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Satellite-enabled Internet of Things – the future of the electric industry

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In the UK, £13 billion is invested in the energy industry every year, enabling the delivery of power to 28 million homes and businesses across the country and providing jobs for approximately 738,000 people.

Clearly, the industry plays an important role in the economic success of the nation, but it will also play an integral role in the broader transition to a cleaner energy system at a global level over the longer-term.

However, in order to fully reap the rewards of a highly functioning electric network – both financially and environmentally – the industry first needs to overcome a number of challenges.

Barriers to success

Utility firms face various obstacles at present. Some are age-old struggles, such as difficulties stemming from operating in remote, rural locations, while others are newer challenges.

For example, with inflation in the UK reaching a 40-year high in recent months, most businesses across the board are dealing with rapidly increasing operational costs which do not look set to slow any time soon.

More broadly, while advancements in distributed generation techniques and renewable technology present clear benefits for the wider energy transition, businesses are still ironing out some of the kinks in order to fully leverage the opportunity at hand.

For example, many are exploring how to combat increased unpredictability of energy supply as a result of this transition, while others grapple with the complexities of networks with more generation points than before and often based further from the point of consumption. At an individual level, energy firms are also dealing with increased regulatory scrutiny around the sustainability of their practices.

Fortunately, businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of utilising Internet of Things solutions to overcome these challenges and many have already seen the return on investment of such technologies.

According to a recent report, companies that are not currently executing against an Industry 4.0 strategy – including use of Industrial IoT and smart manufacturing solutions – are now in the minority. Almost three quarters (72%) of respondents said they were in the process of implementing such technologies, with many already currently leveraging them.

However, with ever-increasing operational and sustainability pressures on businesses at present, more must be done, and quickly, if we are to ensure the efficiency and sustainability of our electric network going forward.

The many applications of IoT solutions

Internet of Things solutions can be applied across a range of use cases, providing solutions for the various challenges currently facing the energy industry.

For example, IoT-based tools can facilitate 24/7, real-time monitoring of electric distribution and storage networks, as well as enabling remote control of reclosers, switches and other devices in case of voltage fluctuations, power outages or peaks in service demand.

These insights can improve operational efficiencies by helping businesses better respond to consumer supply and demand fluctuations to ensure a consistent – and sustainable – supply of electricity and minimise network downtime, as well as helping them gain a better understanding of energy use trends via big data analytics. These learnings can then be used to feed into tailored pricing options for customers based on a more detailed understanding of their needs, in addition to enabling predictive maintenance of vital infrastructure and equipment.

IoT solutions are also highly valuable for electric grids based in particularly remote or rural locations, providing monitoring and control of operations that would otherwise be difficult, costly or dangerous to get to, as well as enabling employees to remain connected when in the field, improving safety and productivity as a result.

For example, Inmarsat and its recent work with Brazilian utilities giant, Cemig, in the state of Minas Gerais is a prime example of how IoT technology can improve the performance of electrical grids in remote areas. Cemig, the largest integrated electric power company in Brazil, works in partnership with Inmarsat to improve the performance of its grid via a satellite-enabled IoT solution which enables Cemig’s field equipment to send and receive data regardless of its location and always remain connected, even in adverse weather conditions.

In addition to driving increased operational efficiencies, IoT-based solutions are also proving integral to the transition to renewable energy more broadly, playing a key role in our global sustainability journey.

For instance, not only do IoT-based solutions provide instant access to robust, granular data insights that improve the transparency of ESG reporting and drive accountability, they also facilitate tangible change through better understanding of the environmental impact of businesses. From IoT-enabled weather monitoring tools to identify the best location for a wind farm to the use of environmental monitoring technologies to prevent wildfires, the possibilities are near endless.

Such tools also encourage more open, transparent data sharing between companies to enable the utilities industry as a whole to benefit from these insights and effect change at a broader level.

The key is in the connectivity

However, while IoT-based solutions can increase operational efficiencies, improve employee health and safety and drive better sustainable outcomes, satellite connectivity is the key to unlocking the full potential of such technologies.

For an industry that is so important to the day-to-day functioning of our lives, not to mention our broader environmental targets, utility firms must ensure they are depending on reliable, robust connectivity providers to meet their often mission critical IoT needs. Security is also key for such critical infrastructure to ensure data can safely be routed through a network of networks.

Many firms look to leverage a hybrid approach, utilising traditional terrestrial networks alongside satellite providers to ensure optimal connectivity and security in a cost efficient manner.

This is where businesses such as Inmarsat come into play, providing high-level connectivity solutions that underpin terrestrial networks to support operations in the remotest of locations and through the most adverse weather conditions.

Inmarsat’s ELERA L-band network, for example, offers ultra-secure, highly reliable and cost-efficient satellite connectivity to companies internationally, providing unique resilience in all conditions with complete global coverage, government-grade security and market-leading 99.9% availability. This, combined with Inmarsat’s privately-owned satellite network managed by cybersecurity experts 24 hours a day, enables utility firms to maintain the highest level of security at all times.

Without this level of connectivity, the sector will struggle to make the most of available IoT solutions to improve operational efficiencies and meet their sustainability targets over the months and years to come.

Ultimately, as an industry so critical to the successful functioning of our day-to-day lives – in addition to the integral role it will play in the broader transition to a greener future – it only makes sense that it is supported by the highest level of robust, reliable and secure connectivity possible.

Damian Lewis

Market Development Manager, Enterprise at Inmarsat

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