We talked to the member of the World Smart Energy Summit Russia program committee, the Chief Solution Expert IBU Utilities SAP SE Dr. Gero Bieser on how new technologies change utilities and our reality.
Gero, tell us a little bit about your activity in SAP. What are you doing now?
First of all, I spend quite some time to keep up-to-date with the all the challenges in the utility industry and the rapid advances in technology. In-memory computing, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and machine learning, everything seems to evolve with increased speed.
My main task is to discuss, define and describe how we can use these technologies incorporated in our SAP solutions to meet the challenges of the utility industry. And these challenges are - though we keep hearing for the last 20 years that utilities are experiencing big changes - bigger than ever before. Reasons are the switch to renewable and decentralized electricity generation, electric vehicles and changing regulations.
We can address these challenges for example with solutions that use machine learning for predictive maintenance of distribution grids and generation facilities. Or we use in-memory computing to analyze smart meter data to better understand and predict customer behavior and consumption.
What modern solutions does SAP offer in the field of energy? Are they complex universal solutions or specialized?
The trend is clearly going in the direction of less complex, cloud-based solutions. Utilities can deploy these solutions in a relatively short time frame and, probably even more important, these cloud solutions constantly provide state of the art technology without the need of a migration project.
In the field of energy SAP for example offers the SAP Predictive Maintenance and Service solution that enables advanced maintenance strategies for utilities and other industries that heavily rely on assets, like the oil&gas or chemical industry. For these asset-intensive industries the SAP Asset Intelligence Network is also of high interest as it links companies along the asset life-cycle. It allows asset operators like utilities to collaborate with asset manufacturers or maintenance service providers.
When it comes to the processing and analysis of smart meter data and any other time series we provide the utility specific SAP Cloud for Energy solution. And there are many other applications that make use of the latest technology, for example focusing on fraud management, the optimization of customer service processes or the mobile enablement of employees.
For reference, today SAP works in 190 countries and with more than 2450 energy companies. In 2018 at the world Smart Energy Summit Russia SAP presented the project "Virtual power plant". You can view presentation by downloading it below.
What are the advantages of digitization of power systems?
The digitization enables utilities to get a much better understanding of the current and future consumption, the expected generation of electricity and the predicted load on the grid. This enables transmission and distribution companies to stabilize the grid and generators to provide electricity at the right point in time. Retailers can offer new products to their customers, both, traditional consumers and prosumers, where the latter not only consume electricity but also feed electricity into the grid.
Moreover, the digitization supports the prediction of long-term scenarios: Which assets need to be replaced in the coming years? Where do I need to strengthen the grid to cope with increasing renewable energy generation and more and more electric vehicles, that need to be charged?
In general, digitization enables the automation of many processes and thus offers the potential to lower costs and improve the security of supply.
What is happening with the digitization of industry in Europe nowadays?
We see that distribution grids are digitized, that sensors in the grid provide more and more data. In addition, we have a continuous roll-out of smart meters providing even more data. This data only provides value, if it is not just stored in a data lake but if it is analyzed, triggers follow-up actions and provides decision support. Utilities start to implement solutions to really make use of this granular data. They gain experience with big data and machine learning algorithms and optimize their processes. The results can then be applied to other scenarios, which again might require additional sensors, who provide even more granular data to further improve processes.
Another area where digitization plays an important role is the interaction with the customer: Service request are automatically routed, chatbots support the communication with the customer, customer behavior is understood much better which leads to the development of new products.
Do you know the specifics of Russia? What modern energy technologies are suitable for successful implementation in Russia in your opinion?
All the described scenarios for optimizing the asset-life cycle are, in my opinion, of interest to Russia as well. There are two use cases that – according to projects I have been involved in – are especially relevant: The first one is the optimization of energy efficiency and the limitation of technical and non-technical losses. Solutions that monitor and predict energy consumption and fraud management solutions are of interest for this use case. The second use case is an improved asset health monitoring and proactive maintenance of gas pipelines with an advanced maintenance solution. Both use cases benefit from insights based on the in-depth analyzes of sensor data with machine learning algorithms.
Your advice to managers of companies that have decided to introduce new energy technologies, where to begin?
I would suggest identifying potential benefits of the advanced technologies now and start to gain experiences in a few selected scenarios. The most promising use cases vary from country to country and from company to company: You might want to improve the maintenance strategy of transformers, gas pipelines or wind turbines. And if a prototype for one of these assets is successful you can include more assets and refine your strategies further. Or use cases where you track green energy production by using blockchain or fight non-technical losses with fraud management has the most potential.
I don’t think it makes sense to wait for further improvements in technology. Of course, technology will further develop, will offer even more possibilities in the future but this will always be the case. SAP offers today the agile and flexible Cloud Platform which provides IoT integration, big data management and machine learning capabilities that are mature enough to start projects.
To gain the most value from deploying new technologies your experts need to collaborate with experts from software solution and service providers. Not every project might bring the expected financial results, but every project will at least help to build the knowledge that is urgently required for the future of any company. It is not an option to not get active.
Share with us your opinion in the field of smart energy. Tell us about your innovation practice or your solution.