Utilities are today in the midst of a game changing scenario. The industry is facing up to the need to meet three key issues that are crucial to long-term competitiveness and profitability: environmental sustainability, supply security and customer satisfaction.
To succeed in this challenge, however, utilities need to become more customer-centric, offering services that bring value to their customers.
This strategic move requires the industry's approach to alter, from the current provision of energy and water infrastructure, to one that concentrates on empowered consumers. This is not an easy task, but utilities have the benefit of learning from other industries, in particular the telecommunications industry.
The telecommunications industry over the past two decades has moved to a customer-centric business model and navigated similar challenges that the utilities industry now face. For that reason similar solutions and thought leadership from telecommunications can be applied. Utilities, however, should not expect to simply copy the entire progress of telcos, due to its differing supply chains and unique industry issues.
Grid Service Management
One of the key issues now facing utilities, especially the Distribution Network Operators (DNOs), is the service management of the grid. Today's distribution networks have little to no form of network supervision or management. As smart meters are rolled out, the suppliers are focused on data output and management from the meters. However, the smart meter will also provide an important sensor point at the end of the network.
By applying advanced networking tools and business analytics, events and alarms emanating from the intelligent networks are correlated and provide key information that will positively influence security of supply and customer satisfaction.
As smart meters and low cost sensors become pervasive on networks and grids, utilities will have the added challenge of managing tens or even hundreds of millions of devices. This is a key area where utility companies can draw upon the immense expertise of the telecommunications industry where they have provisioned solutions that already manage real-time networks of millions of mobile phones.
To achieve this level of grid service management, utilities can use the same advanced correlation software that mobile operators have been using for many years. HP, for example, repurposed software it developed for the telecommunications industry and reapplied it to provide service management for grids and networks, creating the 'HP Utility Center.'
Planning ahead for 'Connected Intelligence'
Utilities also have the opportunity to learn from mistakes that telcos made on their journey. Capacity planning is one of the core areas within service management and one where telecoms made a misstep on their journey. Having built network-based data storage systems independently of the business model and the operational and customer information, telecoms are now struggling to break out from this curtailing structure.
Utilities must embrace this need for long-term planning by building enterprise data warehouses today. This will help them plan for the increasing demand by providing "connected intelligence" across the whole supply chain.
Managing the grid according to anticipated demand will be instrumental to the success of utilities in the future. The prevalence of digital technologies being applied to the grid and other disruptive influences such as electric vehicles (EV) and micro-generation are bound to change the dynamics of the grid. EV drivers will want to recharge their cars at a time that is convenient for them. Unless this is carefully managed, peak loads might be exacerbated.
As EV users are also likely to want to re-charge at various locations there will be a requirement for utilities to reconcile these 'roaming charges' to consumers' home electricity bills. Once again, utilities can look to the telecommunications industry for a successful model in roaming and the consolidation of billing of customers' charges to their personal telecom bills.
The challenge for utilities is clear but they must also see the opportunity to learn from telcos' experiences and missteps. Grid service management can provide a common-sense approach which will ensure that utilities are on the right track in developing a clear vision of future business requirements, which will help them avoid unnecessary pitfalls and investments.
Image CC licensed by Flickr user C.P.Storm.
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