The digitalization of energy brings opportunities

The energy sector is shifting its focus from price and generation to demand and partnerships

Digital technology in the energy sector will help a lot of companies address a growing list of challenges.

Across society and industry, electrical power demands continue to increase as industrial processes, data centers and the number of electric vehicles continue to grow. At the same time, the share of energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, is also growing. As a result, power supply markets are becoming more volatile and it will become more difficult for energy suppliers to manage and balance the grid.

Digital technology will allow the power network to evolve to meet these challenges. It will create a positive disruption for old business models that focus on price, assets and generation instead of customers. Digitalization will drive a shift in focus from demand at the GWh level, to thinking pragmatically about energy delivered at the KWh level to individual customers.

In essence, digitization is basically converting analogue information like energy bills into digital information, creating a convergence of electrical power and data. It creates opportunities to process data on power consumption patterns and uses digital technologies to create insightful new services that reduce costs or alter the underlying business model.

Digitalization uses communications technology and new data sources to support better decision-making, generate better analysis and to automate or control operations intelligently at enterprise or site level. Calculations about load shedding to remove costly power demand spikes, for example, can be automated so that the right decisions are made and executed autonomously.

Digitalization makes it possible for data-savvy energy suppliers to establish a direct relationship with end consumers and for switched-on companies to find smarter ways to manage their energy resources. It opens up parts of the value chain to new players.

Platform businesses that do not own the underlying infrastructure are likely to emerge, connecting groups of suppliers and end-users. But achieving large-scale digital transformation like Uber or Airbnb will be challenging for start-ups. A simple app or website is not enough.

For energy, the complexity of industrial and commercial power requirements and the necessary hardware investments mean that in most cases the beneficiaries will be the end-users.

ABB Smart Power is giving facilities the tools to manage the demand of their operations intelligently and the supply from any on-site generators, wind or solar installations.

For the digitalization of power to succeed, it will take technology suppliers able to develop the right infrastructure and interfaces – and to create a return on investment for end-users. This requires innovation and leadership from technology suppliers that understand power and can manage change effectively.

ABB is a pioneering technology leader with deep sector knowledge acquired over decades. We have long been experts at integrating digital components into our customers’ control systems. These include sensors, software and digital networks, and now, with ABB Ability™, we are connecting our customers to the power of the Internet of Things. The ABB Ability™ platform is an integrated industrial internet platform and cloud infrastructure based on ABB’s leading expertise in technologies, industries and digital to allow businesses to harness the power of industrial data. The platform enables customers to integrate and aggregate their data, combine it with wider industry data, apply big data and predictive analytics and generate insights that can help them drive performance and productivity improvements. Using the ABB Ability™ platform we are making power more competitive, which has the potential to improve the energy efficiency, productivity and reliability of almost any operation.

ABB Smart Power is taking this approach to equip utilities, industries, transport and infrastructure for the energy challenges of tomorrow – from fast-charging stations for electric vehicles to solutions that make the integration of solar easier for smart grids – all assisted by cloud-based power management support.

The digitalization of energy is not a threat. It’s a way to find new answers to some of the biggest challenges industries and societies face. If we see this as an opportunity to forge new partnerships, to reach out to experts and start a conversation, the future will be bright.

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About the author

Giampiero Frisio

Giampiero Frisio is Managing Director for ABB’s Smart Power business line. He was appointed to this role in 2018. The Smart Power business line provides innovative low voltage and e-mobility solutions that protect, control and connect people, sites and systems. The business line is a global leader in digital solutions for energy management, helping customers use the power of the cloud to improve productivity and operating costs. The extensive offering includes circuit breakers, power quality solutions, motor starting solutions and other essential electrical technologies, with the largest installed base of DC fast-charging stations in the world. All are manufactured with the highest quality standards in the industry. Previously, Giampiero held the role of Managing Director of ABB’s Protection and Connection business line since 2011. Giampiero has been with ABB since 1995, holding managerial positions ranging from operations to regional and global division management. He holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Pavia University in Italy and he is based in Zurich, Switzerland.
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