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Improving the energy and utilities industry with the Internet of Things

Industry Marketing Manager - Communications, IBM

Many heating-fuel customers in rural areas of the US rely on regular deliveries to keep their homes and businesses heated. On average, heating-fuel delivery drivers visit customers six times per year, and the deliveries are typically made when the tanks are still half full. This frequency comes at an unnecessary cost to the consumer who pays from $50–100 per visit, and to the fuel dealers who waste time and money making unnecessary trips to customers’ homes.

Fighting inefficiency with technology

In analyzing this process, the challenge became clear. A way was needed to monitor the fuel levels in customers’ tanks, so dealers can avoid making unnecessary trips to refill tanks that don’t need refueling. In turn, this solution would provide cost savings for both sides. The solution called for installing a sensor that can monitor the fuel level in customers’ tanks and using a network to collect and communicate the sensor data. In addition, device management and analytics would determine the right time to send the truck to replenish fuel at customer locations.

Senet, Inc. set out to fundamentally change the inefficient fuel-delivery process with a highly scalable Internet of Things infrastructure. The first step was developing a long-range, low-data-rate sensor that monitors fuel levels of residential tanks. Armed with the sensor, Senet needed a connectivity and device management solution.

Finding the solution in IoT

Senet engaged IBM Research to assist in the deployment of a large-scale Internet of Things infrastructure to support its automated heating-fuel delivery application. Senet, IBM Research and its partner Semtech leveraged Internet of Things technology to build a network that feeds sensor data into cloud-based infrastructure, enabling the organization to make trips to its customers at the optimal time to refuel.

The highly scalable solution collects and securely transmits fuel-level and gauge-status data to fuel dealers, who then determine when to dispatch delivery trucks to replenish supplies. Access to this data helps eliminate the need to guess when it’s time to dispatch a truck. A highly optimized asset management program facilitates scheduling decisions that can improve operations and reduce costs. Today, Senet covers 70,000 square miles with 40,000 sensors.

Providing benefits for all

This large-scale Internet of Things solution has provided tangible benefits for both heating-fuel dealers and consumers. The number of fuel deliveries per household has been reduced by 20 percent, leading to a cost savings of up to $1.5 million annually per dealer. From the customers’ perspective, this service has provided a way for them to monitor their own fuel-consumption patterns, increasing engagement and strengthening the relationship between fuel dealers and consumers. For Senet, the solution creates the foundation for a new revenue stream among a range of other vertical markets, including water and gas metering.

Energy and utilities suppliers can build out cost-effective, large-scale Internet of Things infrastructure to reduce operational costs, increase efficiency and boost customer satisfaction. The solution can be easily applied to other industries, such as waste management, which can benefit from remote monitoring and automated scheduling based on actual inventory levels.

Going a level deeper

Learn more about Senet’s success with this large-scale Internet of Things infrastructure, and visit IBM Analytics for Telecommunications to request a complimentary workshop designed to help design and deploy large-scale Internet of Things infrastructures for multiple industries leveraging your telecommunications network.

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