Lighting the Way

Persistent climate change concerns, volatile energy prices and a growing awareness of technological advancement in energy are leading consumers across the globe to reconsider their role in the electric power value chain. Likewise, substantial increases in utility infrastructure investment are likely due to global demands for climate change mitigation; the need to support aging networks and generation plants; and proliferation of government stimulus plans for weakened economies.

For energy and utility companies, this presents an historic opportunity to encourage new, mutually beneficial behaviors and create business models to meet new consumer demands.

Our last report, "Plugging in the Consumer: Innovating Utility Business Models for the Future," explored the radically changing relationship between energy providers and consumers who took part in a survey conducted in late 2007. Even during the global economic downturn, progress has continued along the two dimensions shaping these changes: technology advancement and consumers’ desire for more control. Ultimately, this will result in movement of the basis of the industry to a participatory network – an interconnected environment characterized by a wide variety of grid and network technologies that enable shared responsibility and benefits. It will drive the creation of entirely new markets and products.

To continue our research about consumer expectations, we launched a followup survey in the fall of 2008. We surveyed over 5,000 customers from an expanded group of countries. This included the "core group" from our prior survey – the U.S., the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and Japan – plus Canada, Denmark, Belgium, France, Ireland and New Zealand. Our survey findings strongly suggest the historical view of customers as "like-minded" is already outdated in most places.

Encouraging New Behaviors

In our surveys over the past two years, many consumers demonstrated at least one goal associated with asserting more control over their energy usage. The features of a participatory network appeal tremendously to them, because it would offer abundant service options and information to manage energy usage according to specific goals, such as cost reduction or environmental impact.

There is not much evidence that consumers think lower rates are coming. Over half see the cost increasing at roughly the same pace as usage. Forty percent see their bills increasing more rapidly than their usage (or not decreasing as much as any reduction in usage). Six percent think their bills will increase more slowly (or decrease more rapidly) than their usage. Overall, this year’s respondents have a slightly more pessimistic view of the next five years than those last year.

Cost remains the powerful motivator behind a desire for control over energy usage and a willingness to change behavior. Four in five consumers are willing to change the time-of-day in which they perform energy-consuming housework in exchange for cost savings of 50 percent or more. With the prevalent feeling that prices will move inexorably upward and awareness of smart meters growing, over 90 percent of respondents indicated that they would like a smart meter or other tools to manage their usage, with 55 percent to 60 percent of these respondents willing to pay a one-time or monthly fee for that capability.

Consumers’ emphasis on climate change and the availability of renewable energy programs in response to this demand for more carbon-neutral products remained about the same year to year. Across the core group countries, the percentage reporting that they did not have renewable power programs available dropped to 16 percent from 21 percent in the new survey (see Figure 1). Rather than changing their answers to the affirmative, however, most of the movement was to "don’t know" (up to 50 percent from 46 percent).

According to industry experts in some of the countries surveyed, the high level of "don’t know" responses, in part, reflects doubts in some countries about the veracity of green power claims. Still, if to a larger extent many customers truly cannot answer that question, this could indicate a valuable opportunity lost to ineffective communication with customers in countries with significant renewable resources and high participation levels.

In addition to environmental concerns, the global economic downturn of 2008 is clearly having severe impact on consumers. Across the core group countries, the number of consumers paying a premium for green products and services is down 20 percent to 30 percent (see Figure 2).

This change in spending patterns also seems to influence perceptions of green power options among consumers from core group countries that do not have (or are unsure if they have) green power options. The percentage of people who say they want green power options is down slightly, falling to 78 percent in 2008 from 85 percent in 2007. But, during that one-year period, the percentage of those willing to pay an additional 20 percent or more monthly dropped by nearly two-thirds, to just 6 percent from 16 percent.

The percentage of those who have green power options and actually buy them remained about the same, however. This is not surprising given contractual commitments, significantly higher prices for nonrenewable fuels in the past year (which eliminated some of the cost differential between standard and green power), and the overall commitment to the environment expected of "green" consumers.

Analyzing Consumers

In "Plugging in the Consumer," we described an emerging segmentation comprised of four consumer types: passive ratepayers (PR), frugal goal-seekers (FGs), energy epicures (EE) and energy stalwarts (ES) (see Figure 3). Our latest survey results reinforce these segments as likely outcomes of current trends. Two main attributes are associated with variances in consumers’ behavior profiles:

  • Personal Initiative. A consumer’s willingness to make decisions and take action based on specific goals such as cost control, reliability, convenience and climate change impact.
  • Disposable Income. A consumer’s financial wherewithal to support energy-related goals. In early adoption phases, only those with sufficient resources will be able to implement new technologies and buy more expensive products.

We also found that other demographic characteristics – such as age and country of residence – affect the speed of technology adoption, ability to leverage control "behind the meter," goals embedded in accepting more responsibility for energy choices, among others.

Consumer Profiles

PRs that embody a passive preference for the status quo remain the most prevalent of any of the four consumer archetypes. However, we see a remarkable transition in progress. In the past, these typically uninvolved, acquiescent customers comprised virtually 100 percent of the customer base. They represent just 31 percent of our 2008 survey respondents.

The number of more engaged and goal-oriented customers all along the income spectrum is approaching one-half of the total customer base. Frugal goal-seekers (FGs), about 22 percent of the survey population, have limited resources but strong will to change the way they use energy and manage its consumption. This group desires low-cost control of energy choices. Energy stalwarts (ES) have enough strength in both will and wallet to proactively take measures from making simple efficiency improvements to generating their own electricity. They have a clear willingness to invest in energy choices and represent about one in five consumers surveyed. Both of these groups will strongly influence the other half of consumers as they succeed in meeting their goals.

The remaining respondents (26 percent) are the EEs, who are curious but not committed. While they actually demonstrate more knowledge about their provider and options than any other group, they do not share the cost concerns or clear desire for information and control. This appears to be a matter of choice and not ignorance. While passive in some ways, this group is open to experimentation, particularly when the cost and lifestyle impact of a behavioral change are low.

Generational Change

In the short term, changes in customer needs will occur based on personal initiative and income. In the long run, even more radical changes may emerge as the millennial generation continues to move into adulthood and the energy customer base. By varying definitions, the first wave of these information-hungry, technology-savvy consumers is somewhere in our 25- to 34-year-old demographic grouping and fully encompasses the 18- to 24-year-old age group.

Precisely at this juncture, we see major changes in the survey results related to the ways consumers learn about companies and products, what they value and what they will pay for, as well as how they communicate with each other and the companies with which they do business. This, ultimately, may give way to new customer segments that will influence the shape of the industry in ways unimagined just a decade or two ago. To effectively determine the best strategy for a customer-focused transition to the participatory network of the future, every provider of energy or related services will need to construct an inventory of existing customer interactions with a wide variety of current and future service and product models.

In the following sections, we outline how specific consumer segments view the technology and business advances associated with key interactions.

Learning about Providers

Important messages from providers do not always reach consumers, as evidenced by consumers’ lack of awareness of available green power options (see Figure 1).

Additionally, only one in six consumers foresees a decrease in usage over the next five years, and only about a third say their provider can help them save energy despite strong efforts by the industry and governments to promote efficiency. In particular, provider messages are not reaching the youngest consumers. For example, those aged 18 to 34 are 40 percent more likely to not know if they have a choice in providers versus those 35 and older. The under-34 group also is twice as likely to not even know their provider’s name.

While all age groups will continue to rely heavily on their providers for information about energy (85 percent to 90 percent of respondents indicated this was a likely source), reliance on other sources differed starkly. Those over 55 are more than 10 times more likely to look to government for energy information than to social networks and other Web 2.0 content. Current trends also imply that those under 25 are becoming almost as likely to use the latter, rather than the former. To reach all generations, companies need to understand how different consumers tend to educate themselves about providers and their offerings with the wide variety of media available.

Controlling Costs

Not surprisingly, those aged 18 to 34 were most eager for the types of "self-service" and automated energy management that smart metering and smart grids will bring. What may be surprising, however, is that this age group – and particularly those under 25 – is the most willing to pay a stated premium for these services of approximately $100 U.S. as a one-time fee, or a monthly fee of $5 U.S. (see Figure 4).

Having a message sent to a mobile device when power is out at the consumer’s home also garnered significantly higher interest from the under-25 age group. About 30 percent were more likely than the other age groups to pay $1 per month for such a service. This finding may be related to the generally higher willingness we observed of younger age groups to subscribe to these programs, to their higher rate of ownership of mobile data devices and plans, or a combination of the two.

Investing in the Consumer

Substantial new increases in investment in utility infrastructure will come with a great deal of public, regulatory and shareholder scrutiny. All of these stakeholders will want to know how the public as a whole can benefit.

Energy and utility companies will need a strategy for aligning customer wants and needs with technology deployment roadmaps, beginning with rigorous customer segmentation and building an inventory of customer interactions. This must be followed by a program to analyze the interactions that are anticipated with each consumer segment and to assess whether existing capabilities are sufficient to leverage the new infrastructure in ways that support the new customer experience:

  • Identifying customer wants and needs specific to the interactions that will be most important to each particular segment;
  • Identifying the interactions that can be most effectively enhanced through participatory network deployment strategies;
  • Defining new or augmented business capabilities and regulatory models that must be developed to translate technological capabilities into customer benefits;
  • Determining which capabilities, if any, will be ceded to other providers for further development;
  • Integrating the development of specific new business capabilities into the participatory network deployment roadmap; and
  • Communicating these new capabilities clearly and effectively to all stakeholders.

The outcome of this process will lead to critical decisions about the customer-facing business capabilities on which the enterprise will focus.

Existing organizational strengths and new capabilities to be developed – one by one or in combinations – will form the basis for a broad menu of new products and services that the energy provider can offer. Each energy or service provider must be prepared to analyze its customer base to determine specific wants and needs before assessing how customers want to see new products and services emerge. After preferences are evaluated, they need to be applied to the customer interaction inventory in a way that identifies what should to be enhanced through technological improvements, regulatory change or improvements to communication channels.

This needs to be an ongoing process; customer assessment will not cease to be important once the participatory network is in place. The good news is that the data required to perform this continual assessment will be ubiquitous and arrive in real time from multiple sources of value-generating insights. But with this capability comes a challenge: finding new and powerful ways to collect, assimilate and evaluate this torrent of data in a way that will lead to inspiration for new programs and products that appeals to an expanding number of involved consumers.

Infrastructure and the Economy

With utility infrastructure aging rapidly, reliability of service is threatened. Yet the economy is hurting, unemployment is accelerating, environmental mandates are rising, and the investment portfolios of both seniors and soon-to-retire boomers have fallen dramatically. Everyone agrees change is needed. The question is: how?

In every one of these respects, state regulators have the power to effect change. In fact, the policy-setting authority of the states is not only an essential complement to federal energy policy, it is a critical building block for economic recovery.

There is no question we need infrastructure development. Almost 26 percent of the distribution infrastructure owned and operated by the electric industry is at or past the end of its service life. For transmission, the number is approximately 15 percent, and for generation, about 23 percent. And that’s before considering the rising demand for electricity needed to drive our digital economy.

The new administration plans to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on infrastructure projects. However, most of the money will go towards roads, transportation, water projects and waste water systems, with lesser amounts designated for renewable energy. It appears that only a small portion of the funds will be designated for traditional central station generation, transmission and distribution. And where such funds are available, they appear to be in the form of loan guarantees, especially in the transmission sector.

The U.S. transmission system is in need of between $50 billion and $100 billion of new investment over the next 10 years, and approximately $300 billion by 2030. These investments are required to connect renewable energy sources, make the grid smarter, improve electricity market efficiency, reduce transmission-related energy losses, and replace assets that are too old. In the next three years alone, the investor-owned utility sector will need to spend about $30 billion on transmission lines.

Spending on distribution over the next decade could approximate $200 billion, rising to $600 billion by 2030. About $60 billion to $70 billion of this will be spent in just the next three years.

The need for investment in new generating stations is a bit more difficult to estimate, owing to the uncertainties surrounding the technologies that will prove the most economic under future greenhouse gas regulations and other technology preferences of the Congress and administration. However, it could easily be somewhere between $600 billion and $900 billion by 2030. Of this amount, between $100 billion and $200 billion could be invested over the next three years and as much as $300 billion over the next 10. It will be mostly later in that 10-year period, and beyond, that new nuclear and carbon-compliant coal capacity is expected to come on line in significant amounts. That will raise generating plant investments dramatically.

Jobs, and the Job of Regulators

All of this construction would maintain or create a significant number of jobs. We estimate that somewhere between 150,000 and 300,000 jobs could be created annually by this build out, including jobs related to construction, post-construction utility operating positions, and general economic "ripple effect" jobs through 2030.

These are sustainable levels of employment – jobs every year, not just one-time surges.

In addition, others have estimated that the development of the smart grid could add between 150,000 and 280,000 jobs. Clearly, then, utility generation, transmission and distribution investments can provide a substantial boost for the economy, while at the same time improving energy efficiency, interconnecting critical renewable energy sources and making the grid smarter.

The beauty is that no federal legislation, no taxpayer money and no complex government grant or loan processes are required. This is virtually all within the control of state regulators.

Timely consideration of utility permit applications and rate requests, as well as project pre-approvals by regulators, allowance of construction work in progress in rate base, and other progressive regulatory practices would vastly accelerate the pace at which these investments could be made and financed, and new jobs created. Delays in permitting and approval not only slow economic recovery, but also create financial uncertainty, potentially threatening ratings, reducing earnings and driving up capital costs.

Helping Utility Shareholders

This brings us to our next point: Regulators can and should help utility shareholders. Although they have a responsibility for controlling utility rates charged to consumers, state regulators also need to provide returns on equity and adopt capital structures that recognize the risks, uncertainties and investor expectations that utilities face in today’s and tomorrow’s very de-leveraged and uncertain financial markets.

It is now widely acknowledged that risk has not been properly priced in the recent past. As with virtually all other industries, equity will play a far more critical role in utility project and corporate finance than in the past. For utilities to attract the equity needed for the buildout just described, equity must earn its full, risk-adjusted return. This requires a fresh look at stockholder expectations and requirements.

A typical utility stockholder is not some abstract, occasionally demonized, capitalist, but rather a composite of state, city, corporate and other pension funds, educational savings accounts, individual retirement accounts and individual shareholders who are in, or close to, retirement. These shares are held largely by, or for the benefit of, everyday workers of all types, both employed and retired: government employees, first responders, trades and health care workers, teachers, professionals, and other blue and white collar workers throughout the country.

These people live across the street from us, around the block, down the road or in the apartments above and below us. They rely on utility investments for stable income and growth to finance their children’s education, future home purchases, retirement and other important quality-of-life activities. They comprise a large segment of the population that has been injured by the economy as much as anyone else.

Fair public policy suggests that regulators be mindful of this and that they allow adequate rates of return needed for financial security. It also requires that regulatory commissions be fair and realistic about the risk premiums inherent in the cost of capital allowed in rate cases.

The cost of providing adequate returns to shareholders is not particularly high. Ironically, the passion of the debate that surrounds cost of capital determinations in a rate case is far greater than the monetary effect that any given return allowance has on an individual customer’s bill.

Typically, the differential return on equity at dispute in a rate case – perhaps between 100 and 300 basis points – represents between 0.5 and 2 percent of a customer’s bill for a "wires only" company. (The impact on the bills of a vertically integrated company would be higher.) Acceptance of the utility’s requested rate of return would no doubt have a relatively small adverse effect on customers’ bills, while making a substantial positive impact on the quality of the stockholders’ holdings. Fair, if not favorable, regulatory treatment also results in improved debt ratings and lower debt costs, which accrue to the benefit of customers through reduced rates.

The List Doesn’t Stop There

Regulators can also be helpful in addressing other challenges of the future. The lynchpin of cost-effective energy and climate change policy is energy efficiency (EE) and demand side management (DSM).

Energy efficiency is truly the low-hanging fruit, capable of providing immediate, relatively inexpensive reductions in emissions and customers bills. However, reductions in customers’ energy use runs contrary to utility financial interests, unless offset by regulatory policy that removes the disincentives. Depending upon the particulars of a given utility, these policies could include revenue decoupling and the authorization of incentive – or at least fully adequate – returns on EE, DSM and smart grid investments, as well as recovery of related expenses.

Additional considerations could include accelerated depreciation of EE and DSM investments and the approval of rate mechanisms that recover lost profit margins created by reduced sales. These policies would positively address a host of national priorities in one fell swoop: the promotion of energy efficiency, greenhouse gas reduction, infrastructure investment, technology development, increased employment and, through appropriate rate base and rate of return policy, improved stockholder returns.

The Leadership Opportunity

Oftentimes, regulatory decision making is narrowly focused on a few key issues in isolation, usually in the context of a particular utility, but sometimes on a statewide generic basis. Rarely is state regulatory policy viewed in a national context. Almost always, issues are litigated individually in high partisan fashion, with little integration as part of a larger whole where utility shareholder interests are usually underrepresented.

The time seems appropriate – and propitious – for regulators to lead the way to a major change in this paradigm while addressing the many urgent issues that face our nation. Regulators can make a difference, probably far beyond that for which they presently give themselves credit.

An Australian Approach to Energy Innovation and Collaboration

Just as global demand for energy is
steadily increasing, so too, are the
recognized costs of power generation.
A recent report about the possibility
of creating a low-emissions future by Australia’s
Treasury noted that electricity production
currently accounts for 34 percent
of the nation’s net greenhouse gas emissions,
and that it was the fastest-growing
contributor to greenhouse gas emissions
over the period from 1990 to 2006 [1].

This growing realization of the true
cost of energy production will be brought
into stark relief, with the likely implementation
of a national emissions trading
scheme in 2010.

Australia’s energy producers are entering
an era of great change, with increasing
pressure to drive efficiencies in both the
supply and demand sides of their businesses.
These pressures manifest themselves
in the operation of energy and utilities
organizations in three basic needs:

  • To tighten the focus on delivering value,
    within the paradigm of achieving more
    with less, and while concentrating on
    their core business;
  • To exploit the opportunities of an industry
    in transformation, and to build new
    capabilities; and
  • To act with speed in terms of driving
    leadership, setting the agenda, managing
    change and leveraging experience
    – all while managing risk.

The net effect of the various government
initiatives and mandates around energy
production is to drive energy and utility
companies to deliver power more responsibly
and efficiently. The most obvious
evidence of this reaction is the development
of advanced metering infrastructure
(AMI) and intelligent network (IN) programs
across Australia. Yet a more fundamental
change is also starting to emerge – a
change that is leading companies to work
more openly and collaboratively toward a
smarter energy value chain.

This renewed sense of purpose gives
energy and utilities organizations an opportunity
to think and act in dynamic new ways
as they re-engineer their operations to:

  • Transform the grid from a rigid, analog
    system to a responsive and automated
    energy delivery system by driving operational
    excellence;
  • Empower consumers and improve their
    satisfaction by providing them with near
    real-time, detailed information about
    their energy usage; and
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions to
    meet or exceed environmental regulatory
    requirements while maintaining a
    sufficient, cost-effective power supply.

A Global Issue

In Australia, Country Energy, a leading
essential services corporation owned by
the New South Wales Government, is leading
the move to change not just its own
organization, but the entire electricity
supply industry.

With the strength of around 4,000
employees, and Australia’s largest power
supply network covering 95 percent of
New South Wales’ landmass, Country
Energy recognized the scale and scope of
this industry challenge meant no single
player could find all the answers by himself.

A Powerful Alliance

Formed by IBM, the Global Intelligent
Utilities Network (IUN) Coalition represents
a focused and collaborative effort
to address the many economic, social and
environmental pressures facing these
organizations as they shape, accelerate
and share in the development of the
smart grid. Counting just one representative
organization from each major urban
electricity market, the coalition will collaborate
to enable the rapid development of solutions, adoption of open industry-based
standards, and creation of informed
policy and regulation.

Not only does the coalition believe
these three streams of collaboration will
help drive the adoption of the IUN, or
smart grid, in markets across the planet,
but the sharing of best practice information
and creation of a unified direction for
the industry will help reduce regulatory,
financial, market and implementation
risks. And, like all productive collaborative
relationships, the rewards for individual
members are likely to become amplified as
the group grows, learns and shares.

Global Coalition, Local Results

As Australia’s only member of the coalition,
Country Energy has been quick to
capitalize on – and contribute to – the
benefits of the global knowledge base,
adapting the learnings from overseas
operators in both developed and emerging
markets, and applying them to the unique
challenges of a huge landmass with a
decentralized population.

From its base in a nation rich in natural
resources, the Australian energy and utilities
industry is quickly moving to adapt to
the emergence of a carbon economy.

One of Country Energy’s key projects in
this realm is the development of its own
Intelligent Network (IN), providing the
platform for developing its future network
strategy, incorporating distributed generation
and storage, as well as enabling consumer
interaction through the provision of
real-time information on energy consumption,
cost and greenhouse footprint.

Community Collaboration

Keen to understand how the IN will work
for customers and its own employees,
Country Energy is moving the smart grid
off the page and into real life.

Designed to demonstrate, measure and
evaluate the technical and commercial
viability of IN initiatives, two communities
have been identified by Country Energy,
with the primary goal of learning from
both the suitability of the solutions implemented
and the operational partnership
models by which they will be delivered.

These two IN communities are intended
to provide a live research environment
to evaluate current understandings and
technologies, and will include functionality
across nine areas, including smart meters,
electrical network monitoring and control,
and consumer interaction and response.

Demonstrating the Future

In preparing to put the digital age to
work, and to practically demonstrate to
stakeholders what an IN will deliver, Country
Energy has developed Australia’s first
comprehensive IN Research and Demonstration
Centre near Canberra.

This interactive centre shows what the power network of the not-too-distant
future will look like and how it will
change the way power is delivered, managed
and used.

The centre includes a residential setting
to demonstrate the “smart home of
the future,” while giving visitors a preview
of an energy network that automatically
detects where a power interruption
occurs, providing up-to-date information
to network operators and field crews.

An initiative as far-reaching as the IN will
rely on human understanding as much as it
does on technology and infrastructure.

Regional Delivery Model

In addition to the coalition, IBM and
Country Energy developed and implemented
an innovative new business model
to transform Country Energy’s application
development and support capability. In
2008, Country Energy signed a four-year
agreement with IBM to establish a regional development centre, located in
the city of Bathurst.

The centre is designed to help maximize
cost efficiencies, accelerate the pace of
skills transfer through close links with the
local higher-education facility, Charles
Sturt University, and support Country
Energy’s application needs as it moves
forward on its IN journey. The centre is also
providing services to other IBM clients.

Through the centre, Country Energy
aims to improve service levels and innovations
delivered to its business via skills
transfer to Country Energy. The outcome
also allows Country Energy to meet its
commitment to support regional areas
and offers a viable alternative to global
delivery models.

Looking to the Future

In many ways, the energy and utilities
industry has come to symbolize the crossroads
that many of the planet’s systems find themselves at this moment in time:
legacy systems are operating in an economic
and environmental ecosystem that
is simply unable to sustain current levels –
let alone, the projected demands of global
growth.

Yet help is at hand, infusing these systems
with the instrumentation to extract
real-time data from every point in the
value chain, interconnecting these points
to allow the constant, back-and-forward
fl ow of information, and finally, employing
the power of analytics to give these systems
the gift of intelligence.

In real terms, IBM and Country Energy
are harnessing the depth of knowledge
and expertise of the Global IUN Coalition,
collaborating to help change the way the
industry operates at a fundamental level
in order to create an IN. This new smart
grid will operate as an automated energy
delivery system, empowering consumers
and improving their satisfaction by providing
them with near real-time, detailed
information about their energy usage.

And for the planet that these consumers
– and billions of others – rely upon,
Country Energy’s efforts will help reduce
greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining
that most basic building block of
human development: safe, dependable,
available and cost-effective power.

Reference

  1. 1 Commonwealth of Australia. Commonwealth
    Treasury. Australia’s Low Pollution
    Future: The Economics of Climate
    Change Mitigation. 30 October 2008.

Author’s Note: This customer story is based
on information provided by Country Energy
and illustrates how one organization uses IBM
products. Many factors have contributed to
the results and benefits described. IBM does
not guarantee comparable results elsewhere.

Turning Information Into Power

Around the world, utilities are under pressure. Citizens demand energy and water that don’t undermine environmental quality. Regulators seek action on smart grids and smart metering initiatives that add intelligence to infrastructure. Customers seek choice and convenience – but without additional costs.

Around the globe, utilities are re-examining every aspect of their business.

Oracle can help. We offer utility experts, mission-critical software applications, a rock-solid operational software suite, and world-leading middleware and technology that can help address these challenges. The result: flexible, innovative solutions that increase efficiency, improve stakeholder satisfaction, futureproof your organization – and turn information into power.

Utilities can begin with one best-of breed solution that addresses a specific pain point. Alternatively, you can implement several pre-integrated applications to ease the development and administration of cross-departmental business processes. Our complete applications and technology footprint can be standardized to focus on accountability and reduce the resources spent on vendor relations.

Oracle Is A Leader In Utilities: 20 of the Top 20 Global Utilities Get Results With Oracle

Oracle provides utilities with the world’s most complete set of software choices. We help you address emerging customer needs, speed delivery of utility-specific services, increase administrative efficiency, and turn business data into business intelligence.

Oracle Utilities offers the world’s most complete suite of end-to-end information technology solutions for the gas, water, and electric utilities that underpin communities around the world. Our revolutionary approach to providing utilities with the applications and expertise they need brings together:

  • Oracle Utilities solutions, utility-specific revenue and operations management applications:
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    • Mobile Workforce Management
    • Network Management System
    • Work and Asset Management
    • Meter Data Management (Standard and Enterprise Editions)
    • Load Analysis
    • Load Profiling and Settlement
    • Portfolio Management
    • Quotation Management
    • Business Intelligence
  • Oracle’s ERP, database and infrastructure software:
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    • Secure Enterprise Search for enterprise-wide search needs
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    • Tailored industry solutions
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Stand-alone, each of these products meets utilities’ unique customer and service needs. Together, they enable multi-departmental business processes. The result is an unparalleled set of technologies that address utilities’ most pressing current and emerging issues.

The Vision

Cross-organizational business processes and best practices are key to addressing today’s complex challenges. Oracle Utilities provides the path via which utilities may:

  • Address the "green agenda:"
    • Help reduce pollution
    • Increase efficiency
    • Complete software suite to enable the smart grid
  • Advance customer care with:
    • Real-time 360-degree views of customer information
    • Tools to help customers save time and money
    • Introduce or retire products and services quickly, in response to emerging customer needs
  • Enhance revenue and operations management:
    • Avoid revenue leakage across end-to-end transactions
    • Increase the visibility and auditability of key business processes
    • Manage assets strategically
    • Bill for services and collect revenue cost-effectively
    • Increase field crew and network efficiency
    • Track and improve performance against goals
    • Achieve competitive advantage with a leading-edge infrastructure that helps utilities respond quickly to change
  • Reduce total cost of ownership through access to a single global vendor with:
    • Proven best-in-class utility management solutions
    • Comprehensive, world-class capabilities in applications and technology infrastructure
    • A global 24/7 distribution and support network with 7,000 service personnel
    • Over 14,000 software developers
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Strategic Technology For Every Utility

Only Oracle powers the information-driven enterprise by offering a complete, integrated solution for every segment of the utilities industry – from generation and transmission to distribution and retail services. And when you run Oracle applications on Oracle technology, you speed implementation, optimize performance, and maximize ROI.

When it comes to handling innovations like daily or interval meter reading, installing, maintaining, and replacing plant and linear assets, providing accurate bills and supporting your contact center and more, Oracle Utilities is the solution of choice. Utilities succeed with Oracle. Oracle helps electric, gas, water and waste management meet today’s imperatives to do the following:

  • Help customers conserve energy and reduce carbon footprints
  • Keep energy affordable
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Meeting the Challenges of the Future, Today

Utilities today need a suite of software applications and technology to serve as a robust springboard from which to meet the challenges of the future.

Oracle offers that suite.

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PHEVs Are on a Roll

The electric vehicle first made its appearance about a century ago, but it is only in recent years – months, to be more precise – that it has achieved breakthrough status as, quite possibly, the single-most important technological development having a positive impact on society today.

Climate change, over-dependence on fossil fuels, and the current economic crisis have combined to impact the automobile sector to a degree unforeseen, forcing technological innovation to direct its urgent attention toward the development of electric vehicles as an alternative means of transport, and a substitute for internal combustion engines. Many countries are supporting the approach in their political, energy and industrial planning directed toward the introduction of this type of vehicle. For example, the U.S. has a target of 1 million Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) in operation by 2015. Spain expects to achieve the same number by 2014.

It is certainly true that there exist pressures capable of driving the introduction of the PHEV forward, but technological advances are the factors that underpin and give coherence to its development. There are several progressive improvements being made in technology, materials, and power generation and supply, which will support the deployment and use of electric vehicles in the coming years. They include: advances in battery manufacture and electronics (particularly in terms of power); the development of new communication protocols; ever more efficient and flexible information technologies; the growth of renewable energy sources in the electrical energy generation mix; and the concept of smart grids focused on more efficient electricity distribution. All of these improvements are underscored by a much greater degree of passion and personal involvement by the end-user.

Stakeholders and Utilities

With technology as the underlying catalyst, the scenario for electric vehicle use will include the impact and involvement of various stakeholders. This consists of: society itself, government and municipal entities, regulators, universities and research institutions, vehicle manufacturers, the ancillary automobile industry and its technological partners, battery manufacturers, the manufacturers of components, electrical and electronics systems, infrastructure suppliers, companies dedicated to mediation, billing and payment methods, ICT (Information and Communication Technology) companies, and of course, utilities.

If the electric vehicle is to become a genuinely alternative means of transportation, then this will depend on the involvement of, and interrelationship between, the above groups. One example of this is the formalizing of various agreements between certain stakeholders at both the national and international level (for example, Saab, Volvo, Wattenfall and ETC Battery in Sweden; Renault, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Toyota and EDF in France; and Iberdrola and General Motors at a global level) and the establishment of consortiums such as EDISON (Electric Vehicles in a Distributed and Integrated Market using Sustainable Energy and Open Networks) in Denmark.

If there is one dimension, however, which will be impacted most throughout the whole of the value chain, it is the electrical one. From power generation to retail, the introduction of this vehicle will require changes in current business models, and foreseeably, in utilities operational models. The short-term aim is to provide electrical energy for use in these vehicles in a more reliable and efficient way.

Battery Charging Impact

Given that charging could be the action having the greatest impact on the electrical sector, there are various alternatives for affecting this. These include:

  • Substitution. This involves a rapid exchange of vehicles and/or batteries, and the subsequent charging of both in an offline mode. It would require sharing of cars (vehicle usage and substitution) and battery charging stations for quick and automated battery exchange.
  • Direct Charging. This includes regular charging points situated in car parks, shopping centers and residences, and providing battery recharge while the vehicle is parked. There also need to be fast-charging points that could quickly charge a battery in 10 to 15 minutes.

To examine the advantages and disadvantages of the above methods, it helps to note the various pilot projects and research programs underway at both the conceptual and demonstration stages. These indicate the possibility of a coexistence scenario. Offline charging could be the least invasive method given the current system of fuel distribution. A network of “electricity stations” (as opposed to petrol stations) could provide a dedicated system of energy generation in a given location. As for direct charging, given the itinerant nature of user demand and his or her expected freedom to choose a particular charging method or location, this introduces an element of greater uncertainty, and impact on the electricity grid, requiring a system that better adapts to the lifestyle of the user.

Direct Charging and Its Impact on the Electricity Grid

Direct charging depends on various factors – notably battery characteristics (directly related to vehicle performance) and the range of time spans chosen to carry out the recharge. Associated with these are other variables: charging voltage, mode (DC, single-phase AC, and three-phase AC) and the characteristics of the charging systems employed: technology, components and their location, connectors, insulation, and the power and control electronics. All of these variables will influence the charging times, and will vary according to the power input (more power, less time) as shown in Figure 1. Therefore, depending on the kind of recharging, there will be an impact not only on the characteristics of the individual charging points but also on the supporting system.

Using extended range electrical vehicles (EREV) such as the Chevrolet Volt or Opel/Vauxhall Ampera as an example, it is estimated that annual home energy consumption from vehicle charging could be around 20 percent of the total, although some studies suggest this amount may be twice as much, based on the customer profile.

Based on the charging power input – and this is, of course, related to the methodology employed – it would be possible to fully recharge an EREV battery in about three hours. A fully charged battery would enable operation solely on electrical power for approximately 40 miles, a distance representing about 80 percent of daily car journeys based on the current averages. For a scenario like this it would be possible to use a charging method of about 4 kilowatt/220 volts.

If we analyze the impact in terms of energy supply and power capacity, there appears to be no medium-term problems in supporting these chargings, according to the data above. This is, however, a matter which depends on each individual country and also on the power transmission interconnections between them. In terms of the instantaneous power available, the charging method will have a greater or lesser impact, particularly on the distribution assets, depending on how it is carried out. Figure 2 shows how the power varies according to the charging method and the time of day when it is in use, taking into account the daily energy demand curve. We can, therefore, identify different scenarios from the most favourable (slow charging at off-peak times) to the most unfavourable (fast charging at peak times). With the latter we may find ourselves with distribution assets (e.g., transformers) incapable of supporting the heavy load of instant energy consumption.

It is necessary to link electric vehicle charging to the daily energy demand curve and instantaneous power availability in such a way that charging impacts the system as little as possible and maximizes the available energy resources. Ideally, there would be a move toward slow charging during off-peak periods. Furthermore, this kind of charging would not impact users as 90 percent of vehicles are not used between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Operating under such conditions would also permit the use of excess wind-generated power during off-peak times, enabling a clean locomotion device such as the PHEV to also use renewable (clean) energy as its primary source.

This all sounds reasonable, but the itinerant nature of roaming vehicle demand, together with relatively limited battery life, means that other variables such as home charging versus remote charging with the ability to measure consumption and set tariffs must be taken into account. What will be the charging price? How will charging be carried out when the vehicle is not parked at home, nor at its usual charging centre? What method will be used for making payments? Who will be involved in developing all this infrastructure and how will it all interrelate?

Smart Charging

One system providing answers to these questions is smart charging. Based on the concept, purpose and architecture of the smart grid, such technology can optimise charging in the most favorable way by considering several parameters. These may include: the current state of the electrical system; the battery charging level; tariff modes and associated demand-response models which may be applied (such as time of use, or TOU, tariffs); and the ability to use energy distributed and stored locally through an energy management system.

Smart charging would be capable of deciding when to charge in relation to different variables (for example, price and energy availability), and which energy sources to use (in-home energy storage, local and decoupled energy supply, plug-in to the distribution grid, etc.) Supporting the vehicle-to-grid (V2G) paradigm would enable managing and deciding not only when and how to best charge the vehicle, but also when to store energy in the vehicle battery that can later be returned to the grid for use in a local mode as a distributed energy source.

For all of this to be effective, a power and control electronics system (in both local and global mode), supported by information systems to manage those issues, is required. This will enable the optimal charging process (avoiding peak times, and doing fast charging only when necessary) and an intelligent measuring and tariff system. The latter may be either managed by utilities through advanced meter management (AMM), or virtually through energy tariffs and physical economic transactions. Such systems should allow for the interaction of various agents: end users, utilities, energy service companies (ESCO), infrastructure providers, banks and other method-of-payment companies.

Conclusion

Although there are still many unresolved issues around the introduction of electric vehicles (for example, incentives, carbon caps, tax collection, readiness of systems and business processes), the challenge associated with this means of locomotion and its effect on current business systems and models is a fascinating one. From an electrical viewpoint, there would not appear to be any significant impact on energy management in the medium term, but perhaps more so in terms of power requirements. As an example, some regions have adjusted to the massive introduction of air conditioning systems over recent years. While we are reassured as to the viability of electric vehicles, we are also alert to the possible significant impact of widespread vehicle charging, above all when considering a fast charging scenario.

The special characteristics of battery charging and its itinerant nature, the predicted volumes of power outlet and energy, the current state of tariff systems, the available technology, and the vision and state of deployment of smart grids and AMM, all add up to suggest a smart charging type of system would be the best option – though certainly complex to implement. Given the prominent role that information and communication technologies will play in such a system, it will be necessary to achieve consensus among various stakeholders over methodologies to be used, standards development, and in establishing a regulatory framework capable of supporting all the mechanisms and systems to be introduced.

We have already made good progress, and the electric vehicle could become an example that drives change in other business and technology models. It may well stimulate more rapid development of smart grids, encourage the creation of more efficient energy services and technologies, and lead to greater development and use of renewable energy sources, including a generation and distribution scenario based on the V2G paradigm.

It also may open the door to new businesses and stakeholders as well (such as the ESCOs) to introduce more dynamic, interactive demand response programs and broaden the function of battery storage as a provider of spinning reserves and ancillary services. These are all aspects for which it is now necessary to establish a basis for implementation and a short-term viability plan that will allow for the use of this technology with the aim of reaping its recognized benefits. Are we ready to step up to the challenge?

Plugging in the Consumer

Thanks to new technologies and the spirit of independence and empowerment fostered by the digital age, consumers are taking on broader and more active roles in an increasing number of industries. Not only are consumers increasingly vocal and decisive about what they will or will not buy, they are in many cases becoming designers, producers, marketers and distributors of the products they once simply purchased.

As an example, consider the evolution of television and other video-based entertainment. Consumers in the early television era were passive participants, watching whatever programs the networks were broadcasting on one of the few available channels at any given time. Decisions regarding content sat firmly in the hands of broadcasters.

But in recent decades the media and entertainment business has changed dramatically. Cable and satellite made early inroads by providing viewers with hundreds of additional channel choices and niche programming. More recently, options such as digital video recorders, video on demand, video programming on mobile devices and online content libraries have emerged, giving consumers much greater control over what, where and when they watch. Moreover, pockets of media enthusiasts are taking on even more participatory roles, producing and marketing their own content.

Could something similar happen in the energy industry? One way to look at this question is to consider parallels between the way that media and entertainment have developed, and some of the realistic future business models for the energy industry. While the two industries are very different, there’s a strong possibility that consumer involvement in the energy business could evolve along similar lines, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Consumers have become more and more accustomed to choice, selectivity and multiple pricing schemes in services used every day. High tech products like mobile phones and Internet service usually spring to mind first, but personalization of services and products is occurring even in centuries-old institutions like medicine, education and food distribution. Fifty years ago, who would have envisioned customers accepting limitations on what doctors they could see in exchange for lower health care costs, pursuing degrees without attending classes or paying a premium for foods that met specific conditions on their production? Yet today health maintenance and preferred provider organizations, online degrees and organic foods are all commonplace concepts.

The more consumers enjoy the benefits of options and active decision making, the stronger the pressure will be on the energy industry to adapt. This means that utilities must revisit long-held beliefs about how best to serve customers and prepare to make fundamental changes in their strategies and operations in order to prosper in a more participatory market.

CONSUMER INVOLVEMENT

Many utility executives are skeptical about whether consumers really want to have different energy service options, and whether they will act on those desires. After all, electricity, natural gas and heating oil are essentially commodities. But so is broccoli, and millions of consumers are unwilling to settle for conventionally grown produce. Instead, they’re willing to pay more for food certified as grown without pesticides and artificial fertilizers, and under conditions that emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water. [1] Given this perspective, can the energy industry afford not to prepare for rising consumer demand for multiple service programs and different pricing tiers?

To help address some of these questions, IBM conducted a survey of 1,900 energy consumers from six countries in North America, Western Europe and parts of the Asia-Pacific region. The survey focused on consumers’ current views and, perhaps more importantly, their expectations of the utilities that serve them. Their responses underscore four trends in energy consumer behavior, each indicating that customers value the same type of control they exercise in other parts of their lives: consumers are leveraging provider choice options, managing usage more actively, moving toward self-generation of power and making their opinions heard through multiple channels (not just public regulators).

Controlling Their Purchases

In some regions with competitive markets, consumers are already exercising their right to select energy providers. In the United Kingdom’s market of 48 million electricity consumers, for instance, more than 15 percent are switching per year.

In addition, the IBM survey demonstrates that a basic lack of awareness may still be holding consumers back. Across the worldwide respondent sample, one out of every five consumers did not know whether they could choose an alternative electricity provider.

Nevertheless, consumers were clear about wanting a choice. Among those who could not change providers or were not aware of their ability to choose, 84 percent wanted the option, as shown in Figure 2.

While price will always be a factor in consumer behavior, competition is also fostering a host of decision-making criteria that consumers might not have even considered before. According to the results of the IBM survey, consumers now consider a utility’s ethical reputation, alignment with community values and environmental actions as important as traditional “buyer values” like customer service and reliability.

Many consumers now have more choices about the type of energy they buy as well. More than 60 percent of the respondents to the IBM survey said they would be willing to pay a premium for green energy, and a significant minority (one in five consumers) indicated a willingness to pay at least 20 percent more for an environmentally friendly product.

Controlling the Switch

Only 30 percent of the consumers IBM surveyed expected their electricity use to increase over the next five years – yet 60 percent expected higher electricity bills. In times of rising energy costs, there is high motivation for conservation. But with many consumers also assuming a share of the responsibility for protecting the environment, finding new ways to better manage consumption has become a top-of-mind issue.

Although consumers have always been able to reduce usage through “brute force” measures – adjusting thermostats, switching off lights and the like – they are just now gaining the ability to truly manage consumption through greater awareness and better tools.

As smart meter deployment allows more consumers to obtain real-time usage data at the device and appliance level, households and small businesses will know which conservation actions really make an impact. This will enable better decisions and more permanent behavior changes.

Controlling Supply

When providers are unwilling or unable to satisfy their needs, consumers have an increasingly viable alternative: the technology to generate their own electricity.

As consumers weigh the self-generation option, cost is clearly a significant driver but not the only one, as illustrated in Figure 3.

If self-generation could reduce energy costs by 50 percent, well over half of the consumers we surveyed would be motivated to install, maintain and operate their own power generation systems. Yet among those same respondents, reliability and environmental impact seemed to matter more than a small (10 percent) cost reduction.

Interestingly, getting paid for surplus power received the most favorable reaction from survey respondents. Besides offering a financial payback that helps offset upfront investment and operational expense, we suspect this response also reflects an underlying desire to assert more control over a purchase for which conditions have historically been dictated to them.

Many of the industry executives we interviewed agree that widespread adoption of self-generation is not that far off. More than half believe that the value from a low-cost, low-emission generating technology could move a significant percentage of residential and small commercial customers to self-generation within the next decade.

It’s important to note that although the “competition” for traditional utility companies has traditionally been viewed as emerging alternative providers employing the existing distribution system, focusing only on this particular threat results in an incomplete picture. If technologies such as small-scale solar and combined heat and power generation were to rapidly drop in cost, customer migration to these options would serve as another competitive pressure for which utility executives would have to develop a defensive strategy.

Controlling Their Own Destinies

It’s easy to understand why consumers might become skeptical about the utility industry given power blackouts that affect millions of people, price hikes driven by factors that are little understood and the pursuit of mergers and acquisitions without benefits that are clear to customers. Events like these contribute to growing consumer concern – not only about utilities and their motives, but also about the regulatory process currently in place to protect the public. Consumers are increasingly unwilling to wait for regulators to act “in their best interests.” Instead, they’re going directly to lawmakers, the press and special-interest groups to try and enforce change.

For example, in January 2007, a 1997 Illinois deregulation bill expired, ending a 10-year rate freeze. As the shock of a sudden and dramatic rate increase set in, public pressure caused legislators to intervene – ultimately driving the state’s primary distribution utilities to provide a multi-year, billion-dollar rate relief package to help reduce the financial burden on ratepayers. [3]

Other Drivers and Enablers of Customers’ Desire for Control

Climate change is the one driver for which the goals and needs of both utilities and consumers converge. Consumers are clearly interested in the environmental practices of the companies with which they do business. Indeed, 70 percent of those surveyed reported that environmental considerations were already an important factor in choosing products other than energy, and that these concerns would ultimately also influence the energy products they purchased as well.

Of consumers who are aware of renewable power options available to them, almost 40 percent purchased some or all of their power under such a plan. Among the rest, more than 60 percent expressed interest in doing so. Utilities, for their part, are making major investments and operational changes to respond to climate change concerns and policies. In fact, the percentage of utilities spending at least 10 percent of their capital expenditures on environmental compliance over the next five years is expected to double.

To make the improvements needed to address the concerns discussed above, utilities will likely receive strong support for deployment of advanced energy technologies. Many of these have been available in some form for years, but their business cases have been rather lackluster. However, during the last three to five years, the technologies have continued to advance; their benefits have strengthened dramatically; and the costs of deployment have decreased. In the near term, smart meters, network automation and analytics, and distributed generation will likely drive the most industry change.

The emergence of these two trends, combined with growing consumer involvement, will have far-reaching consequences for the utility industry. Collectively, these drivers are overturning traditional assumptions about energy consumers and the fundamental value proposition of the industry itself. Companies will be forced to look at their residential and small commercial customer population in discrete segments, instead of as a largely uniform block of ratepayers. Ultimately, as the degree of control shifts from the utility to consumers, network and generation technologies will move away from the traditional centralized, one-way model to a more dynamic and distributed one. New industry structures will emerge, creating new opportunities and challenging existing models.

CONSUMERS: NO LONGER JUST PASSIVE RATEPAYERS

Our detailed analysis of the consumer survey responses showed that two primary characteristics define different types of consumer behavior. First, personal initiative, or the willingness to make decisions and take action based on specific goals – such as cost control, reliability, convenience and climate change impacts – will drive consumer behavior.

Second, disposable income – or the financial wherewithal to support energy-related goals in early adoption phases – will have a substantial impact on consumer actions, since only those with sufficient resources will be able to implement new technologies and buy more expensive products. Different combinations of these two characteristics lead to four distinct consumer profiles, as shown in Figure 4.

Each consumer segment has specific needs and wants, and utilities will need to adopt different strategies, and likely develop different offerings, for each. However, before utilities can begin tailoring their approaches to particular segments, most will need to invest in tools and capabilities that help them collect and analyze consumer data, particularly as huge quantities of real-time data and new information streams are generated by deployment of advanced sensing, metering and communications technologies.

THE IMPACT OF INCREASED CONSUMERS CONTROL

Recent trials have demonstrated that both customers and local utilities derive benefits from consumers taking a more active role in their energy decisions. For example, in a yearlong program in the Pacific Northwest giving consumers the ability to customize their energy use to save money or maximize comfort, participants saved approximately 10 percent on their electricity bills and reduced peak power use by 15 percent. Throughout the region, the information, communications and control technologies and algorithms provided by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, IBM and Invensys Controls helped consumers in the study become an integral part of power grid operations on a daily basis – especially in times of extreme stress on the electrical distribution system. A combination of demand response and distributed generation reduced peak distribution loads by as much as 50 percent. (For more information about this program, see “Case Study: The GridWise Olympic Peninsula Project” elsewhere in this book.)

Another pilot, run by Canada’s Ontario Energy Board tested consumers’ inclination to shift and reduce demand when provided with smart meters and time-of-use pricing. On average, three-quarters of the participants shifted enough of their consumption away from peak times to save 3 percent per month on their energy bills. During four peak summer events, when penalties and rebates applied, shifts in consumption led to even greater savings – as much as 25 percent, depending on the specific plan the customer was using. As a result of their awareness of energy usage and behavioral changes, participants also reduced total consumption. This “conservation effect” amounted to a 6 percent reduction in overall usage. When combined with the effects of shifting, this allowed 90 percent of the participants to pay less than they would have paid on their prior plans – results that are particularly remarkable given that consumers were relying on monthly usage statements; if consumers had a near real-time view of their energy
usage, these reductions might have been even more dramatic. (For more on this trial, see “Case Study: Smarter Prices for Smarter Consumers in Ontario” elsewhere in this book.)

INDUSTRY MODELS: TOWARD A PARTICIPATORY NETWORK

We believe that studies like those outlined above demonstrate the strong benefits of both technology evolution and shifts in the balance of control between utilities and consumers. The nature of the benefits will depend on the path chosen to move from current “passive” business models to more active ones. Specific types of technology and customer behavior evolution will give rise to four industry models, as shown in Figure 5.

Although each model is distinct and requires different capabilities, the industry as a whole – at least in the near term – will represent an amalgam of all four models. In fact, many utilities will find themselves operating in more than one model, particularly if a company operates in different geographies. In addition, moves across boundaries will tend to be evolutionary and depend on local conditions.

Where consumers aren’t as eager to assume control of decision-making – or regulators don’t allow them the freedom to do so – companies will be most likely move from traditional models through a state of operations transformation before fully enabling participatory networks. Where this path dominates, utilities will need to build business cases around cost savings and environmental benefits to deploy new technologies. In a high-cost, carbon-constrained environment, however, this should be an easier sell to regulators and investors than in the past.

In markets where consumer demand for control grows faster than new technologies can be deployed, particularly in heavily regulated rate-of-return environments, constrained choice will dominate in the near term. Utilities will be pressured to meet demand for control in creative – and sometimes untested – ways. And regulators may need to be more flexible in viewing these investments than they might be with traditional utility capital investments. For both parties, early assessment of needs and review of available options will be critical.

Whichever path is adopted, we anticipate a steady progression toward a participatory network – a technology ecosystem comprising a wide variety of intelligent network-connected devices, distributed generation and consumer energy management tools.

Although the precise time frame for reaching this end-state is unknown, our research suggests a few major milestones. Within five years, the percentage of the world’s electric utilities generating at least 10 percent of their power from renewable sources should double. In that same time frame, we believe that sufficient supplier choice will allow meaningful consumer switching to emerge in most major competitive markets. Also, based on both consumer and utility responses, we expect utility demand management initiatives to expand dramatically and electric power generation by consumers to increase dramatically within a decade.

IMPLICATIONS: CUSTOMER FOCUS AS A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

By leveraging the new technology ecosystem, utilities will be able to meet key objectives in coming years. Specifically, they’ll be able to:

  • Prepare for an environment in which customers are more active participants;
  • Capitalize on new sources of real-time consumer and operational information, and decide which role(s) to play in the industry’s evolving value chain; and
  • Better understand and serve an increasingly heterogeneous customer base.

The utility industry is fast approaching a tipping point beyond which consumers can (and increasingly will) demand equal footing with their providers. Those utilities that are prepared to share responsibility with their residential and small commercial customers, and help them meet their specific energy goals, can expect to enjoy significant competitive advantage.

The Distributed Utility of the (Near) Future

The next 10 to 15 years will see major changes – what future historians might even call upheavals – in the way electricity is distributed to businesses and households throughout the United States. The exact nature of these changes and their long-term effect on the security and economic well-being of this country are difficult to predict. However, a consensus already exists among those working within the industry – as well as with politicians and regulators, economists, environmentalists and (increasingly) the general public – that these fundamental changes are inevitable.

This need for change is in evidence everywhere across the country. The February 26, 2008, temporary blackout in Florida served as just another warning that the existing paradigm is failing. Although at the time of this writing, the exact cause of that blackout had not yet been identified, the incident serves as a reminder that the nationwide interconnected transmission and distribution grid is no longer stable. To wit: disturbances in Florida on that Tuesday were noted and measured as far away as New York.

A FAILING MODEL

The existing paradigm of nationwide grid interconnection brought about primarily by the deregulation movement of the late 1990s emphasizes that electricity be generated at large plants in various parts of the country and then distributed nationwide. There are two reasons this paradigm is failing. First, the transmission and distribution system wasn’t designed to serve as a nationwide grid; it is aged and only marginally stable. Second, political, regulatory and social forces are making the construction of large generating plants increasingly difficult, expensive and eventually unfeasible.

The previous historic paradigm made each utility primarily responsible for generation, transmission and distribution in its own service territory; this had the benefit of localizing disturbances and fragmenting responsibility and expense. With loose interconnections to other states and regions, a disturbance in one area or a lack of resources in a different one had considerably less effect on other parts of the country, or even other parts of service territories.

For better or worse, we now have a nationwide interconnected grid – albeit one that was neither designed for the purpose nor serves it adequately. Although the existing grid can be improved, the expense would be massive, and probably cost prohibitive. Knowledgeable industry insiders, in fact, calculate that it would cost more than the current market value of all U.S. utilities combined to modernize the nationwide grid and replace its large generating facilities over the next 30 years. Obviously, the paradigm is going to have to change.

While the need for dramatic change is clear, though, what’s less clear is the direction that change should take. And time is running short: North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) projects serious shortages in the nation’s electric supply by 2016. Utilities recognize the need; they just aren’t sure which way to jump first.

With a number of tipping points already reached (and the changes they describe continuing to accelerate), it’s easy to envision the scenario that’s about to unfold. Consider the following:

  • The United States stands to face a serious supply/demand disconnect within 10 years. Unless something dramatic happens, there simply won’t be nearly enough electricity to go around. Already, some parts of the country are feeling the pinch. And regulatory and legislative uncertainty (especially around global warming and environmental issues) makes it difficult for utilities to know what to do. Building new generation of any type other than “green energy” is extremely difficult, and green energy – which currently meets less than 3 percent of U.S. supply needs – cannot close the growing gap between supply and demand being projected by NERC. Specifically, green energy will not be able to replace the 50 percent of U.S. electricity currently supplied by coal within that 10-year time frame.
  • Fuel prices continue to escalate, and the reliability of the fuel supply continues to decline. In addition, increasing restrictions are being placed on fuel selection, especially coal.
  • A generation of utility workers is nearing retirement, and finding adequate replacements among the younger generation is proving increasingly difficult.
  • It’s extremely difficult to site new transmission – needed to deal with supply-and-demand issues. Even new Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) authority to authorize corridors is being met with virulent opposition.

SMART GRID NO SILVER BULLET

Distributed generation – including many smaller supply sources to replace fewer large ones – and “smart grids” (designed to enhance delivery efficiency and effectiveness) have been posited as solutions. However, although such solutions offer potential, they’re far from being in place today. At best, smart grids and smarter consumers are only part of the answer. They will help reduce demand (though probably not enough to make up the generation shortfall), and they’re both still evolving as concepts. While most utility executives recognize the problems, they continue to be uncertain about the solutions and have a considerable distance to go before implementing any of them, according to recent Sierra Energy Group surveys.

According to these surveys, more than 90 percent of utility executives now feel that the intelligent utility enterprise and smart grid (IUE/SG) – that is, the distributed utility – represents an inevitable part of their future (Figure 1). This finding was true of all utility types supplying electricity.

Although utility executives understand the problem and the IUE/SG approach to solving part of it, they’re behind in planning on exactly how to implement the various pieces. That “planning lag” for the vision can be seen in Figure 2.

At least some fault for the planning lag can be attributed to forces outside the utilities. While politicians and regulators have been emphasizing conservation and demand response, they’ve failed to produce guidelines for how this will work. And although a number of states have established mandatory green power percentages, Congress failed to do the same in an Energy Policy Act (EPACT) adopted in December 2007. While the EPACT of 2005 “urged” regulators to “urge” utilities to install smart meters, it didn’t make their installation a requirement, and thus regulators have moved at different speeds in different parts of the country on this urging.

Although we’ve entered a new era, utilities remain burdened with the internal problems caused by the “silo mentality” left over from generations of tight regulatory control. Today, real-time data is often still jealously guarded in engineering and operations silos. However, a key component in the development of intelligent utilities will be pushing both real-time and back-office data onto dashboards so that executives can make real-time decisions.

Getting from where utilities were (and in many respects still are) in the last century to where they need to be by 2018 isn’t a problem that can be solved overnight. And, in fact, utilities have historically evolved slowly. Today’s executives know that technological evolution in the utility industry needs to accelerate rapidly, but they’re uncertain where to start. For example, should you install an advanced metering structure (AMI) as rapidly as possible? Do you emphasize automating the grid and adding artificial intelligence? Do you continue to build out mobile systems to push data (and more detailed, simpler instructions) to field crews who soon will be much younger and less experienced? Do you rush into home automation? Do you build windmills and solar farms? Utilities have neither the financial nor human resources to do everything at once.

THE DEMAND FOR AMI

Its name implies that a smart grid will become increasingly self-operating and self-healing – and indeed much of the technology for this type of intelligent network grid has been developed. It has not, however, been widely deployed. Utilities, in fact, have been working on basic distribution automation (DA) – the capability to operate the grid remotely – for a number of years.

As mentioned earlier, most theorists – not to mention politicians and regulators – feel that utilities will have to enable AMI and demand response/home automation if they’re to encourage energy conservation in an impending era of short supplies. While advanced meter reading (AMR) has been around for a long time, its penetration remains relatively small in the utilities industry – especially in the case of advanced AMI meters for enabling demand response: According to figures released by Sierra Energy Group and Newton-Evans Research Co., only 8 to 10 percent of this country’s utilities were using AMI meters by 2008.

That said, the push for AMI on the part of both EPACT 2005 and regulators is having an obvious effect. Numerous utilities (including companies like Entergy and Southern Co.) that previously refused to consider AMR now have AMI projects in progress. However, even though an anticipated building boom in AMI is finally underway, there’s still much to be done to enable the demand response that will be desperately needed by 2016.

THE AUTOMATED HOME

The final area we can expect the IUE/SG concept to envelope comes at the residential level. With residential home automation in place, utilities will be able to control usage directly – by adjusting thermostats or compressor cycling, or via other techniques. Again, the technology for this has existed for some time; however, there are very few installations nationwide. A number of experiments were conducted with home automation in the early- to mid-1990s, with some subdivisions even being built under the mantra of “demand-side management.”

Demand response – the term currently in vogue with politicians – may be considered more politically correct, but the net result is the same. Home automation will enable regulators, through utilities, to ration usage. Although politicians avoid using the word rationing, if global warming concerns continue to seriously impact utilities’ ability to access adequate generation, rationing will be the result – making direct load control at the residential level one of the most problematic issues in the distributed utility paradigm of the future. Are large numbers of Americans going to acquiesce calmly to their electrical supply being rationed? No one knows, but there seem to be few options.

GREEN PRESSURE AND THE TIPPING POINT

While much legitimate scientific debate remains about whether global warming is real and, if so, whether it’s a naturally occurring or man-made phenomenon (arising primarily from carbon dioxide emissions), that debate is diminishing among politicians at every level. The majority of politicians, in fact, have bought into the notion that carbon emissions from many sources – primarily the generation of electricity by burning coal – are the culprit.

Thus, despite continued scientific debate, the political tipping point has been reached, and U.S. politicians are making moves to force this country’s utility industry to adapt to a situation that may or may not be real. Whether or not it makes logical or economic sense, utilities are under increasing pressure to adopt the Intelligent Utility/Smart Grid/Home Automation/Demand Response model – a model that includes many small generation points to make up for fewer large plants. This political tipping point is also shutting down more proposed generation projects each month, adding to the likely shortage. Since 2000, approximately 50 percent of all proposed new coal-fired generation plants have been canceled, according to energy-industry adviser Wood McKenzie (Gas and Power Service Insight, February 2008).

In the distant future, as technology continues to advance, electric generation in the United States will likely include a mix of energy sources, many of them distributed and green. however, there’s no way that in the next 10 years – the window of greatest concern in the NERC projections on the generation and reliability side – green energy will be ready and available in sufficient quantities to forestall a significant electricity shortfall. Nuclear energy represents the only truly viable solution; however, ongoing opposition to this form of power generation makes it unlikely that sufficient nuclear energy will be available within this period. The already-lengthy licensing process (though streamlined somewhat of late by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) is exacerbated by lawsuits and opposition every step of the way. In addition, most of the necessary engineering and manufacturing processes have been lost in the United States over the last 30 years – the time elapsed since the last U.S. nuclear last plant was built – making it necessary to reacquire that knowledge from abroad.

The NERC Reliability Report of Oct. 15, 2007, points strongly toward a significant shortfall of electricity within approximately 10 years – a situation that could lead to rolling blackouts and brownouts in parts of the country that have never experienced them before. It could also lead to mandatory “demand response” – in other words, rationing – at the residential level. This situation, however, is not inevitable: technology exists to prevent it (including nuclear and cleaner coal now as well as a gradual development of solar, biomass, sequestration and so on over time, with wind for peaking). But thanks to concern over global warming and other issues raised by the environmental community, many politicians and regulators have become convinced otherwise. And thus, they won’t consider a different tack to solving the problem until there’s a public outcry – and that’s not likely to occur for another 10 years, at which point the national economy and utilities may already have suffered tremendous (possibly irreparable) harm.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

The problem the utilities industry faces today is neither economic nor technological – it’s ideological. The global warming alarmists are shutting down coal before sufficient economically viable replacements (with the possible exception of nuclear) are in place. And the rest of the options are tied up in court. (For example, the United States needs 45 liquefied natural gas plants to be converted to gas – a costly fuel with iffy reliability – but only five have been built; the rest are tied up in court.) As long as it’s possible to tie up nuclear applications for five to 10 years and shut down “clean coal” plants through the political process, the U.S. utility industry is left with few options.

So what are utilities to do? They must get much smarter (IUE/Sg), and they must prepare for rationing (AMI/demand response). As seen in SEG studies, utilities still have a ways to go in these areas, but at least this is a strategy that can (for the most part) be put in place within 10 to 15 years. The technology for IUE/Sg already exists; it’s relatively inexpensive (compared with large-scale green energy development and nuclear plant construction); and utilities can employ it with relatively little regulatory oversight. In fact, regulators are actually encouraging it.

For these reasons, IUE/SG represents a major bridge to a more stable future. Even if today’s apocalyptic scenarios fail to develop – that is, global warming is debunked, or new generation sources develop much more rapidly than expected – intelligent utilities with smart grids will remain a good idea. The paradigm is shifting as we watch – but will that shift be completed in time to prevent major economic and social dislocation? Fasten your seatbelts: the next 10 to 15 years should be very interesting!

Enhancing Energy Efficiency and Security for Sustainable Development

The United States Energy Association (USEA) is a private, nongovernmental organization that functions as the U.S. member committee of the World Energy Council (WEC), the foremost international organization focused on the production and utilization of energy. With members in more than 100 countries, the mission of the WEC, and correspondingly the USEA, has been to promote the sustainable supply and use of energy for the greatest benefit of all people.

The World Energy Council’s flagship is the WEC Congress, which meets every three years. The Congress helps establish how the global energy community looks at the world as well as how we impact that world. When the United States had the privilege of hosting the global energy community 10 years ago in Houston, it promoted the following theme: “Energy and Technology: Sustaining Global Development into the Next Millennium.” The most recent Congress, which took place in Italy in November of last year, centered on “The Energy Future in an Interdependent World.” One can easily see how the WEC’s combined objectives of energy efficiency and energy security – particularly in the context of collaborative action to mitigate climate change – have become critical global issues.

KEY CONCERNS

Efficiency, security and climate are being emphasized in WEC scenarios that project key global energy concerns to the year 2050. The critical factors that will drive energy issues into the future will include the following:

  • Technology;
  • Markets;
  • Sustainability; and
  • Interdependence.

It’s clear that we need to advance research into and development of energy sources; however, it’s even more urgent that we support the demonstration and deployment of advanced clean energy technologies. Currently, policymakers are paying considerable attention to consumer use of energy in buildings and transportation, and they are evaluating alternative technologies to meet these consumer demands. Equally important but often overlooked are the advances our industry has made, and hopefully will continue to make, in energy efficiency through technological improvements in production.

Research from the Electric Power Research Institute indicates that coal-fired electric power plants that achieve a 2 percent gain in efficiency can yield a carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction of 5 percent. Hence, if we can move the rating of the global coal-fired power fleet from about 30 percent efficiency to 40 percent, we can realize a CO2 reduction of 25 percent. And this is without carbon capture and storage.

It’s also critically important for energy technology deployment to address the nontechnical barriers to advancing clean energy technologies. Barriers to energy efficiency and energy services trade need to be discussed by the World Trade Organization, since robust trade is essential to ensuring that energy-efficiency technologies cross borders freely. Trade barriers such as tariffs, taxes, customs and import fees need to be eliminated. As World Energy Council Secretary General Gerald Doucet recently pointed out in the International Herald Tribune, “A recent U.S. and EU proposal calling for the elimination of tariffs on a list of 43 environmentally friendly products shows how support is building for a trade-based approach to climate mitigation.”

Perhaps most importantly, the global community must address the issue of the cost of advanced, clean energy technology. Trade barriers, capacity building, tariff reform and other issues can be overcome. However, if we refuse to recognize that advanced clean energy technology will cost more and make energy prices rise for the end-user, we’re refusing to address the real issues – namely, who will pay the incremental cost of advanced technology, and will it be the economically deprived end-user in a developing country?

This is not to say that the non-financial barriers to sustainable energy development are unimportant. Collectively, we still need increased focus on enforcement of contracts, protection of intellectual property, rule of law, protection of assets from seizure and the range of requirements needed to provide incentives for capital, especially foreign investment.

however, markets can only do so much; markets are imperfect, and market failures occur. Coordinated global cooperation – among governments and between governments and the private sector – is critical, particularly to address efficiency, security and climate concerns.

SUSTAINABLE REALITIES

Sustainability remains an elusive goal for many, because it’s not particularly clear how to go about both growing economies and protecting the planet for future generations. What is clear is that climate change must be addressed in an approach that is practical, economic and achievable. For our industry, achievable policy includes political realities. All industries are affected by domestic politics, but in most countries, the energy industry is dramatically influenced by local political concerns.

The move toward sustainability will also have an impact on the 1.5 billion people without access to commercial energy and the 1.5 billion with inadequate access. hopefully, no one believes that sustainability means denying the benefits of modern society to those who are unserved or under-served today. We must find ways to work toward ending economic and energy poverty for hundreds of millions of people around the globe. This calls for new approaches that continue to allow economic development while addressing both local environmental issues and global issues such as climate change.

AN INTERDEPENDENT WORLD

The concept of energy interdependence helps us recognize that very few nations are today – or ever will be – truly “energy independent.” Much of the rhetoric regarding the energy independence of the United States and other nations is, in fact, vague and not based on reality. Thus, it’s critical to expose this fantasy for what it is: wishful thinking. Interdependence is the ally, not the enemy, of energy security.

As Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of Exxon-Mobil, pointed out in his keynote address to the World Energy Congress in Rome in November 2007, the world needs to avoid “the danger of resources nationalism.” he also stressed the need to “ensure that the global energy markets and international partnerships do not fall apart.” In the United States in 2008, domestic consumption will continue to exceed domestic production. We will import more petroleum (about 60 percent of our petroleum is now imported) and increasingly more natural gas.

WORKING TOWARD A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE

Construction of critical energy supply infrastructure presents a huge challenge. As we begin 2008 in the United States, it’s critical that we recognize that all energy supply options – coal, nuclear, natural gas, petroleum and renewable – have severe constraints. This recognition must lead us to declare energy efficiency as Priority No. 1 for energy and economic security, and climate mitigation.

While we have done much in the United States to pursue efficiency, we still need to do more, including:

  • Increasing the utilization of combined heat and power applications;
  • Further improving efficiency standards;
  • Improving land use and transportation planning;
  • Providing incentives for efficiency investments; and
  • Decoupling regulated utility returns from sales.

On an international level, we must continue to:

  • Pursue energy efficiency in both supply and demand (increasing both end-use efficiency and production efficiency);
  • Decarbonize electricity (moving toward emissions-free power by mid-century);
  • Contain growth in transportation emissions and develop carbon-free alternatives; and
  • Support major collaborative efforts on technology development and deployment such as Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, International Partnership for the hydrogen Economy, Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, and Major Economies Process for Energy Security and Climate Change.

The trilateral issues of energy efficiency, energy security and climate change are reflected in all of our international partnerships. Nevertheless, much more international collaboration will be needed to speed the deployment of energy efficiency technologies.

As we think about energy efficiency, security and climate, it’s critical for us to remember the following:

  • No single source, technology, policy or strategy can meet the challenges we face. All energy options should be left on the table. No “one size fits all” solution exists.
  • No single approach will work everywhere. Different measures will be useful, and each economy or nation will consider the options that work for them. A range of measures is available, and actions must be selected that are appropriate to each circumstance.

The key for the global community will be to encourage each sovereign economy to put in place policies that support longterm investment in clean energy technology. International cooperation among governments, and between governments and the private sector, is essential. The focal points of international cooperation should stress energy efficiency (in both supply and demand), decarbonizing electric power (while recognizing that the world will continue to rely on fossil fuels, particularly coal for power generation) and reducing the growth – and eventually the level – of emissions from transportation.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, we must continue to push for a coordinated, international effort in advanced technology demonstration and deployment. The international partnerships cited early are useful tools, but we can and must do more.