Cloud computing is simply the delivery of IT services via the internet. Instead of buying huge IT estates to install multi-million-pound software systems on and store untold petabytes of data, in the cloud model, the data and services are entirely handled by an external provider.
For utilities, a typical current scenario is a collage of different IT systems of various different ages, function, and design, spread around different corners of the business.
More than a utility
This influx of data creates both opportunity and threat to utilities. On the one hand, it makes new business opportunities possible. Smart meter data can form the crux of new services such as connected home technologies, time-of-use tariffs and energy saving solutions. This would allow retail utilities to elevate themselves from mere suppliers to multi-service partners – making customers stickier and potentially more lucrative. The threat is that more tech-savvy companies from adjacent industries get there first.
Balance in all things
A modern generation portfolio could include newer renewable assets, as well as gas and legacy coal generation plants. The utility may also own or have access to services such as demand-side response. At each given moment, that utility will have to decide how to meet its supply obligations. This involves balancing a lot of information. How much current demand can be met by sun and wind? Is there capacity to ramp up the gas or coal plant, if so how expensive are the input commodities at the moment? Would it be cheaper to cover some of it using DSR, or perhaps spot prices are low and the cheapest option would be simply to buy extra power?
These dilemmas are already part of utility’s every day but are set to multiply as time goes on.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In all likelihood, there are going to be an array of other trends and developments that place ever-more intensive data demands on utilities. If they are to adapt and thrive, they’ll need to match the intelligence and vigor they’ve poured into engineering challenges in the IT field. That will almost certainly involve a gradual migration to the Cloud.