Digital Transformation is Defining the Future of Utilities

Digital transformation in the energy and utility industry will continue to drive operational efficiency and a service transformation for customers. By focusing on modernizing assets and infrastructure — from power generation to production to transmission and distribution — utility companies can improve communication and reduce service downtime for customers. This is supported by innovative digital solutions such as modular and rugged mobile devices. They offer a single source of truth for utility workers and take advantage of advanced data analytics, seamless connectivity, and asset management.

Grid modernization is a continued focus for the industry, and it was certainly a key theme at this year’s DISTRIBUTECH, the leading transmission and distribution conference for utilities. Here’s a look at a few innovative technologies we saw at the show and how they can help utility companies navigate global challenges and build resilience.

Energy Infrastructure Needs an Upgrade  

The nation’s power grid and utility infrastructure are rapidly aging. Many of the older poles, towers, and conductors have remained in service past their prime and were not built with higher temperatures and more intense weather patterns in mind. In fact, U.S. Department of Energy noted that 60% – 70% of power transformers, circuit breakers, and transmission lines are over 25 years old. Utilities need to modernize to manage a complex and changing power grid and maintain reliability.

Cutting-edge technology allows utility companies to provide power and electricity more reliably and efficiently. Smart metering applications provide utilities with accurate, real-time monitoring of energy consumption, so utility companies can gather data from intelligent devices and sensors throughout their distribution network. When paired with a rugged mobile solution like Panasonic Connect’s TOUGHBOOK 40, utility workers can analyze usage patterns and predict an issue even before it arises. And when a power outage does occur — whether in a busy city or a rural community, in heavy rains or under direct sunlight — rugged mobile solutions make sure utility and field workers have the tools they need to restore power as quickly as possible.

Smart metering technology also allows utility workers to record energy consumption and transfer usage information to a centralized database for further review and billing. This supports collaboration between departments so service providers can competently fulfill customer requests quicker, significantly bettering the customer experience.

Keeping the Utility Workforce Connected

Utility workers operate in extreme conditions such as heavy rain or severe storms. They can also be exposed to electricity, radiation, and other hazards. An important part of the job is keeping logs and collecting information regardless of the environment. It’s a requirement to report this information to fill communication gaps and compliance regulations. Digital log keeping powered by rugged mobile solutions keep utility workers connected, giving them access to critical data from various locations such as power plants and industrial facilities. Data entries can be automated and shared in the format of condensed reports, targeting different stakeholders with information that each group might find the most helpful.  

In a rural community or when connectivity is lost, workers can continue critical log keeping and data collection in the field by trusting the mobile solution at their fingertips.

The growing use of mobility analytics is another trend we spotted on the DISTRIBUTECH show floor – and certainly a hot topic within the utility industry. Mobility analytics can be used to track and analyze the health of mobile applications and devices. This is especially important for an industry that’s highly mobile. Think about it: utility workers can be in the office, in a vehicle, up on power lines, and the mobile devices they carry travel with them throughout the day. It’s crucial for everyone in the organization to understand the capabilities of assets and how they are maintained. This helps the IT department to better measure and monitor the life cycle of assets to provide timely maintenance, support, and services. For example, Panasonic Connect’s CORE Asset Management solution provides utility companies with a single pane of glass to view and manage all assets with real-time visibility – from computers to smart phones to software licenses and consumables.

The Future of Utilities Is Increasingly Digital  

Mobile technology and innovative software solutions unlock new opportunities. President Biden’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill aims to enhance the resilience of the energy grid and facilitate the expansion of renewables and clean energy. The bill further proves the urgency for the industry to act now. DISTRIBUTECH 2023 gives us a peek into the digital future of utilities — it’s a new world characterized by connectivity, transparency, and greater efficiency.