The Internet of Things (IoT) is a huge focus for governments and businesses across the world, with both looking at how they can make both products and infrastructure “smarter”.

IoT-enabled “smart cities”, for instance, are revolutionising what is possible in any given metropolis. Having a variety of solutions “talking” to each other enables businesses to boost process automation, drives efficiency, and can lead to savings. India has begun its Smart Cities Mission, which aims to develop more than 100 smart cities across the country.

Electricity distribution companies must also look at ways they can leverage the IoT. Research has found that the number of UK power outages in 2015 rose dramatically compared to the previous year – from 537 incidents to 640 – with the UK’s ageing infrastructure creaking under increased demand. Outages not only cost distributors money but also cost UK companies thousands of pounds, with the total cost of downtime estimated to be 66,170 Euros per hour.

There are many reasons why such companies should consider implementing IoT solutions, but preventing such power outages should be a major factor in their considerations. By leveraging IoT and creating a smarter power grid with IoT-enabled solutions, such as intelligent lighting, these types of blackouts can be reduced and managed more effectively when they do occur.

A smart grid with smart solutions allows electric distribution companies to have access to a constant stream of real-time data. This enables them to spot problems early and fix issues before they evolve, as well as allowing them to analyse this data to be more intelligent in their planning. For example, if they notice a growing trend of increasing energy consumption in one particular neighbourhood, they can analyse the data to see if this trend is likely to continue and then plan accordingly, ensuring the correct infrastructure is in place to cope with the demand. Or, if the lights in a particular building appear to be on more frequently than expected, this can be inspected to establish whether there is an issue. Therefore, better understanding of how electricity and the grid works allows them to plan for the future more effectively and plan for upcoming events in advance.

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What’s more, if an outage does occur, having access to granular data enables companies to react to downtime more effectively and efficiently. Responding to an outage can often be time consuming, costly, and inefficient. In the past, the majority of electricity distribution companies would send the nearest maintenance or repair team to the problem area. Once they got there, this team then would have to diagnose the problem on-site and begin the repair, which could take considerable time. In addition to this, as these companies would have little or no idea of the fault before the arrival of the repair team, they may not have the correct equipment, meaning they may not be able to begin the repairs until a further support team arrives. This can extend downtime considerably, especially in rural areas. This extra delay is not only time consuming and frustrating but damages customer relations.

But this no longer needs to be the case. IoT enables the remote diagnoses of problems, meaning the tools needed to fix the problem can be identified in advance. So, rather than sending the closest team to the problem, companies now can send the team that has the right equipment – thus saving time and money.

However, we still are some way behind fixed line network infrastructure being able to cope with such large amounts of data needed for remote solutions to be a success. But by leveraging cellular technology, smart grid solutions can have access to reliable connectivity even in the most remote locations, allowing the flow of real-time, actionable data.

Overall, if these solutions are backed by reliable cellular technology, they can not only make electrical distribution companies more efficient but they also can make the grid smarter, allow for more intelligent planning, and prevent costly and reputation damaging down times.