Technology has revolutionised various sectors in recent years, and government and public utilities are no exception to this trend. They are following the lead of private companies to ride the digital wave. They are using next-generation technologies such as internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and cloud to transform their information and service delivery mechanism. These technology solutions have helped government enterprises bring in greater efficiency in their business processes and improve their ability to meet citizens’ needs. That said, there are some challenges that need to be addressed. Data security is the biggest concern for public utilities while using IoT or cloud-based solutions.

A look at key technology trends that are transforming the government sector, the challenges faced and the way forward…

IoT

Government enterprises across sectors are leveraging IoT to enhance business and improve service delivery. One of the key sectors seeing widespread uptake of IoT is defence. Defence forces in India are already leveraging industrial IoT across strategic, tactical, operational and logistic applications. Further, industry reports suggest that defence forces are deploying technologies similar to IoT in net-centric warfare, situational awareness, sensor networks, among others. The technology can also be used to enhance the production capabilities of the defence sector, particularly for critical ammunition. The deployment of blockchain-based IoT devices during the manufacturing of ammunitions can enable the monitoring of works as well as environmental conditions, thereby reducing the risk of ammunition accidents. Further, the bundling of IoT sensors with the surveillance system grid can enhance its intelligence gathering capability. Going forward, industry analysts predict the emergence of concepts like internet of military things and internet of battlefield things.

In the power sector, distribution companies (discoms) are beginning to ride the IoT wave. Erratic power supply and the ever-increasing demand for electricity are driving the industry to explore new technologies to address these issues. Several discoms are deploying IoT-based solutions that use sensors to capture real-time data of network assets and operations, transmit this data to the control room for monitoring and analysis, and even give recommendations to fix the faults.

The Indian power transmission space has witnessed the emergence of smart grids. The deployment of IoT-based systems is what essentially renders the smart feature to these grids. These solutions help make the grid more agile and capable of correcting its own faults in a timely manner. As such, IoT is seeing widespread adoption across smart grid applications such as smart metering, substation and transformer monitoring, fault management, peak load management and advanced asset analytics. Owing to the various benefits of the technology, IoT-based systems are also being integrated with distribution management system applications to enhance network visibility, perform predictive analytics and prevent breakdowns.

AI and ML

In addition to IoT, defence forces are exploring AI- and ML-based applications, which can help improve the mission reliability of the equipment and the weapon system. An AI-based application can identify defects in the system and recommend the course of action that should be adopted to rectify the fault, thereby preventing any failure or crashing of the system.

AI and ML are also gradually making inroads into the power sector. These technologies can potentially revolutionise the sector by offering predictive and analytic solutions to assess the load pattern and consumption trends of electric vehicles. The government needs to take key measures to enhance grid infrastructure so that it can incorporate such technological innovations. To this end, the government can provide financial provisions and incentives to discoms through tariff rationalisation.

Drones

One of the latest innovations in the power sector has been the use of drones by discoms for mapping and vigilance. As per recent media reports, BSES has started using drones for mapping of distribution assets, detection of power theft, inspection of rooftop solar installations, among other things. Further, the technology is being

used to identify any vegetation encroachment around power infrastructure. As part of this initiative, BSES has partnered with Garuda UAV, a leading drone service provider, for visual and thermal mapping of the electrical infrastructure.

BSES Yamuna Power Limited (BYPL) and BSES Rajdhani Power Limited (BRPL) are already using the technology. BYPL recently carried out inspection at its Vivek Vihar grid and the EHV circuit between the Vivek Vihar and Patparganj grids in East Delhi using drones. Meanwhile, BRPL has launched a pilot project at the Paschim Vihar grid station using drones. Going forward, BSES is preparing to scale up the use of drones in its routine operation and maintenance activities.

Drones help in the timely detection of any fault or problem persisting in the distribution network, thus allowing timely addressal of the same. This helps ensure reliable power supply to consumers.

Cloud

Cloud solutions have also made inroads into government utilities, enabling them to better manage costs, improve collaboration, provide better customer experience, increase IT and asset efficiency and maintain a reliable grid. Moreover, the adoption of emerging technologies such as blockchain and IoT, and the growing digitalisation of PSUs is providing a further impetus to cloud uptake among these utilities. Industry estimates suggest that the global smart grid-as-a-service market focusing on data services, cloud-based software and fully managed services is expected to more than quadruple from $1.3 billion in 2016 to $6 billion in 2025. The need to maintain and upgrade the ageing power infrastructure is another driver for the adoption of cloud solutions as utilities require advanced asset analytics for delivering reliable performance. Also, there is a significant increase in both structured and unstructured big data, owing to the use of analytics, supervisory control and data acquisition, and advanced metering infrastructure. Cloud solutions can enable big data management, provide storage and security and serve as a platform to integrate all the existing and upcoming IT applications of a utility.

There are several benefits of cloud solutions for energy utilities. Energy utilities, especially in the distribution segment, are often under pressure to reduce costs, while investing and modernising their power supply infrastructure. Cloud computing has the potential to help utilities increase their operational efficiency and simplify processes, while achieving higher revenue growth and reducing operational costs.

Challenges to overcome

The deployment of IoT solutions across government utilities comes with its own set of challenges. Indian utilities face issues related to interoperability, reliable communication, cybersecurity and capacity building while implementing IoT. Moreover, the successful working of an IoT-based application is dependent on a robust ICT infrastructure that can provide high network bandwidth.

Further, cloud adoption in large PSUs requires effective redressal of concerns related to data storage and security and vendor lock-in period. In addition, there is a lack of quality IT hardware infrastructure and system integrators in India. This creates hurdles in the widespread implementation of cloud. The lack of standards is another issue. The cloud has documented interfaces. However, there are no standards for cloud solutions. Therefore, it is unlikely that most clouds will be interoperable. The interfaces and application programming interfaces (APIs) of cloud services are not standardised and different providers use different APIs.

Further, user requirements, such as the need for interfaces, networking and storage, are continuously evolving. Therefore, the cloud, particularly public cloud, does not remain static and is also continuously evolving.

The way forward

The large-scale adoption of technology in the government sector calls for the effective mitigation of the above-mentioned challenges. Cloud-centric challenges can be overcome if utilities store the information internally, but allow it to be used on the cloud. Further, it is imperative to put in place robust security mechanisms between the utility and the cloud. This may be achieved by deploying hybrid cloud. All stakeholders, be it technology solution providers, utilities, regulators or the government, need to acknowledge the challenges and accordingly devise an approach to eliminate these hurdles.

Going forward, more utilities are expected to jump on to the technology bandwagon. This will significantly expand the technology solutions market and will create opportunities for solution providers.

By Diksha Sharma