Virtual power plants: a metaverse for the energy industry

By Somesh Kumar

The metaverse holds tremendous potential for an asset-rich sector such as energy and utilities, backed by massive assets spanning states and, in some cases, countries. The main enablers of the metaverse are augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence, 3D reconstruction, blockchain and cryptography, and, not too far future, augmented reality (XR).

As surprising as it may seem, the energy sector is not new to most of these emerging technologies. Utilities and “people-led initiatives/communities” are in some cases moving towards microgrids that leverage blockchain-based smart contract management, which can help improve accountability transparent and efficient energy at all levels and facilitate peer-to-peer exchanges between electricity prosumers . Maintaining and monitoring remote production assets is an arduous task, especially in the wake of Covid-19, due to their geographic dispersion. VR/AR/MR technologies address this issue head-on by enabling virtual site visits, field staff training, remote field staff assistance and maintenance in the most efficient way and most profitable from an operational perspective. Backed by advanced analytics, this can dramatically improve operational efficiency and workforce productivity. Virtual power plants are virtual replicas created in the cloud, with support for IoT devices installed on the assets and AR/VR/MR technology, which can help streamline remote operations. There may be a situation where the entire power company can be viewed in 3D format and virtually fully operated.

These technologies will enable energy companies to transform into a distribution service operator (DSO) with multiple types of energy service offerings (and potentially adjacent types of smart city services) to consumers and help build smarter communities. As energy efficiency will remain a priority for these companies, the role of technology in real-time sharing, analysis and corrective action will become more important. The whole system can work as a virtual world with AR/VR. This can be very useful not only for optimizing manpower and setting up shared operations centers, but also for monitoring assets in real-time much more efficiently. Automatic alerts and alerts can enable faster identification and resolution of issues and bottlenecks to minimize downtime or failures. This allows practitioners to learn the dynamics of the electricity sector in an easier and more practical way.

Discos that are on the “consumer side and generate income” are running out of money. Would privatization be a catalyst for Indian utilities to adopt these new technologies, and would changing customer preferences lead to new business models? These are questions that would be answered over time. The bottom line, however, remains the same: utilities today will have to start integrating it into their short- and long-term vision. Global utility early adopters are wondering how to shape their future strategy to reap the benefits faster. In the Indian context, this issue is of great importance as the foundations have already been laid through the implementation of several technology reform programs for the energy sector over the past two decades.

In addition, the current pace of technology adoption by Indian utilities, aided by the Department of Energy’s vision of making the energy sector “future-ready”, supports the focus country’s focus on technology-driven innovation. To build on this foundation, the Indian energy and utilities sector must prepare on four fronts:
Strategy: Indian utilities implementing Metaverse use cases need to identify the appropriate use cases and assess their relevance to the current socio-economic context, long-term vision and financial viability.

Regulatory framework: A well-crafted strategy should be supported by a strong yet favorable regulatory framework that ensures data security and privacy issues are met without hindering growth and innovation.

Fundamental technology ecosystem: Bringing a metaverse use case to life requires the merging of multiple tools and technologies. Having fundamental platforms and systems will enable faster adoption and realization of benefits.

Metaverse Sustainability: Implementing a metaverse use case will definitely depend on real energy to run. Every bitcoin transaction today requires 2264.93 kWh of energy, more than the per capita consumption of many countries. This can give a boost to renewable energy generation, but also raises the broader question of how much of that consumption is unavoidable and sustainable.

For a country with an abundant, technologically skilled workforce and tremendous renewable energy potential, the future certainly looks bright in a metaverse-driven world. The energy sector in India needs to seriously evaluate the benefits of the metaverse and how it can be applied to improve efficiency, reliability and cost.

The author is Partner and Leader (Power and Utilities), EY India Views are personal

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