Written by Jens Haug
1. Energy storage as a flexible resource
By using batteries to even out consumption peaks, it is possible to reduce the need for wide-ranging expansion of the grid. Falling prices on batteries and technological innovation make this an increasingly attractive approach, but regulatory and ownership issues still involve a high degree of complexity. Several pilot projects are ongoing, and we believe that current challenges and limitations will be solved and that batteries will become an integral part of the distribution network in the years to come. Developments are also being increasingly driven by more renewables which do not necessarily deliver energy at the times when consumers need it. Storage will contribute to resolving this situation.
2. Digital works both in the office and on the go
The corona pandemic has shown that people are able to work efficiently anywhere – at home, on the go or in a conventional office. The digital mobile workplace is supported by modern technology and tools, but effective collaboration and information exchange are just as important. In addition to administrative work, DSO’s undertake a great deal of remedial work on lines, substations and systems. Digital optimization of this work is vital in the DSO of the future in order to work quickly as well as more safely and efficiently. Sharing information between managers, technical staff, customers, work descriptions, network information, components and equipment is important and can only be achieved using digital tools. Personal safety is a must for the DSO’s who send workers out to perform jobs that are both far away and high up. Industrial wearables and other mobile technologies will hopefully ensure zero accidents and efficient working conditions.
3. Agile work processes
Agile is defined as the ability to manage and react to change. In software development, agile methods have been well-known for many years, but an increasing number of businesses now apply the same approach to areas other than software development, so-called ‘business agility. Agile methods are a set of values and principles for how to manage change and uncertainty. The most important aspect is that when businesses find themselves in a situation of uncertainty, they have to try something they believe in, gather feedback and adapt accordingly. It is important that the entire organization supports this approach in order to achieve the desired effect.
4. Composable architecture vs legacy systems
Traditionally, DSO’s have employed software solutions that provide data storage and features for a specific key purpose, such as NIS (Net Information System) and CIS (Customer Information System). These legacy systems have essentially locked data into a silo mindset and have not been designed to work with other systems.
Composable architecture means setting up an ecosystem of individual systems that share information across interfaces (‘API first’), often implemented as microservices without a strong connection. Separating (also called ‘headless’) the underlying logic (‘backend’) and the presentation (‘frontend’) is also standard practice.
In order to succeed in driving future business needs and changes, it is vital that DSO data systems are flexible and dynamic and not heavy and static. Composable architecture is key to achieving this.
5. Integration – for the sake of processes
Architecture, like the one described above (composable architecture), carries a need for integration. Such integration may be more or less simple, but the introduction of an integration solution will enhance processes, increase the quality of data flow and contribute to automation. Integration is about making data accessible from the location in which it is created to the place where it can achieve utility value. Process integration increases this value further when the business is viewed as a whole. Integration is defined by the DSO’s as one of the great challenges of the future, but effective management will allow companies to go from no integration (spaghetti integration, if any) to automated process integration.
6. Cloud technology is taking over
Cloud technology is gradually becoming a more and more important part of DSO system architecture, often in the form of supplier migration from traditional legacy systems to SaaS platforms, but also in the form of platform development (by the major DSO’s). The values gained from a cloud strategy rather than traditional legacy ‘on the ground’ are increased innovation and faster pace of change, a high level of accessible security technology and being able to launch collaborative platforms (data and services) between multiple operators. Having a cloud strategy is important to a DSO, but possessing sufficient knowledge to know what can and what should run in the cloud is just as crucial. Expertise is therefore vital for the DSO’s choice of cloud strategy.
7. IT/OT convergence
IT (information technology) and OT (operational technology) have traditionally been separated, mostly because of outdated technology and insufficiently high-security standards. In the future, IT and OT will increasingly merge as the combination provides major positive operational synergies. Multiple underlying technologies will enhance its use, such as augmented reality, digital twins, Edge and AI. Although IT and OT convergence offer many uses, it also presents challenges. Especially IT security becomes an important consideration when opening up previously closed networks. Nevertheless, it has to be said that no longer having to lean on ‘security by obscurity in the old OT protocols may be useful and that IT can provide increased security with existing technologies.
8. More IoT in every business
Setting up AMS meters allows automated reading as a basis for invoicing, but also opens up for the collection of other data in order to streamline the DSO. In this light, the AMS meter is an important IoT component with great potential. Most DSO’s have commenced work on collecting events, alarms, voltage quality and other data, but compilation and analysis of data in a business context are still in their infancy. In the future, we will see an increased volume of IoT technologies in this area which as a whole will have a great impact on planning, automation of processes, streamlining of grid operations and enhanced customer solutions.
9. Analytical features with AI/machine learning
Data-driven decision-making processes are nothing new for the DSO’s, but with increased access to data from IoT, AMS and other distributed sources, enhanced data integration between systems and better access to analytical technologies, it is clear that data will gain significantly increased value on the business side going forward. Many future issues also require more advanced analysis and automation, such as predictive maintenance, use of energy storage, distributed energy resources, prosumers (consumers who produce) and flexible markets. One of the obstacles to this has been that data have not been available, but enhanced solutions for data management and integration solutions will contribute to this area.
Security has always been an important factor for DSO’s, but IT security, and especially cybersecurity, is now being given even greater priority than traditional physical and staff security. Greater openness in IT/OT means greater risk, but IT will also contribute to security technologies, e.g., analysis of data breaches or manipulation. Cybersecurity is very much about technology but also about skill, culture and approach. Cybersecurity is an area that is increasing in scope for DSO’s and requires significant focus. A widespread shortage of skills in cybersecurity requires a greater degree of collaboration between DSO’s, partners, suppliers and government agencies.
11. Inspection drones
The DSO’s have a great deal of distributed equipment and checking and maintaining an overview of this equipment requires a great many resources with associated staff risks. IoT and sensors may give a good indication of a wide variety of problems, but drones provide significant benefits compared to physical inspection. The development of drones in terms of range, aviation regulations and technology is rapid, but it is important to emphasize that the development of analysis (AI) of images and video is just as vital to the value of drone activities.
12. Digital customer solutions
The DSO’s have previously had a distant relationship with customers. It is usually only when a fault occurs on the network that customer contact takes place. As with all other digital transformations, proximity to the customer will become more important. The DSO’s have the opportunity to take on an important role vis-à-vis the customer in the migration to electricity as well as in the relationship between power and the climate crisis. Effective digital solutions that provide advice, having a closer dialogue in the event of faults or problems, collaboration on peaks or flexibility and reduction of use (gamification) are examples of features that the DSO’s should seek to digitalize.