Energy providers are increasingly witnessing the benefits of cloud, such as significantly shorter application development cycles, and faster IT services and infrastructure upgrades. Cloud platforms can be used to develop applications and software for metering, billing and peak load management. Several new and emerging trends, including the adoption of blockchain and IoT, and a drive towards digital resources to optimise time and costs for better service delivery have increased the uptake of cloud solutions among utilities. According to Gartner, energy providers invest up to 56 per cent of their total IT budget in infrastructure and hosting. Moving to the cloud can help cut down these costs significantly.
Use cases of cloud for discoms
Utilities face traditional challenges on the revenue management front such as heavy losses due to billing inefficiencies, incorrect billing, non-credit of payments and thefts. In order to improve utilities’ revenues and reduce daily operational challenges for consumers, implementing a centralised billing and metering system in a cloud environment is extremely useful. It helps utilities cater to their growing consumer base without any disruption of services. Further, cloud provides features such as new service connection, disconnection, metering, billing, collection, energy audit, a web self-service portal and mobile apps for self-service and mobile billing. A centralised billing system helps increase revenue collection, eliminates multiple billing agencies and allows the discom to offer different modes of payments (online and offline). It is based on a 100 per cent opex model with zero capex from utilities. Therefore, it does not impose any additional financial burden.
The easy standardisation of the power despatching technique, rapid delivery of advanced functions and improved reliability of IT infrastructure can be achieved through cloud computing technology. It integrates the existing resource demands of various despatch centres, reduces the system construction and expansion cost and improves the overall despatching business ability. A scalable software platform such as cloud is required to balance the real-time demand and supply curves, and enable the rapid integration and analysis of information that flows from multiple smart meters simultaneously.
Cloud computing is also useful for peak demand management and dynamic pricing. Requests from customers that are to be addressed based on priority, available resources and other applicable constraints are scheduled through cloud. The number of messages received from smart meters is higher during peak hours as compared to non-peak hours. With the integration of the dynamic bandwidth allotment mechanism using cloud application, these issues can be addressed conveniently. During peak hours, the allotted bandwidth is higher than that allocated for non-peak hours to ensure that all incoming jobs are undertaken simultaneously. A dynamic load-shifting programme makes use of real-time data in a cloud computing framework to address the forecasting and operational challenges. With the help of cloud-based infrastructure, the widespread distributed renewable energy operations are coordinated by the utility at a minimal cost.
Another use case of cloud computing is smart grid management. It uses information technologies to enable an efficient power grid. At the same time, it generates a huge quantum of data. To cope with this huge amount of data and daily fluctuations, the underlying smart meter infrastructure must be scalable and resilient. Cloud computing is a cost-efficient alternative to dedicated data centres. It is useful for collating and storing a large quantum of data generated from smart meters and smart grids. It offers highly distributed and scalable computing resources to host smart grid applications.
Some of the emerging areas of cloud computing application are blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Applying blockchain technology to smart grids will ensure secure management of the energy data and contribute to the development of the future smart energy industry. Apart from this, AI and ML hold the potential to significantly transform the way power is generated and distributed. Developing modules for blockchain, AI and ML on cloud platforms will ensure their easy scalability in a cost-effective manner.
To conclude, for the successful deployment of cloud computing solutions, it is necessary for utilities to develop a business case to determine how cloud can be implemented and realised to deliver greater value to their business. It is also essential to examine the readiness of the existing applications and design a strategy to achieve the transition. Further, the impact of the shift to cloud on various tools and processes must be identified. Adequate preparation and change management while adopting cloud solutions would help in getting better results.