Wearable Tech World Feature Article
February 25, 2015

Wearables Set to Supercharge the Utility Sector

As phenomena like machine-to-machine technology, smart grid and the Internet of Things (IoT) begin to revolutionize the hundred+-year-old utility sector in the United States, wearable devices are emerging as a way to make operations more efficient and increase customer satisfaction.

According to Alex Pischalnikov and Craig Rintoul, energy experts at PA Consulting Group, there are a number of applications for wearables, like the ability to communicate with other innovative technologies, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

In a less high-flown example, wearable video-enabled gadgets can record and document crew operations for training and evaluation purposes. Or, an armband could issue reminders and checklists based on location, along with detailed histories of the account being services, like equipment repair history and equipment operating statistics.

Important capabilities for wearables in the utility context include GPS services, location-sensitive network information and video/audio streaming. Wearable technologies can also incorporate thermal imaging sensors, enabling crews to determine what equipment repairs are needed on site, and relay pictures and other data captured back to a processing location for analysis.

“As wearable technologies come to be more widely adopted across industry, utility companies will have the opportunity to provide value-add services for commercial and industrial customers,” the analysts said, in a column. “For example, an industrial customer plant manager would be able to elect to receive messages directly to his wearable device from the plant’s electricity supplier on future pricing, generation options, demand patterns and weather. Offerings like this may prove to be differentiators for energy providers in the lucrative commercial and industrial segment.”

It’s worth noting that this isn’t all just in the realm of “what if.” There are nascent forays into commercializing these ideas. For example, at Sullivan Solar in Southern California, service techs have been using Google Glass to install and maintain solar panels in San Diego Gas & Electric’s service territory.

Using a proprietary app, Glass’s camera and microphone record jobs as they are being completed, allowing back office and other employees to view the work as it is being done.

A number of utilities have been working with regulators to fund future technology pilots for wearables, so the sector could start snowballing soon.

“As utilities continue to invest and evolve to become digital organizations, wearables represent a key opportunity to enable this transformation,” the analysts said. “The deployment of wearable technologies should be part of utilities’ overall enterprise mobility and innovation strategy, spanning the opportunities across generation, T&D, and retail business units, and taking account of the impact on the customer, field force, enterprise, and regulators.”

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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