First coined around 2011, digital transformation according to Salesforce is the – “process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements.”
With global spending on digital transformation set to double to $2.8 trillion by 2025, digital evolution and smart technology continue to gain significant traction, especially within Utilities and Renewables. Described as at the center of a massive global shift, the Utilities sector is under considerable pressure. With global energy demand expected to increase by 37% by 2040 and surges in demand for renewable energy resources and sustainability; more Utility companies are turning to digital strategies to become more agile, competitive and resilient.
The challenges and opportunities of digital transformation in Utilities are very well documented. However, having served Utilities for over 20 years, we know the role data has played in shaping this transformation. We’ve created a paper covering how far Utilities companies have come in terms of collecting and analyzing data to streamline their operations, and how data is likely to shape digitalization in the future.
Electrical grids and gas distribution systems are critical infrastructure. Outages and supply interruptions result in huge financial burden and penalties for the supplier, and severe (often prolonged) disruption for consumers. With increasing pressure for renewable energy and from customers seeking to generate their own power, digital transformation could be the catalyst Utilities need to boost consumer interest.
Most recently, the US Department of Energy has invested billions of dollars into its national policy goal – building a smart grid across America. Smart meters and sensors along grid lines transmit usage data to providers, enabling them to match supply with demand. Likewise, smart appliances can alter the times of electricity usage, avoiding peak times when pressure on the grid is high, resulting in lower costs and reduced risk of outages.
It is these detailed insights into customer habits that does and will allow Utilities to achieve maximum efficiency and customer satisfaction. And at a time of expensive grid updates, usage trends could prove invaluable to planning and prioritizing engineering work, and the most efficient means of distributing utility supply.
Big data, machine-to-machine technology, and dependable connectivity provide the means to understand consumer trends and predict future utility usage. Companies failing to incorporate a robust data strategy into their business plan are likely to find themselves at a major competitive disadvantage, if not already, in the very near future.
The future of connectivity
Although not covered in the paper directly, data retrieval is dependent on connectivity. Inmarsat reports that 58% of electrical Utility providers are unable to implement IoT projects due to availability of reliable connectivity in required areas. Data gaps and delays can lead to inaccurate pictures of infrastructure and supply. With Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) sunsetting their 2G and 3G networks, and 2G set to be switched off in many countries by 2025, it is becoming even more difficult for Utility providers to secure reliable, consistent connectivity throughout their supply chain.
Cellular connectivity continues to advance and a recent survey by Deloitte highlighted that 26% of respondents within Utilities had included 5G within their strategy, with a further 36% stating they planned to. However, while cellular connectivity provides a viable alternative, some sites are so remote that there is no cellular coverage. At present, 8% of the US population remain uncovered by mobile networks. What’s more, it will be many years before fiber finds its way to these remote locations – if indeed it ever does – and it’s cost-prohibitive for most companies to fund this privately. Satellite is already used by a third of Utility companies and given the challenges ahead, satellite could prove pivotal to creating a more resilient grid.
Data security continues to be top of mind for Utility providers, with cybersecurity breaches on the rise. IBM reported a 10% increase, from $3.86 million to $4.24 million per incident, in data breach costs between 2020 and 2021. And the energy industry ranked fifth in data breach costs, surpassed only by Healthcare, Financial, Pharmaceutical and technology verticals.
Arguably, security is also becoming more of a focus for consumers. According to our survey of utility users, hackers bringing down internal systems (as was done in the Colonial pipeline attack), was identified as a potential risk to utility supply by 46.9% of recipients. Given that almost half (46.7%) of March’s survey respondents stated there was a slightly higher cybersecurity risk to Utility supply due to the war in Ukraine, and 20.3%, a substantially increased risk, this is clearly a growing concern.
Is satellite connectivity secure?
Satellite communications are as secure as any IP connection. Cybersecurity can be enhanced by securing data paths with encryption, and where appropriate, creating systems completely redundant from public networks and infrastructure. What’s more, any security protocols already in place will operate over a satellite network.
When working with companies within the Utilities and Renewables industry, one of the first questions we’ll ask is which communications they are most concerned about from a security point of view. And often, we’ll advise SCADASat. SCADASat provides a private satellite network operating a direct communication channel between a process control center and remote locations, specifically designed to meet the demanding requirements of the SCADA and utility industries. SCADASat complies with AES-256 encryption and authentication. Furthermore, it’s completely isolated from the Internet or any other network, riding over a dedicated space segment of one or more satellites for redundant fail-over reliability, in multiple topologies.
Cyber security features include: VLAN (Virtual LAN) support, file system encryption, secure Linux login to avoid unauthorized access, and SW/FW upgrade over-satellite authentication.
For more information regarding security and connectivity more generally, we recommend you take a look at our recent eBook.