VERGE Executive Series: Q&A With PG&E's Saul Zambrano

In the second installation of our series, PwC's Don Reed spoke with Saul Zambrano, Senior Director of the Products Organization for PG&E. Zambrano leads energy- and cost-saving customer programs including pricing and energy efficiency, demand response, and distributed generation. Increasingly at the heart of his work is the smart grid, which is enabling a new revenue and product opportunities for the utility. He spoke with us about how big data and advanced analytics are playing a major role in creating the utility of the future.

Don Reed: How should the average person be thinking about smart energy: is it something still for the future, or is it happening right now? What's your assessment?

Saul Zambrano: It's happening in localized pockets. In North America, there are 3,000 utilities, and those 3,000 utilities all are effectively governed by 50 different regulatory bodies. Outside of North America you tend to have national utilities (depending on which region you look at). The speed of deployment is highly dictated by that fragmentation.

Reed: What are the other issues affecting the pace of full smart grid deployment?

saul zambranoZambrano: The first hurdle is that it's a big, physical upgrade exercise. It's not a software upgrade where you're just writing code. But, once they get through the deployment phase, then they get to the question of, what do I do with all this data?

That big data represents a lot. You can leverage it in a lot of different ways: for transforming customer relationships, creating operational efficiencies within the utility, innovating around smart grid initiatives, and for smarter buildings, providing automated facility benchmarking or deploying different integration strategies into building management systems.

Reed: How do you see innovation happening?

Zambrano: Effectively, now that you have the large amounts of interval data for gas and electric meters, you can really start to show customers, through the power of information and presentation, different ways that they can become stewards of energy, whether it's as a residential customer or a commercial customer. So, there's going to be a tremendous amount of innovation done at the utility level, as well as by the third parties.

One of the big policy pushes at the regulatory level is to create platforms where third parties can -- assuming all privacy guidelines are met -- access this data to build business models they can drive into the marketplace. So there will be a new chapter of grid management and energy management that's going to be supplied by both the utilities and third parties.

So this is just the first wave. Once these common data platforms and common data access platforms are enabled, once utilities learn to leverage how to use their data to service their customers better, once everyone starts to see those benchmarks established, that's what I would call the second wave of smart grid.

Reed: What kinds of products are we going to see emerging from smart grid deployments?

Zambrano: Obviously, anytime you create new capabilities for your customers, it's a roadmap, so it will change over time, but we're effectively creating the capability for our residential customers to do progressive energy audits. We're already doing that with our large commercial industrial customers. We've made those big investments; it's really just the finalization of the project implementation. Now we're looking at what we're going to do for small/medium business customers.