ICT infrastructure to support SA’s utilities of the future

November 27th, 2019, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: Energize

The 5th Nedbank Energy Dialogue seminar took place on 26 November 2019, hosted in association with EE Publishers. It was the last event of a series which covered various aspects of the energy sector. This final seminar looked at the ICT infrastructure to support an effective ICT ecosystem for electricity utilities of the future.

The panel, from left: Dr Rob Stephen, Dr Minnesh Bipath, Thabang Chiloane, Prof. Barry Dwolatzky and Tim Ohlsen.

Chaired once again by Nedbanks’s Divisional Executive for Strategic Relations and Public Affairs, Thabang Chiloane, the seminar kicked off with his opening address: “Utilities of the future will have to place customers and customer choice at the very centre of their new business processes, as they change from being traditional generation, transmission and distribution asset-based businesses, to ‘platforms’ that connect buyers and sellers of electricity. At the very heart of this revolution is the need for effective ICT bandwidth, spectrum and infrastructure, together with a sound ICT policy, legal, regulatory and planning framework in South Africa, to facilitate universal affordable broadband access, e-business and Industry 4.0 for inclusive economic growth.”

Prof. Barry Dwolatzky spoke about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and what it means for the utilities of the future. But what does it really mean? “Only a select few of us really have an agreed definition on what this is. We have a few definitions. Is it a mix of tech that supports digital transformation? Is it a tidal wave of disruption for businesses? Or is it an industrial revolution based on cyber physical systems? For me, none of these are really suitable.”

Prof. Dwolatzky prefers to define 4IR in relation to the concept of Industry 4.0, which is based on four principles: interconnection, decentralised decision making, information transparency, and digital assistants. This relates to utilities through the need to apply these elements to generation, transmission and distribution using decentralised, digitised and democratised practices. Traditional, hierarchical and centralised power delivery methods are a thing of the past, according to Prof. Dwolatzky. This will also change the skills requirements of future power engineers: “The power engineer of the future will need to be able to deal with these emerging technologies. However, it will be challenge for universities to equip these people, because everything changes so rapidly. People will need to learn for themselves more than ever before.”

View the slide presentation by Prof Dwolatzky at https://bit.ly/2XSSvhZ

Prof. Barry Dwolatsky

Next to present was Dr Rob Stephen, the International President of Cigre, a global collaborative community based in Paris, France, committed to knowledge development for the creation and sharing of power system expertise. Stephen explained the technologies that will enable an agile, precise and adaptive transmission and distribution infrastructure. He said that to make the grid of the future work, there needs to be ten areas of focus: active distribution networks; a massive exchange of information; integration of high and medium voltage DC/power electronics; significant storage; new control systems; new protection concepts largely enabled by ICT; sustainable systems; new tools for technical performance, increased use of existing systems; and stakeholder awareness to encourage an integrated market and regulatory chain. Many of these areas will need smart technology, fast data transfer, real-time analytics, machine learning and high-level cyber security.

View the slide presentation by Dr Stephen at https://bit.ly/2rqxcIp

SANEDI’s Minesh Bipath followed Stephen. “We are in the midst of a revolution”, began Bipath. “There are changes that, if we don’t manage, will leave us with some sunk costs.” His presentation focused on the smart city concept, which uses ICT to enhance a city’s liveability, workability and sustainability. With growing urbanisation and increasing environmental challenges, smart cities will require energy innovation. “Our municipalities in South Africa are completely antiquated. We need big investment into technology to manage visibility and control of our energy systems. There is a crisis in the entire value chain that needs to be attended to. Smart grids can help South Africa’s energy use become sustainable for future generation.”

View the slide presentation by Bypath at https://bit.ly/2OnNmLy

Tim Ohlsen

The final presentation of the day was given by Tim Ohlsen, co-founder and CEO of ELDO Energy – a provider of data-driven services to stakeholders in the energy value chain. He began by mentioning the current challenges in the energy landscape, a large part of which is regulation which inhibits innovation. Other challenges are lack of data access, and lack of data integrity. Energy uses cannot trust the data that forms the basis of their bills. “Data will become the new currency, and it itself becomes a big part of the revolution needed in the energy sector”. He closed off by discussing the role of blockchain in energy, particularly in creating trusted smart contracts, and providing trusted and immutable data.

View the slide presentation by Ohlsen at https://bit.ly/33kg1FG

Thanks goes to the sponsors of this event, who were present at the seminar with their solutions on show: ContinuitySA, Cummins, Eaton, Liquid Telecoms, Qwyx, the South African National Energy Association (SANEA), and Teraco Data Environments.

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