In recent years, we have seen a continuously progressive shift into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In the energy sector, this shift has been marked by the rise of renewable energy, new innovations in battery storage, increased electric vehicle production and new power grid models.
Africa’s energy developments have not been too far behind the rest of the world. The Deloitte Sub-Saharan Africa Power Trends – Power disruption in Africa report states that a number of emerging “disruptors”, including existing models of business and systems of operations as well as the blend of players in the region’s power and electricity subsectors are marking their presence in the SSA power landscape.
GE has identified the following top 10 digital trends for 2018 in power and utility organisation.
One: Acceleration of Digital
Shifts power and utility markets
The implementation of digital technologies in the energy sector has resulted in efficient electricity transmission and distribution. This is allowing for utilities to lower their costs of operation, improve asset management and refine insights for profitable business decisions, and two-way interactions with stakeholders.
Power and utility providers are now able to practically visualise their entire production and delivery chain electronically. In Algeria, GE will use Predix at 10 Sonelgaz power plants, assisting engineers to analyse data drawn from thousands of sensors throughout the plants to predict outages and identify inefficiencies.
Two: Edge and Cloud
Combine to drive industrial innovation
In the ever-changing power landscape of SSA, efficient technologies that immediately identify and solve challenges that arise at power utilities are desperately needed as power outages leave thousands of people stranded without electricity. Edge technologies and computing will drive the adoption of cloud technology for power and utility owners. These technologies will service real-time response needs with the cloud providing data consolidation, analytical capabilities and business insights that will assist in decision making within the business.
Three: Digital Twins
Unlock true digitisation
A digital twin is a software construct that acts as a bridge between a physical system or structure and the digital world. The digital twin collects data about the structure of the asset such as its operation and the environment in which it operates. This allows for the past and present performance of the asset to be tracked and used to predict future outcomes. Entire systems can be modelled according to the operational landscape, creating an environment where industrial players can understand the complex interactions of machines, environments and outcomes.
Four: Transitional Technologies
Bridge the gap for energy markets in flux
The shift to cleaner and more efficient energy sources has meant that power and utility companies need to rethink their current strategies to accommodate this move. This has already taken place in South Africa as the Kusile and Medupi Power Stations make use of GE steam power technology to reduce emissions.
Transitional technologies and alternate strategies will fill the gap as power and utility companies move from fossil-based to renewable energy sources. To meet the growing energy demand, many countries in SSA are opting for renewable energy sources. In Kenya, Africa’s first grid-connected anaerobic digester plant contributes 2.2 MW to the grid. In Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Addis Ababa Institute of Technology and GE Renewable Energy signed a Memorandum of Understanding for an ongoing collaboration aimed at renewable energy capacity development programmes.
Five: Collaborative Robots
Assist humans in practical applications
Collaborative robots (or cobots), are allowing power and utility workers to avoid some tasks that pose a risk to their lives such as inspecting equipment at a wind farm and keeping power lines secure, and operational. The use of cobots is becoming more common in industrial settings through the combination of asset data, artificial intelligence and the ability to manipulate drones and other automation that is designed to assist power and utility workers to accomplish routine or dangerous tasks.
Six: Adaptive security
Becomes the imperative
Adaptive security protection allows for continuous monitoring and visibility awareness. The system is implemented at the entry level of technology, creating a security tight operating environment for utilities.
Approach a tipping point
The wide-scale adoption of e-vehicles is fast becoming a reality. This has created several opportunities of expansion for various industries, including energy. Power and utility organisations must be at the forefront of pricing and the distribution of these vehicles to manage market demand.
Eight: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning
Move to the realm of reality
AI is fast becoming a reality and very soon, you might find yourself living next door to a robot. In the power and utility environment, AI applications will manifest themselves through combining insights from massive machine data collection with analytic models and analysis that can automate business decisions. Machine learning is further accelerating the possibilities for AI applications as systems become smarter and more responsive to meet business objectives.
Nine: Empowred Digital Workers
Change the game
In a digital world, the way in which tasks are executed in the workplace is changing and companies will be faced with a skills challenge. The present skill sets will need to change to accommodate the digital shift. A digitised workforce can be achieved by automating and optimising tasks and facilitating collaboration as well as knowledge transfer to improve productivity and safety. A digitally enabled worker is able to work smarter and is equipped with information to ensure efficient service delivery. These digital skills will be crucial in accelerating development in the SSA energy sector.
Gains potential to enable the shared electricity economy
Blockchain is perceived to have the potential to enable new routes of profitability in the energy market. This can create a peer-to-peer network for trading units of value that will be the means to manage emerging trading sectors in electricity markets.