Digital transformation in the energy sector isn’t just about innovation, but more a matter of survival. For too long, worn-out operating processes have prohibited suppliers from making the leap to technology. And for some, it took the disruption of a pandemic to address a desperate need for change within the industry.
But what exactly is digital transformation and why has it become more important than ever for leaders in the energy sector? Let’s unpack what it all means.
What is digital transformation?
At its core, digital transformation is the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business. It challenges leaders to look differently at processes with innovative alternatives that deliver more value to customers.
On a wider scale, you could say digital transformation is a catalyst for cultural change. In many ways, it’s an answer to the energy sector’s ever-changing landscape where adaptability and access to live data are key ingredients to survival.
Raghu Ramakrishnan, Microsoft CTO for Data, says: “The energy industry is going through a secular expansion, when you have to process large amounts of information in near real-time.
“Digitalisation, essentially, is your opportunity to react and make decisions quickly.”
Of course, digitising the energy sector has only been possible during the last decade. Before then, it was brushed aside as science fiction that belonged on the big screen.
But with advances in all areas of technology, such as data sharing, machine learning, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, digital alternatives are redefining how the energy sector operates.
The importance of digitisation of energy?
The energy sector is a vulnerable industry for businesses of all shapes and sizes. If you want to survive, it’s imperative to adapt quickly to chain disruptions, new competition and ever-changing customer expectations.
Harry Brekelmas, Shell Project and Technology Director, says: “digitalisation is going to help us accelerate towards finding the solutions that we need, to deal with the big questions that are in front of us in the energy system.”
One of the big questions is how energy suppliers can meet customers’ demands while having to make for a lower-carbon energy system.
Of course, these developments are only possible through real-time access to live data, which is now facilitated with the introduction of a digitalised energy sector.
The reliance on live data doesn’t look like it will slow down anytime soon, either. Because according to International Data Corporation (IDC), there are 33 zettabytes of data in the world, which is projected to grow to 175 zettabytes by 2025. That’s a serious amount of information!
How digital can transform energy
Digitising the energy sector gives leaders the transparency they require to streamline operating processes and act on real-time data.
With emerging renewable energy generation technologies, such as wind and solar, it’s imperative the processing of data does not delay the need to adapt to any given situation.
Prior to a digitised sector, the energy sector faced many impediments that blurred decision-making, namely:
- Geographically dispersed energy data
- Lack of reliable data through integrated platforms
- Inability to track energy supply and demand trends
But now, through the correct management of digitised platforms, synchronised data is available for users to make informed decisions based on industry trends and predictions.
It means energy suppliers can maximise renewable production through more accurate forecasts of the weather and market conditions with real-time data available in an instant.
Virtual reality is also playing its part in driving digital transformation in the renewables industry. Some of the most recent examples include:
Training and development
Now the next generation of wind turbine technicians can undergo fault finding inspections and other job-related tasks all by slipping on a headset.
What’s more, any virtual environment can be modelled on a real-life demonstration turbine to make the experience seem as life-like as possible. You can also expect sound effects and changing weather conditions depending on the acquired level of difficulty.
With a virtual environment, learners can visualise how turbines respond to various weather conditions. They also have the autonomy to develop understanding in niche areas through immersive discovery options.
Before energy providers invest millions of pounds into new renewable generators, they can see a real project’s scope long before it even exists. It means planning and results are more accurate from the get-go.
The future of energy
Perhaps the earliest involvement of digital technology in the energy sector was the switch from analogue meters to digital meters. Since then, far greater technological integrations have paved the way for a cleaner and more efficient energy sector.
But digital transformation hasn’t always been a top priority for energy giants. In many instances, it took the disruption of a global pandemic to make suppliers aware of their vulnerability and lack of adaptability in an ever-changing market.
And even though greater commitment to technology is still required in the energy sector, it’s undeniable the profound changes its already made in such a short time span.
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