Utilities must get smarter to weather the energy storm

Graph on a printed utilities energy bill
Image: Shutterstock

By Sam Sharief, Thinxtra

There are a range of factors impacting the increased cost of energy, and as the price of sourcing and supplying power continues to go up, so too will the utilities bills Australian consumers and businesses receive.

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) flagged electricity prices will increase by up to 23.9% for households and 28.9% for small businesses in its 2023–24 Default Market Offer, which came into effect on July 1. Water prices are also predicted to spike, with areas like Ballarat in Victoria, for example, expected to face significant cost increases over the next five years.

Related article: Internet of Things network to cut energy use

When combined with soaring operating costs and seemingly never-ending economic uncertainty, it’s imperative for utilities distribution networks and supply chains to become smarter.

Utilities providers and their contractors need to better understand their assets, how they are being used and how they are performing in order to reduce operating costs, make networks and infrastructure resilient, and all importantly, reduce carbon footprint by minimising waste.

We are slowly starting to see this trickle through. Many Australian home owners and businesses are beginning to receive notices to have their electricity, gas, or water meters replaced as utilities providers and their certified contractors work to better understand how much services are being used.

This is a critical inflection point for the industry. Given the rate of technological advancement, we are—or at least should be—well past the era of needing employees or contractors to visit residences and commercial sites quarterly or annually to manually read outdated meters which provide limited indication of usage and performance. The old hat way of doing things proves ineffective for utilities providers to understand where they can find operational gains, bring down costs, reduce waste, and improve sustainability credentials.

Energy and water distribution network monitoring needs to happen continuously. Data from meters must be available on demand. That means not just figures on how much is being used, but deeper insights—details on potential faults that may be generating unfair bills or creating avoidable waste.

The growth of the internet of things (IoT) is a driving force for these capabilities. It opens the door to remotely measuring and monitoring consumption levels of every home, business and industrial plant, and offers consistent and accurate updates on conditions and abnormalities. This subsequently enables more efficient use of energy, and ultimately reduces the cost of meter readings, maintenance, and waste—outcomes that can be passed onto billpayers.

In Queensland, energy data company Luceo is leveraging the IoT so energy providers, like Energy Queensland, are able to maintain a clear picture of network load from substation level right down to individual properties, whether they are homes or businesses.

Meanwhile, the City of Mandurah in Western Australia opted for IoT to monitor water consumption and detect leaks by visualising water flow rates through meters located at council facilities. The data it has from its IoT-connected meters alerts staff of any deviations in normal water consumption, which improves overall water use, reduces usage cost, and reduces time-consuming inspections which instead happen remotely.

With this holistic view informed by real-time data, utilities companies can not only better plan their supply efforts, projects, and initiatives, but also lower their costs and identify areas where they can reduce their carbon footprint.

Energy monitoring and predictive maintenance is also important for businesses in the context of building and facilities management, where rising utilities costs are hurting bottom lines and there is also increasing pressure to reduce the carbon footprint of commercial and residential buildings.

According to the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, buildings account for 19% of total energy use and 18% of direct carbon emissions in Australia. With better data insights, facility managers can make headways in improving cost savings, and enable sustainability strategies. ESG is increasingly a core tenet for Australian companies, but without accurate and timely data insights, we will always need to ask how efficient energy use can really be.

Related article: Transforming the energy industry with industrial IoT, IIoT

Beyond efficiencies, costs, and environmental impact, data insights from remotely monitoring usage and faults as they happen is integral to demonstrating utilities providers and contractors are fulfilling their risk management and compliance requirements. It leads to faster detection, and protects operators from manually measuring data points during difficult or hazardous conditions, such as extreme weather events.

As commercial drivers, rising energy costs, and sustainability ambitions are placing tremendous operational and financial pressures on Australian businesses and utilities companies, IoT ensures outcomes are within reach. Operators and businesses need access to data insights to deliver better, more sustainable and more accurate services for customers, all the while reducing their own costs.

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