If you haven't yet been captivated by the complex and exciting potential of “The Internet of Things,” I imagine you soon will. At its most basic level, the Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the ability for any devices to be connected to the Internet and to each other. Inherent in this idea is the potential for sharing data between devices, making way for a new era of connectedness and "smart" devices that can monitor, track, anticipate and respond to actions in real time.
While the idea doesn’t have a clear moment of conception, it has been in existence for at least the past decade. However, it’s just now becoming a hot topic, as Gartner forecasts that “6.4 billion connected devices will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 percent from 2015, with the number reaching 20.8 billion by 2020. In 2016 alone, 5.5 million new devices will be connected each day.”
The Declining Cost of Sensor Technology
These advances are occurring now due in part to the declining cost of sensor technology. Over the past decade, some sensors have dropped in price by as much as 100 times. As sensors become more easily accessible, they will be installed in the energy grid to monitor actions and collect data. Many sensors will function as smart meters, which can enhance overall operational efficiency and enable demand response, outage management, field services, asset inventories, and voltage management.
What Does IoT Mean for Fixed Asset Management?
The Internet of Things means that data will be collected from devices across the grid, tracked and analyzed, and used to inform improvements and decision-making. While the comprehensive potential for the future of Internet of Things has yet to be imagined, there are some imminent developments that offer real opportunities for fixed asset management.
In a world where any device can communicate with other devices and the Internet, you can imagine meters, grid sensors, actuators, energy boxes and electrical appliances that collect data about their own use, operations and their environment and automatically communicate that data to inform inventory updates, repair requests, and field force communication.
“The global number of devices being managed by utility companies is projected to grow from 485 million in 2013 to 1.53 billion in 2020.” (Ericsson: Transforming Industries: Energy + Utilities)
The impact will include increased efficiency, improved reliability and performance, and better cost management.
The Intelligent Grid
It is not feasible to entirely rebuild our nation's utility infrastructure with new utility poles, so we will likely augment existing infrastructure by introducing sensors, robotics, and advanced analytics to establish a new "intelligent grid" (also called a "smart grid"). These technologies will continue to reshape the industry from the existing one-way system—where services flow from providers to customers—to a two-way system that can detect, receive and monitor assets to allow data and services to flow as needed in many directions.
For example, imagine that a severe winter storm damages a section of poles and cabling in Rochester, N.Y. Sensors on the poles can collect data related to the temperature, the wind speeds, the angle and height of the pole and cables, and transmit that information to a collection station. There, data analytics determine that several poles have been damaged in the storm, and that power has been interrupted to 300 customers. An alert can immediately be distributed to the nearest available field services team, along with locational data to identify specifically which section of poles has been damaged and what is required to execute repairs. The field techs will be prepared for what to expect in terms of both safety conditions and the equipment needed to address the repairs. The result is a faster return to service for customers and safer, more efficient repairs in the field.
This is just one small example of what is possible with an intelligent grid and the Internet of Things. The next post in this three-part series will look at three ways IoT will change the future of infrastructure asset management.
Learn more about what we expect from the future of joint use—from case studies of three companies that are leading the way in modern fixed asset management to the implications for “One Touch Make Ready” ordinances—by downloading our recent eBook, Joint Use in the 21st Century.