Building power’s pyramids: how the electricity industry can collaborate to create something new


People’s relationship with power is changing, whether electricity providers like it or not. Tobias Pantwich, Digital Workflow Advisor at Bentley Systems, Inc. and a member of the advisory board for Electrify Europe, argues that to build new infrastructure fit for the future, professionals across the whole value chain must work together.

Just as the Egyptians built the pyramids 4,000 years ago, today’s electricity industry has a chance to make the impossible possible, erecting something that would have been difficult to imagine only a few years ago.

Technology is altering consumers’ relationship with power and the industry must evolve to meet its customers’ enhanced expectations. Households and businesses can now generate their own electricity and sell it back to the grid, which means the one-directional stream of energy from producer to consumer has ended. Power now flows both ways and electricity firms must adapt to this new reality – creating a new, smart, and flexible infrastructure that works for a new generation of customer.

Change is a challenge; learning new skills and thinking about things in a different way is hard work. Additionally, people naturally fear a step into the unknown, but the power sector cannot afford to be timid and collaboration should no longer be avoided. In fact, firms across the entirety of the electricity value chain will need to work together like never before. Fortunately, technology will help guide the sector into closer cooperation between producer and consumer.

Can the cloud clear the way?

Technology isn’t just revolutionising consumers’ lives, it is fundamentally changing workplaces everywhere, with cloud technology perhaps the most important development to power professionals.

The cloud has offered a tremendous breakthrough, paving the way for the data collection, collation, and analytics technologies upon which so many businesses now depend. And, although firms in many sectors have taken a “cloud for cloud’s sake” approach to adopting the technology, without a clear strategy, the power sector has a very clear business case. In fact, it is cloud technology that allows for the smart grid to function.

Power professionals should pay attention to this technology’s role in facilitating new digital workflows, allowing for more effective collaboration. Cloud-based power companies can more easily share information – both between formerly siloed departments and other businesses with which they may work.

Being cloud-based does not only mean users have the ability to log on anywhere and at any time. Highly diverse infrastructure projects, with work dispersed across multiple organisations, individuals, and locations, are exceptionally difficult to administrate with a traditional centralized database.

Distributed databases hosted on the cloud allow users to work in tandem without slowing a project down. Furthermore, data can be encrypted to ensure that businesses only share what they need to with each other – and even to leverage each other’s data to generate new insights, without ever sharing the data itself.

However, there are still some challenges that will need to be overcome. Chief among these is version control, to ensure documents record changes to a file or set of files over time so that you can recall specific versions later. For this approach to work, all parties involved in a project need to use compatible solutions and connect to one shared platform. The regulation isn’t quite there yet, but it will be.

Eliminate the fear of the unknown

Technology alone isn’t enough. Education will prove essential in showing the way forward for power professionals, and overcoming any fear that could stand in the way of change.

This could take shape in many ways, from training on the wider value chain to the development of more sector-specific degree courses to ensure that incoming talent is fully appraised of the latest industry thinking. The objective is for power professionals to not only understand why they need to work together, but how they can best collaborate.

Professionals should be looking for opportunities to learn from each other throughout their careers. That’s the thinking behind new events like Electrify Europe, which provide a platform for professionals from across the industry’s value network to share knowledge and ideas – working together to develop sustainable solutions to emergent industry challenges.

It’s this spirit of collaboration that will enable the power industry to not only survive the changing environment but to build something that stands the test of time – just as the Egyptians did all those years ago.