click here to read more about ABB’s digital grid.

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