Energy providers are seeing increasing 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. Apart from this, several new and emerging trends, including needed blockchain, adoption of internet of things, and a drive towards digital resources to optimise time and costs for better service delivery are making utilities opt for cloud solutions. 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. As per Accenture, moving to cloud could potentially help save between $70 million and $168 million.
Use cases of cloud for discoms
One of the effective uses of cloud computing for discoms is in the area of consumer metering and billing. Utilities face traditional challenges on the revenue management front such as heavy losses due to billing inefficiencies, wrong 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 will help utilities’ cater to their growing consumers without any disruption of services. Further, it could include features related to new service connection, disconnection, metering, billing, collection, energy audit, web self-service portal and mobile apps for self-service and mobile billing. A centralised billing system helps increase revenue collection, eliminate multiple billing agencies and allow the discom to offer different modes of payments (online and offline). It is 100 per cent opex with zero per cent capex from utilities; therefore, it does not create any additional financial burden.
The cloud-based demand-response (CDR) is used for fast response timing in large-scale deployments. In CDR, the energy management system and smart meters serve as slaves while the utility is the master. The cloud-based demand model could be based on data-centric communication or topic-based group communication. Overhead problems such as the implementation cost and the selection of an appropriate strategy exist in the demand-response model occurs in the private cloud where the size of the network is small.
Cloud computing can be used for power despatching and the deployment method of power despatching automation system could be developed on cloud computing. Easy standardisation of the power despatching technique, rapid delivery of advanced functions and significantly improved reliability of IT infrastructures can be achieved by means of the cloud computing technology. It integrates the existing resource demands among various despatchingcentres, 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 rapid integration and analysis of information, which streams from multiple smart meters simultaneously.
Cloud computing is also useful for peak demand management and dynamic pricing. Requests from customers, which are to be executed, based on the priority, available resources and other applicable constraints, are scheduled with the integration of cloud. During peak hours, messages from smart meters are more than those in the non-peak hours. In such a scenario, incoming jobs from users are scheduled according to their priority, available resources and applicable constraints. With the integration of the dynamic bandwidth allotment mechanism using cloud application, these issues can be addressed conveniently. During peak hour, the allotted bandwidth is higher than that in the non-peak hours, in order to serve all incoming jobs 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 widely distributed renewable energy sources operations are coordinated by the utility at a minimal cost. In addition, improved utilisation of renewable sources, reduction in the peak demand at the domestic level and additional household annual bill savings are the benefits of the dynamic shifting programme.
Another use case for cloud computing is in managing smart grids. It uses information technologies to enable an efficient power grid. At the same time, it generates a massive quantum of data. To cope with this huge amount of data and daily fluctuations by smart meters, the underlying 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 massive quantum of data generated with the increasing deployment of smart meters and smart grids. It offers highly distributed and scalable computing resources to host smart grid applications.
One of the emerging areas of cloud computing application is for developing applications and softwares for blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Blockchain is a distributed data processing technology, that enables all users participating in the network to distribute and store data. Applying blockchain technology to the smart grid 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 would ensure their easy scalability in a cost-effective manner.
To conclude, for the successful deployment of cloud computing solutions, it is essential to approach the journey to cloud holistically. This helps in managing the complexity of the transformation and yields greater business benefits. Planning piecemeal cloud projects and ignoring interdependencies between functions only creates complexity in the migration to cloud. This often leads to stalled or delayed cloud migrations and poor business outcomes. On the other hand, a holistic approach with an end-to-end view breaks the cycle of stagnation to deliver enhanced business benefits. While planning for adopting cloud 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. Besides, it is also essential to examine the readiness of the existing applications and design a strategy to achieve the transition. Further, identifying the impact on various tools and processes as a result of shifting to cloud is also essential. Apart from this, adequate preparation for change management while adopting cloud solutions helps in getting better results.