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 Our survey findings strongly suggest the historical view of customers as "like-minded" is already outdated in most places.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.

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.

Customer Relationships and the Economy

A little over a year ago, the challenges facing the global energy and utilities market were driving a significant wedge between utilities and their customers. In Western European markets, price increases across gas, electricity and water, combined with increased corporate earnings, left many utilities in the uncomfortable position of being seen as profiteering from customers unable to change suppliers for significant benefit.

Headline-makers had a field day, with gross simplification of the many utilities’ business models. They made claims about “obscene profits,” while citing the “long-suffering” consumer position [1]. Now, more than a year later, gas and electricity prices are falling, but the severity and pace of the wider economic downturn has given no time for utilities to re-position themselves with customers. Brand and relationship-enhancing programs such as smart metering and energy efficiency are still largely in their infancy.

The evolving relationship with the customer base, where customer expectations are resulting in a more participatory, multi-channel engagement, comes at a time when the evolution of smart networks and metering solutions are on the cusp of driving down cost to serve and improving service levels and options. Significant benefits accrue from consumption measurement and management capabilities. Benefits also result from the opportunity to transform the consumer relationship by pushing into new areas such as home device management, more personalised tariffs and easier debt arrangements. The position for utilities, therefore, should be favourable – finally being seen as working on a more participatory relationship with their customers.

For consumers, the consequences of recession include an increased pressure on household spending. In competitive markets, there could be increased churn as the ever-changing “best-buys” attract customers. For utilities, increased churn rates are obviously bad news – the cost of new customer acquisition often wipes out profit associated with consumption by that customer for months, even years. Moreover, while utilities are working on marketing the best deals to acquire and retain customers – and on piloting smart technologies in the home – consumers’ familiarity with new technologies and their allegiance to some brands presents an opportunity for third parties to gain greater hold on the customer relationship.

Take the case of smart metering, for example, where many utilities are engaging upon pilot and larger rollouts. This is an area of innovation that should deliver benefits to both consumers and utilities. The assured business benefits to the utility companies come not only from applying the technology to lower operational costs, but also from enhancing their brand and customer service reputation. To the customer, smart technologies offer consumption details in an understandable form and give the promise of accurate commodity billing.

The risk is that the potentially lucrative relationship between customer and utility is currently damaged to a point where telecommunications providers, retailers or technology companies could step in with attractive, multi-service offerings. That could relegate the utility to simple supply activities, unable to gain a significant hold in home engagement. Certainly, utilities will still witness savings from automated meter reading and improved billing accuracy, but this commoditisation path for the utility company will limit profitable growth and push them further away from customers. Combine this with increased churn, and suddenly the benefits of smart technology deployment could be wiped out for the utility company.

This is not just an issue associated with smart technologies – the entire customer relationship journey with a utility is under threat from non-utility entrants (See Figure 1). Consider the area of consumer marketing and sign-up. Third parties that simply market other companies’ services have already taken a position in this part of the customer journey by providing Internet sites that allow tariff comparison and online switching of suppliers. The brand awareness of the comparison sites has already begun to gain the trust of the customer and the utility brand becomes more remote – the start of an uneasy decline. Additionally, in receiving fees for bringing customers to utilities, these companies thrive on churn – driving up utility cost and driving an even greater gap into the consumer-utility relationship.

Further credence to the challenges comes in the areas around presentation of information to customers. Any utility information channel will demand attention to “stickiness” when using technology such as the Internet for displaying utility bills and consumption data. This information has to be pushed to consumers in an attractive, understandable, and above all, personal format. Does the traditional utility information quality and flow have enough appeal for the average consumer to repeatedly view over time? It could be argued that third parties have the ability to blend in more diverse information to improve stickiness on, for example, handheld devices that give the consumer other benefits such as telephony, traffic and weather updates.

Customer Experience Risks

Traditionally, utilities are seen as relatively “recession proof,” operating on longer- term cycles than financial and retail markets. It is this long-term view that, coupled with an already disjointed customer relationship, poses a significant risk to utilities in the next two years. Customers will react in the competitive markets to the feeling of being “cornered” in an environment where few utilities truly differentiate themselves on customer service, product, tariff or brand. Research suggests that consumers are driving change in the relationship with their utilities, and it is this change that opens up opportunity for others (“Plugging in the Consumer”, IBM Institute for Business Value, 2007).

Reaction may not come soon; rarely do new entrants come into a recessionary market. But the potential for non-utilities to begin exploiting the gap between customer and utility should be cause for concern.

The parallel of these changes and risks was seen in the telco landline market over the last two decades. Several of the big, former-monopoly landline carriers are now perceived as commodity bandwidth providers, with declining core customer numbers and often-difficult regulatory challenges. Newer, more agile companies have stepped into the role of “owning” the consumer relationship and are tailoring the commodities into appealing packages. The underlying services may still come from the former-monopoly, but the customer relationship is now skewing toward the new entrant.

There are strategies that can be proactively deployed, individually or in combination, that improve the resilience of a utility through a recession, and that indeed redraw the client relationship to the point where profitability can increase without attracting the appearance of excess. These strategies resist the potential demise of the utilities to commodity providers, allowing for a value-add future based on their pervasive presence in the home.

The five steps outlined below revolve around the need to focus on the fundamentals, namely customer relationships and cash:

  1. Know Your Customer. Like most companies, utilities can benefit greatly by knowing more about customers. By engaging upon a strategy of ongoing information collection, customer segmentation and profitability analysis, plans can be put in place to detect and react to customer attrition risks. This includes early identification of changes to a customer’s circumstances, such as the ability to settle debt, allowing the utility to work proactively with the customer to address the issue. An active relationship style will show consumers that utilities care and understand, increasing brand loyalty, and hence, lowering the cost to serve.
  2. Free Up Locked Cash. Although recession-resistant in the short-term, identifying organic sources of improved cash flow can be an important source of funding for utilities that need to invest in improving customer relationships and capabilities. Industry benchmarks indicate that most utilities have opportunities to plug leaks in their working capital processes, with the potential of tapping into a significant and accessible source of free cash flow. For example, consider the traditionally neglected, under-invested area of consumer debt. With the economic downturn, debt levels are likely to rise, and, if unchecked, costs and cash flow will be adversely impacted.

    Focus areas for addressing the issue and freeing up locked cash include:

    • Using process management techniques such as activity-based management or Lean Six Sigma to identify opportunities for performance improvement across the billing, collections and credit-management processes;
    • Focusing on developing the skills and operational structures required to better integrate the meter to cash functions; and
    • Optimizing the use of utility-specific debt tools that work with the core systems.

Additionally, gaining insights through precision analytics to better manage debt functions – similar to best practices in banking and telecommunications – needs to be accelerated.

  1. Focus on the Future. Cost cutting is inevitable by many companies in this economic environment. It is important to understand the medium-to-long-term impact of any cuts on the customer relationship to determine if they could hurt profitability by increasing churn and related cost-to-serve metrics. Thus, utilities must achieve a clear understanding of their baseline performance, and have a predictive decision-making capability that delivers accurate, real-time insights so they can be confident that any actions taken will yield the best results.
  2. Innovate. Utilities traditionally work on longer investment cycles than many other businesses. When compared to consumer-facing industries, that can result in consumer perception that they are lacking innovation. Many consumers readily accept new offerings from retailers, telcos and technology firms, and the promise of a smart home will clearly be of strong commercial interest to these individuals. That’s why utilities must act now to show how they are changing, innovating for the future and putting control into the hands of the consumer. Smart metering programs will help the utilities reposition themselves as innovators. The key will be to use technology in a manner that bonds the customer better with the utility.
  3. Agility is King. Longer investment cycles in the utility sector, combined with the massive scale of operations and investment, often restrict a utilities’ ability to be agile in their business models. The long-term future of many utilities will depend upon being able to react to new consumer, technology and regulatory demands within short timescales. Innovation is only innovative for a short time – businesses need to be ready to embrace and exploit innovation with new business models.

Take Action Now

Many will argue that the current utility programs of change, such as core system replacement, smart metering and improving customer offerings, will be enough to sustain and even enhance the customer relationship. The real benefit, however, will be from building upon the change, moving into new products, delivering personalized services and tariffs, and demonstrating an understanding of individual consumer needs.

Still, utilities may struggle to capture discretionary spending from customers ahead of telcos, retailers, financial firms and others. Simply put, action needs to be taken now to prevent the loss of long-term customer relationships. For utilities, doing more of the same in this dynamic and changing market may simply not be good enough!

References:

  1. Multiple references, especially in the British press, including this one from Energy Saving Trust: http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Resources/Daily-news/Gas-and-Electricity/Probe-demanded-into-energy-rip-off/(energysavingtrust)/20792

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:
    • Customer Care and Billing
    • 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:
    • Oracle E-Business Suite and other ERP applications
    • Times Ten for real-time data management
    • Data hubs for customer and product master data management
    • Analytics that provide insight and customer intelligence
    • ContentDB, SpatialDB and RecordsDB for content management
    • Secure Enterprise Search for enterprise-wide search needs
  • Siebel CRM for larger competitive utilities’ call centers, customer order management, specialized contacts and strategic sales:
    • Comprehensive transactional, analytical and engagement CRM capabilities
    • Tailored industry solutions
    • Role-based customer intelligence and pre-built
  • Oracle’s AutoVue Enterprise Visualization Solutions:
    • Make business and technical documents easily accessible by all enterprise users
    • Expedite document reviews with built-in digital annotations and markups
    • Boost the value of your enterprise system with integrated Enterprise Visualization
  • Oracle’s Primavera Solutions:
    • Effectively manage and control the most complex projects and project portfolio
    • Deliver projects across generation, transmission and distribution, and new clean-energy ventures
    • Optimize a diminishing but highly skilled workforce

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
    • Over 19,000 partners

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
  • Strengthen and secure communities’ economic foundation

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.

Oracle Utilities solutions enable you to meet tomorrow’s customer needs while addressing the varying concerns of financial stakeholders, employees, communities, and governments. We work with you to address emerging issues and changing business conditions. We help you to evolve to take advantage of new technology directions and to incorporate innovation into ongoing activity.

Partnering with Oracle helps you to futureproof your utility.

Be a People Person

I have to admit it. Despite all the exciting new technologies out there, I am finding myself to be a people person when it comes to building smarter grids and more intelligent utilities. Granted, technology is rapidly developing and the utility industry is finding itself in the middle of more and more automation. However, people – from linemen to consumers – will remain critical components for delivering information-enabled energy.

In the many conversations I have with utilities and other industry thought leaders, we often start out talking about smart technology, but eventually our chats settle on people. People can ultimately make or break even the most promising technologies – from personnel and consumers adopting and using the technology to executives driving technology investments. So, in a world buzzing with new technologies, it is important to reacquaint ourselves with people. This article traces some of my conversations about what an intelligent utility is, how people fit in – both on the consumer and utility personnel side – and what the utility industry can do to better involve people. As is my usual style, I will serve up these critical subjects with a side of humor and perspectives outside the utility industry. So be prepared to learn more about yoga, Nashville, crystal balls and the telecom industry, too.

What Is An Intelligent Utility ?

Before understanding the importance of people, let’s take a moment to understand where people fit into smart grids and intelligent utilities. Utilities are no longer exempt from change. From economic stimulus plans to carbon controls, to the impending electric vehicle flood, we must face the fact that the utility industry will undergo significant changes in the coming years, months and even minutes. Now, it is not so much a question of what changes will happen, but how – and how well – will the utility industry adapt to these changes?

A frequent answer to this question has been a “smart grid,” but most smart grid discussions inevitably lead to these questions:

  • How do we get to a smart grid?
  • When do we know when we are there?
  • What is a smart grid anyway?

These are not easy questions. Many groups define the smart grid, but how can you tell when a utility has one? Better understanding this challenge requires an unusual, but useful comparison: Nashville and Nirodha – a state of mind in yoga. Let’s say you are traveling to Nashville. You would see landmarks that you could only find in Nashville, such as the Grand Ole Opry, B.B. King’s Blues Club and the Bell- South Tower. Smart grid landmarks, however, are harder to come by. Utilities can install smart meters and other smart sensors on their grid, but having these technologies does not necessarily mean they have arrived at a smart grid. To add to the confusion, other smart grid components, such as demand response, distribution automation and more advanced metering, have already been around for years.

Although such technologies can support a smarter grid, the smart grid is more than just acquiring certain technology landmarks. So, although it is a nice place, you shouldn’t just think Nashville when you think smart grid. Think Nirodha. For those of you who aren’t yoga enthusiasts, Nirodha is a state of mind in yoga in which you become more focused and aware of an object. In the case of a utility, the object is primarily the transmission and distribution network. As a utility becomes more aware and ultimately more knowledgeable about its network, it can make better decisions about its operation.

Furthermore, as a company builds more knowledge about its grid, it develops not only a smarter grid, but also a more intelligent utility. An intelligent utility overlays information on energy that goes beyond the transmission and distribution network all the way from generation to end users, maximizing its reliability, affordability and sustainability. Essentially, utilities are delivering information-enabled energy. And technology is just one piece for delivering this sort of energy. Here is a quick run-down of the key components in an intelligent utility:

  • Process & technology: Utility objectives and their impact on business process change and smart technology deployment;
  • Economic models: The challenges and opportunities of new paradigms. So this is not just the changes involved with upgrading a technology – like a customer information or geographic information system – but the changes from initiatives like electrifying transportation and microgrids that could radically alter utility companies and the roles of generators and consumers;
  • Finance: Investment trends associated with smart technologies;
  • Public policy: The impact of politics on energy – including efforts by regulators and legislators. These groups ultimately set up the framework that determines whether and how intelligent initiatives move forward; and
  • People: The knowledge, skills and abilities required for both the workforce and consumers in an information-enabled environment.

Involving Workforce

The rest of this article will take a little bit closer look at the last component – people. As we move toward information-enabled energy, the utility workforce will undergo some significant changes – from new job titles, to new knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs), to new people joining utility companies from other industries.

Ryan Cook, vice president of the employment services division at Energy Central, has pointed out that “In today’s utilities, employee KSAs are based primarily on providing electrical power as a product. These KSAs support the rules-based, process-oriented, functionally structured, and cost-focused business needs of today’s utility. In the future, however, there will be a massive paradigm shift from providing just a product to providing customers with customizable services and solutions for their unique energy needs. The result will be a shift toward KSAs that support a more agile, innovative, collaborative, cross-functional, service-oriented utility of the future. Employees will need to deal with constantly evolving technology.”

So, digitizing the grid will change personnel needs. We know that much, but the big unknown is how exactly will those needs change? And where is a good crystal ball when you need one? Since my snow globe wasn’t working, I thought about other industries that have gone through a digital revolution, which brought me to the telecom and cable industry. I learned much from Alan Babcock, president of Broadband Training Associates. As this industry digitized its grid over the last 13 years and began to focus more on services as opposed to products, it saw significant workforce changes – touching everyone from field crews, to executives, to marketing folks – that could happen to the utility industry as well.

Out In the Field

Before digitizing the telecom and cable industry, many field crews were still pencil and paper, and some still are today. But digitization changes weren’t just about figuring out how to use a truck-mounted laptop. The workforce has a whole new job to do today. In particular, they now have to troubleshoot new problems on multiple services in the network and become experts at devices on an end user’s premise.

Before digitization, field crews dealt with one service – like video in the cable industry – but now they have to balance multiple services in the same network, including voice, data and video. The decisions you make for one service will ultimately impact the others. So, with multiple services, it changes how you do regular maintenance, how you troubleshoot networks, and how you take the network down to make repairs. On top of that, technicians may not be able to take down certain parts of the network because of service level agreements with customers.

Besides dealing with multiple services, field crews have to better understand the devices that extend into customer premises – including modems for Internet or set-top boxes for cable. It can be embarrassing for a telecom or cable company when the consumer knows more about consumer devices than the technician.

Back In the Office

Digitizing the network not only changed KSAs for field crews, but has changed things in the back office of telecom and cable companies as well. These changes occurred in the areas of marketing, customer service, planning and IT.

  • Marketing to customers: Digitization provides cable and telecom companies with increased visibility into the customer premises. This is not only helpful with determining whether customers have service, but also understanding their entertainment preferences. These companies now better understand what entertainment you watch and when you watch it. Ultimately, they have a lot of information at their disposal to be able to better market to you. Telecom companies, however, weren’t traditionally in the entertainment industry, so better marketing to consumers required a new group of employees from outside telecom.
  • Customer service: Customer service has changed in many ways with the digitization of the telecom and cable industry. With a smarter grid, the utility industry often focuses on benefits that it will bring to the customer representatives in terms of access to more information, but there are other benefits to consider as well. An interesting twist in the telecom and cable industry is that as the network gets more complex, a customer service agent’s job gets somewhat simpler. Essentially, customer service representatives have to recall fewer technical details about the network than they did before. It is not as important that they understand how the networks function because they have better visibility into the premise and have more intelligent systems to walk them through trouble-shooting problems.
  • Capital and strategic planning: Digitization has changed the planning time horizon and knowledge requirements for telecom and cable executives. They must factor in the dizzying technology advancements in the industry; think about the rapid movement from 2G to 3G to 4G networks and beyond. The five-year plan now has to be the three-year plan. From a planning standpoint, they also need to better understand the networks in order to figure out how to best utilize and benefit from services that are enabled by those networks.
  • Designing and maintaining IT systems: Aside from learning how to design and maintain new technologies and systems, the technology personnel in telecom and the cable industry have learned some important lessons as they digitize the networks. The first is to more carefully consider the usefulness of new technologies. If a new technology comes along, it doesn’t mean that it has to be used. If a new technology does make sense to use, technology personnel need to consider the human aspects involved with making that change, including change management and making sure the technology is ready when people actually begin using it.

Involving Customers

Not only will the intelligent utility impact its own personnel, but it will impact consumers as well. In particular, utilities will have to help consumers to understand the value of changes and get them to participate in intelligent initiatives.

As I am sure many of you have realized from conversations with friends and family, many people do not understand smart grid benefits or even how the grid really works. Although more people are starting to realize the value, a key challenge is how to get consumers to grasp these concepts and support a smarter grid and more intelligent utility. Utilities have to figure out how to make these things real for people – and are finding many ways to do that. As one utility executive pointed out, “A technology center served to convince our community stakeholders and our PUC that this appears to be a worthwhile journey. The awareness to the consumer was a tremendous value. They were able to start thinking of the value of what we’re trying to build rather than what we’re trying to build.”

Many intelligent initiatives, from demand response to real-time pricing, focus on the end user and require some level of consumer effort. Consumer participation is key for success, but utilities are finding it challenging to get participation. Solutions range from more automation in controlling household appliances and HVAC systems to competition between neighbors regarding energy consumption, but there is still much work to be done in this area, depending on consumer demographics.

Be A People Person

It is easy to get caught up in the technology hype, but as the examples above demonstrate, it is important to keep people in the equation when looking at smart initiatives. People play a key role in determining their success or failure. By preparing for the people factor and considering them in smart initiatives, utilities can better ensure the adoption and success of new technologies and processes.

Surviving the Turmoil

With the new administration talking about a trillion dollars of infrastructure investment, the time for the intelligent utility of the future is now. Political pressure and climate change are going to drive massive investments in renewable and clean energy and smart grid technology. These investments will empower customers through the launch and adoption of demand response and energy efficiency programs.

Many believe that the utility industry will change more in the next five years than the previous 50. The greatest technological advancements are only valuable if they can enable desired business outcomes. In a world of rapidly changing technology it is easy to get caught up in the decisions of what to put in, how, when, and where – making it easy to forget why.

A New Era Emerges

The utility industry has, for decades, been the sleeping giant of the U.S. economy. Little has changed in service delivery and consumer options over the last 50 years. But a perfect storm of legislation, funding and technology has set in motion new initiatives that will change the way customers use and think about their utility service. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocates more than $4 billion, via the Smart Grid Investment Grant Program, for development and upgrade of the electrical grid. Simultaneously, significant strides in smart metering technology make the prospect of a rewired grid more feasible.

While technological advances toward the intelligent utility are exciting, technology in and of itself is not the solution for the utility of the future. How those technologies are applied to supporting business outcomes will be key to success in a consumer-empowered environment. Those outcomes must include considerations such as increasing or sustaining customer service levels and reducing bad debt through innovative charging methods and better control of consumption patterns.

Facing New Challenges

Future smart grid considerations aside, consumer expectations are already undergoing transformation. Although some energy prices have decreased recently in light of declining natural gas prices, the long-term trend indicates rates will continue to climb. Faced with increasing energy costs and declining household incomes, customers are looking for options to reduce their utility bill. Further, utilities’ ability to meet demand during peak periods is often inadequate. According to the Galvin Electricity Initiative, “Each day, roughly 500,000 Americans spend at least two hours without electricity in their homes and businesses. Such outages cost at least $150 billion a year. The future looks even worse. Without substantial innovation and investment, rolling blackouts and soaring power bills will become a persistent fact of life [1].”

Simultaneously, environmental concerns are influencing a greater number of consumers than in the past. In April 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it had identified six greenhouse gases that may endanger public health or welfare [2]. According to the EPA, the process of generating electricity creates 41 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. Utilities are under pressure to offer ways to reduce the impact of fossil fuels to accommodate rapidly changing economic and social conditions.

Strategies such as rate structures that incent customers to schedule their energy-intensive activities during off-peak times would help the utility to avoid, or reduce, reliance on the facilities that produce greenhouse gases. Lowering a residential thermostat by just 2 degrees reduces reliance on less desirable sources of generation. According to McKinsey &
Company, carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced by 34 percent in the residential sector alone through enhanced energy productivity [3].

If a significant number of residential consumers could reschedule their peak usage today, it would extend the life of the current infrastructure and reduce the need to raise rates in order to fund capital investments. But at present, in most jurisdictions there is no demonstrable incentive, such as rate structures that reward off-peak usage, to motivate consumers to conserve in any meaningful way.

Aging CIS

Those utilities saddled with aging customer information systems (CIS) – and those executives who have been reluctant to adopt new technology – will be challenged to adapt to the new paradigm. Even utilities with a relatively new CIS in place may find themselves with technology not suited to today’s world. Typically, utilities have been “load serving entities” – matching supply to demand. In the new recession-prone environment, proactive utilities will need to encourage conservation to match supply. Most utilities do not have the capability to show consumers how and when they can save money by using electricity during off-peak hours.

Until utilities can address these needs, and answer customer inquiries about how to save money and energy, they will not be in a position to focus on desired business outcomes. Currently, many utilities track quantitative performance indicators, not business outcomes.

Desired Business Outcomes

Determining the tools, processes or intellectual property needed to achieve desired business outcomes can be a dilemma. Realizing targeted results may require out-of-the-box thinking. To leverage best-in-class practices, many utilities seek external expertise ranging from advisory and consulting resources to a fully outsourced solution.

When addressing the changes the future utility faces, it is easy to become focused on the what, how, when and where to deploy emerging technology rather than the most important element – why deploy at all? Figure 1 depicts Vertex’s four-level solutions approach to business outcomes as an example of keeping the focus on the “why.”

Level 1: Identify Business Challenges. What are the key issues your organization is grappling with? They may be part of the macro trends impacting the industry as a whole or they may be specific to your company. The list might include issues such as substantial bad debt, poor customer satisfaction, declining revenue and profits, high operating cost to serve, and customer acquisition and retention.

Level 2: Identify Desired Outcomes. While acting on business challenges is an integral part of the process, the desired business outcomes are the drivers that will guide you to the solution. At the same time, the solution will also determine if the desired outcomes can be achieved with in-house resources or if an experienced third party should join the team. The solution will also clarify whether you have the technology to realize the desired outcomes or if an investment will be necessary. For example, desired outcomes might include reducing bad debt by 10 percent, improving customer satisfaction from the second quartile to the first quartile, or eliminating 30 percent of the cost of the meter-to-cash process. One or more of these outcomes may require new supporting technology.

Level 3: Develop and Implement Solution. Once the specific business challenges have been fully discussed and the desired outcomes outlined, the next step requires designing the solution to enable achievement. The solution needs to be realistic, in line with your corporate culture, and deliver the right mix of technology, innovation and practicality, all with the appropriate cost-to-value ratio. Management must avoid the lure of overengineering to meet the goal, and thereby incurring more expense and complexity than needed. And the journey from perceived solution to actual solution to achieve a desired outcome might include some surprising elements.

For example, accomplishing the goal of reducing customer service costs by 30 percent might call for enhanced customer service representative (CSR) education and a reduction in the average number of calls a customer makes to the call center each year. The eventual solution may be very complex, and require touching all areas of the meter-to-cash process, along with implementing next generation technology. Or the solution may be as simple as upgrading the customer’s bill to provide more accurate and timely information. Putting more information in the customer’s hands makes billing easier to understand, resulting in fewer customer calls per year, leading to lower customer service costs. The value proposition enabling the business outcome might rely on a more robust analytics engine for analyzing and presenting data to customers. There are generally multiple paths that can bring about achieving a desired business outcome. Seeking external help on the pros and cons of the paths might be valuable to utility executives,
especially if the path involves deploying new technology.

Level 4: Measure Solution Results. Continuous process improvement must be a component of all solutions. The results must be measured and compared against the desired business outcomes. Reviewing results and lessons learned in a closed loop will empower continuous process improvement and maintain focus on the process.

Conservation and Education

While current technology may not be up to the task of helping consumers conserve and save money on energy, those restrictions will change in the very near future. Utilities need to start viewing themselves less as responders to supply and demand and more as advocates for conservation, the environment, and de-coupling of rates. Massive investments in clean and renewable energy, and smart grid technology, will empower customers to employ demand response decisions and gain energy efficiency. The real issue for the utility will not be how to implement the technology itself – wired, wireless, satellite, etc. – but how best to use the technology to achieve its desired business outcomes. Further, utilities need to be prepared for some disruption to business as usual while technology and business processes undergo a sea change.

The capability of deploying a smart grid and advanced meter management (AMM) is one of the most significant changes impacting utilities today. The outcomes are not achieved by technology alone. Those outcomes require the merging of AMM with meter-to-cash processes. The utility will realize business value only if the people and discrete processes within the customer care component of the end-toend process evolve to take advantage of new technology.

The New Reality

Most utilities already enjoy acceptable levels of customer satisfaction. As the smart grid comes on line, with its associated learning curve, myriad details and inevitable glitches, customers will depend on the utility for support and clarification. Call center volumes and average handle times will increase as the complexity of the product grows by an order of magnitude. The old standard of measuring productivity according to number of calls completed within a pre-determined number of minutes will no longer be viable. Average call length increased by a factor of four for one utility that has experimented with smart grid technology. Longer call times, however, can ultimately translate to increased customer satisfaction as consumers receive the information they need to understand the new system and how to reduce their energy bill.

But a four-fold increase in call center staff to accommodate longer calls is not economically practical. In the future, utilities will need to provide more in-depth education to CSRs so they can, in turn, educate customers. They may even need to change their hiring criteria, and seek more highly skilled call center staff who are already versed in the meter-to-cash process. For some customers, alternative sources of information such as the Internet will suffice, thus offsetting some of the strain placed on the call center.

Achieving Desired Outcomes

The following section provides examples of how the combination of advanced meter management and redefined meter-to-cash processes and tools can enable and help achieve desired business outcomes.

Accurate and Timely Data – With smart meters and the smart grid able to capture usage data in intervals as frequent as five minutes, utilities will have more current information about system activity than ever before. Developing a strategy for managing this massive database will require forethought to avoid overwhelming the back office. When fully deployed throughout a service area, customers will no longer receive estimated bills. Devices in the home will provide readouts about usage activity, and some consumer education may be needed to help households understand the presented data and how it translates to their usage patterns and billing. Demand response participation is likely to increase as consumers become more aware of the benefits of managing their energy usage patterns. The federal government’s stimulus bill funding may include allocations for retrofits for low-income homeowners. The call center can function as a resource for customers who wish to investigate this program.

Reduced Bad Debt – As noted earlier, average handle time will be a less significant metric as consumer interaction with the call center increases. The CSR will become a key element in the strategy to reduce bad debt. CSRs will be the conduit for consumer education and building rapport with the customer when resolving past-due bills. As an alternative, utilities may want to turn to Madison Avenue to help them design and roll out a customer information campaign.

Better Revenue Management – If customer education about the smart grid pays off, and consumers are using energy more judiciously, utilities will benefit. Without the pressure to make capital investments for new plants, there will be more opportunities for profit-taking and shareholder rewards. Utilities may instead be able to make profits on their energy efficiency and investments. New technologies will help utilities avoid spending the hundreds of billions of dollars that would otherwise be needed for base load. In addition, demand response participation on the part of residential consumers will better align commercial and industrial (C&I) energy pricing with residential pricing. C&I customers will see the quality and consistency of their power supply improve.

Increased Energy Efficiency – Utilities, whether municipal, public or private, will feel the social pressure to apply technologies in order to gain energy efficiency and encourage conservation. The future utility will become a leader, instead of a follower, in the campaign to improve the environment and use energy resources wisely. By using energy more strategically – that is, understanding the benefits of off-peak usage – consumers will help their utility reduce carbon emissions, which is the ultimate desired business outcome for all involved.

Increased Stakeholder Satisfaction – Stakeholders run the gamut from shareholders and public utility commissions to consumers, utility employees and executives. All of these groups will be pleased if the public uses energy more efficiently, leading to more revenue for the utility and lower costs to consumers. Showing focus on business outcomes is generally a huge plus that helps increase stakeholder satisfaction.

Lower Cost to Serve – Utilities must try to design a business model with flatter delivery costs. For example, if it costs the utility $30 to $40 per customer per year, staying within that existing range with more and longer customer calls will be a challenge. Some utilities may opt out of providing customer service with in-house staff and contract with a service provider. Recognizing that supplying and managing energy, not delivering customer care, is their core competency, a utility can often reduce the cost of customer care by partnering with an organization that is an expert in this business process. If this is the path a utility takes it is very important to find the provider that will enable the desired outcomes of your business; not all service providers are equal or focus on outcomes. We expect relationships with vendors within the industry will change, with utilities embracing more business partners than in the past.

Increased Service Levels – Public utility commissions (PUC) often review financial and service metrics when considering a rate case. Utilities may need to collaborate with PUCs to help them understand the dynamics of smart meters, along with temporary changes in customer satisfaction and service levels, when submitting innovative rate cases and programs. Once the initial disruptive period of new technology is completed, utilities will be able to increase service levels with greater responsiveness to customer needs. When the call center staff is fully educated about smart meters and demand response, they will be positioned to provide customers with more comprehensive service, thus reducing the number of incoming and outgoing calls.

Future Competition – The current and upcoming changes in the industry are so dramatic that utilities must first assess how consumers are accepting change. Reinventing the grid via the smart grid and its related products and services will create new opportunities and new business models with potential for increased revenue. The extent to which the future market is more competitive depends on the rate of acceptance by consumers and how skillfully utilities adopt new business models. It is our premise that utilities who desire the right business outcomes and focus on enabling them through process, people, and technological changes will be most able to excel in a more competitive environment.

References

  1. Galvin Electricity Initiative, sponsored by The Galvin Project, Inc., www.galvinpower.org
  2. Press Release, “EPA Finds Greenhouse Gases Pose Threat to Public Health, Welfare/Proposed Finding Comes in Response to 2007 Supreme Court Ruling,” April 17, 2009. http://yosemite.epa.gov
  3. McKinsey Global Institute, “Wasted Energy: How the US Can Reach its Energy Productivity Potential,” McKinsey
    & Company, June 2007.

The Role of Telecommunications Providers in the Smart Grid

Utilities are facing a host of critical issues over the next 10 years. One of the major approaches to dealing with these challenges is for utilities to become much more "intelligent" through the development of Intelligent Utility Enterprises (IUE) and Smart Grids (SG). The IUE/SG will require ubiquitous communications systems throughout utility service territories, especially as automated metering infrastructure (AMI) becomes a reality. Wireless systems, such as the widespread cellular system AT&T and other public carriers already have, will play a major role in enabling these systems.

These communications must be two-way, all the way from the utility to individual homes. The Smart Grid will be a subset of the intelligent utility, enabling utility executives to make wise decisions to deal with the pending issues. Public carriers are currently positioned to support and provide a wide range of communications technologies and services such as WiFi, satellite and cellular, which it is continuing to develop to meet current and future utility needs.

Supply and demand reaching critical concern

Utilities face some formidable mountains in the near future and they must climb these in the crosshairs of regulatory, legislative and public scrutiny. Included are such things as a looming, increasing shortage of electricity which may become more critical as global warming concerns begin to compromise the ability to build large generating plants, especially those fueled by coal.

Utilities also have to contend with the growing political strength of an environmental movement that opposes most forms of generation other than those designated as "green energy." Thus, utilities face a political/legislative/regulatory perfect storm, on the one hand reducing their ability to generate electricity by conventional methods and, on the other, requiring levels of reliability they increasingly are finding it impossible to meet.

The Intelligent Utility Enterprise and Smart Grid, with AMI as a subset of the Smart Grid, as potential, partial solutions

The primary solution proposed to date, which utilities can embrace on their own without waiting for regulatory/legislative/ political clarity, is to use technology like IUEs to become much more effective organizations and to substitute intelligence in lieu of manpower with SGs. The Smart Grid evolution also will enable the general public to take part in solving these problems through demand response. A subset of that evolution will be outage management to ensure that outages are anticipated and, except where required by supply shortages, minimized rapidly and effectively.

The IUE/SG, for the first time, will enable utility executives to see exactly what is happening on the grid in real time, so they can make the critical, day-to-day decisions in an environment of increasingly high prices and diminished supply for electricity.

Wireless To Play A Major Role In Required Ubiquitous Communications

Automating the self-operating, self-healing grid – artificial intelligence

The IUE/SG obviously will require enterprise-wide digital communications to enable the rapid transfer of data between one system and another, all the way from smart meters and other in-home gateways to the boardrooms where critical decisions will be made. Already utilities have embraced service-oriented architecture (SOA), as a means of linking everything together. SOA-enabled systems are easily linked over IP, which is capable of operating over traditional wire and fiber optic communications systems, which many utilities have in place, as well as existing cellular wireless systems. Wireless communications are becoming more helpful in linking disparate systems from the home, through the distribution systems, to substations, control rooms and beyond to the enterprise. The ubiquitous utility communications of the future will integrate a wide range of systems, some of them owned by the utilities and others leased and contracted by various carriers.

The Smart Grid is a subset of the entire utility enterprise and is linked to the boardroom by various increasingly intelligent systems throughout.

Utility leadership will need vital information about the operation of the grid all the way into the home, where distributed generation, net billing, demand response reduction of voltage or current will take place. This communications network must be in real time and must provide information to all of what traditionally were called "back office" systems, but which now must be capable of collating information never before received or considered.

The distribution grid itself will have to become much more automated, self-healing, and self-operating through artificial intelligence. Traditional SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) will have to become more capable, and the data it collects will have to be pushed further up into the utility enterprise and to departments that have not previously dealt with real-time data.

The communications infrastructure In the past utilities typically owned much of their communications systems. Most of these systems are aged, and converting them to modern digital systems is difficult and expensive.

Utilities are likely to embrace a wide range of new and existing communications technologies as they grapple with their supply/demand disconnect problem. One of these is IP/MPLS (Internet Protocol/Multi Protocol Label Switching), which already is proven in utility communications networks as well as other industries which require mission critical communications. MPLS is used to make communications more reliable and provide the prioritization to ensure the required latency for specific traffic.

One of the advantages offered by public carriers is that their networks have almost ubiquitous coverage of utility service territories, as well as built-in switching capabilities. They also have been built to communications standards that, while still evolving, help ensure important levels of security and interoperability.

"Cellular network providers are investing billions of dollars in their networks," points out Henry L. Jones II, chief technology officer at SmartSynch, an AMI vendor and author of the article entitled "Want six billion dollars to invest in your AMI network?"

"AT&T alone will be spending 16-17 billion dollars in 2009," Jones notes. "Those investments are spent efficiently in a highly competitive environment to deliver high-speed connectivity anywhere that people live and work. Of course, the primary intent of these funds is to support mobile users with web browsing and e-mail. Communicating with meters is a much simpler proposition, and one can rely on these consumer applications to provide real-world evidence that scalability to system-wide AMI will not be a problem."

Utilities deal in privileged communications with their customers, and their systems are vulnerable to terrorism. As a result, Congress, through the Federal Energy Regulatory Authority (FERC), designated NERC as the agency responsible for ensuring security of all utility facilities, including communications.

As an example of meeting security needs at a major utility, AT&T is providing redundant communications systems over a wireless WAN for a utility’s 950 substations, according to Andrew Hebert, AT&T Area Vice President, Industry Solutions Mobility Practice. This enables the utility to meet critical infrastructure protection standards and "harden" its SCADA and distribution automation systems by providing redundant communications pathways.

SCADA communication, distributed automation, and even devices providing artificial intelligence reporting are possible with today’s modern communications systems. Latency is important in terms of automatic fault reporting and switching. The communications network must provide the delivery-time performance to this support substation automation as identified in IEEE 1646. Some wireless systems now offer latencies in the 125ms range. Some of the newer systems are designed for no more than 50ms latency.

As AMI becomes more widespread, the utility- side control of millions of in-home and in-business devices will have to be controlled and managed. Meter readings must be collected and routed to meter data management systems. While it is possible to feed all this data directly to some central location, it is likely that this data avalanche will be routed through substations for aggregation and handling and transfer to corporate WANs. As the number of meter points grows – and the number readings taken per hour and the number of in-home control signals increases, bandwidth and latency factors will have to be considered carefully.

Public cellular carriers already have interoperability (e.g., you can call someone on a cell phone although they use a different carrier), and it is likely that there will be more standardization of communications systems going forward. A paradigm shift toward national and international communications interoperability already has occurred – for example, with the global GSM standard on which the AT&T network is based. A similar shift in the communications systems utilities use is necessary and likely to come about in the next few years. It no longer is practical for utilities to have to cobble together communications with varying standards for different portions of their service territory, or different functional purposes.

Modeling Distribution Demand Reduction

In the past, distribution demand reduction was a technique used only in emergency situations a few times a year – if that. It was an all-or-nothing capability that you turned on, and hoped for the best until the emergency was over. Few utilities could measure the effectiveness, let alone the potential of any solutions that were devised.

Now, demand reduction is evolving to better support the distribution network during typical peaking events, rather than just emergencies. However, in this mode, it is important not only to understand the solution’s effectiveness, but to be able to treat it like any other dispatchable load-shaping resource. Advanced modeling techniques and capabilities are allowing utilities to do just that. This paper outlines various methods and tools that allow utilities to model distribution demand reduction capabilities within set time periods, or even in near real time.

Electricity demand continues to outpace the ability to build new generation and apply the necessary infrastructure needed to meet the ever-growing, demand-side increases dictated by population growth and smart residences across the globe. In most parts of the world, electrical energy is one of the most important characteristics of a modern civilization. It helps produce our food, keeps us comfortable, and provides lighting, security, information and entertainment. In short, it is a part of almost every facet of life, and without electrical energy, the modern interconnected world as we know it would cease to exist.

Every country has one or more initiatives underway, or in planning, to deal with some aspect of generation and storage, delivery or consumption issues. Additionally, greenhouse gases (GHG) and carbon emissions need to be tightly controlled and monitored. This must be carefully balanced with expectations from financial markets that utilities deliver balanced and secure investment portfolios by demonstrating fiduciary responsibility to sustain revenue projections and measured growth.

The architects of today’s electric grid probably never envisioned the day when electric utility organizations would purposefully take measures to reduce the load on the network, deal with highly variable localized generation and reverse power flows, or anticipate a regulatory climate that impacts the decisions for these measures. They designed the electric transmission and distribution systems to be robust, flexible and resilient.

When first conceived, the electric grid was far from stable and resilient. It took growth, prudence and planning to continue the expansion of the electric distribution system. This grid was made up of a limited number of real power and reactive power devices that responded to occasional changes in power flow and demand. However, it was also designed in a world with far fewer people, with a virtually unlimited source of power, and without much concern or knowledge of the environmental effects that energy production and consumption entail.

To effectively mitigate these complex issues, a new type of electric utility business model must be considered. It must rapidly adapt to ever-changing demands in terms of generation, consumption, environmental and societal benefits. A grid made up of many intelligent and active devices that can manage consumption from both the consumer and utility side of the meter must be developed. This new business model will utilize demand management as a key element to the operation of the utility, while at the same time driving the consumer spending behavior.

To that end, a holistic model is needed that understands all aspects of the energy value chain across generation, delivery and consumption, and can optimize the solution in real time. While a unifying model may still be a number of years away, a lot can be gained today from modeling and visualizing the distribution network to gauge the effect that demand reduction can – and does – play in near real time. To that end, the following solutions are surely well considered.

Advanced Feeder Modeling

First, a utility needs to understand in more detail how its distribution network behaves. When distribution networks were conceived, they were designed primarily with sources (the head of the feeder and substation) and sinks (the consumers or load) spread out along the distribution network. Power flows were assumed to be one direction only, and the feeders were modeled for the largest peak level.

Voltage and volt-ampere reactive power (VAR) management were generally considered for loss optimization and not load reduction. There was never any thought given to limiting power to segments of the network or distributed storage or generation, all of which could dramatically affect the flow of the network, even causing reverse flows at times. Sensors to measure voltage and current were applied at the head of the feeder and at a few critical points (mostly in historical problem areas.)

Planning feeders at most utilities is an exercise performed when large changes are anticipated (i.e., a new subdivision or major customer) or on a periodic basis, usually every three to five years. Loads were traditionally well understood with predictable variability, so this type of approach worked reasonably well. The utility also was in control of all generation sources on the network (i.e., peakers), and when there was a need for demand reduction, it was controlled by the utility, usually only during critical periods.

Today’s feeders are much more complex, and are being significantly influenced by both generation and demand from entities outside the control of the utility. Even within the utility, various seemingly disparate groups will, at times, attempt to alter power flows along the network. The simple model of worst-case peaking on a feeder is not sufficient to understand the modern distribution network.

The following factors must be considered in the planning model:

  • Various demand-reduction techniques, when and where they are applied and the potential load they may affect;
  • Use of voltage reduction as a load-shedding technique, and where it will most likely yield significant results (i.e., resistive load);
  • Location, size and capacity of storage;
  • Location, size and type of renewable generation systems;
  • Use and location of plug-in electrical vehicles;
  • Standby generation that can be fed into the network;
  • Various social ecosystems and their characteristics to influence load; and
  • Location and types of sensors available.

Generally, feeders are modeled as a single unit with their power characteristic derived from the maximum peaking load and connected kilovolt-amperage (KVA) of downstream transformers. A more advanced model treats the feeder as a series of connected segments. The segment definitions can be arbitrary, but are generally chosen where the utility will want to understand and potentially control these segments differently than others. This may be influenced by voltage regulation, load curtailment, stability issues, distributed generation sources, storage, or other unique characteristics that differ from one segment to the next.

The following serves as an advanced means to model the electrical distribution feeder networks. It provides for segmentation and sensor placement in the absence of a complete network and historical usage model. The modeling combines traditional electrical engineering and power-flow modeling with tools such as CYME and non-traditional approaches using geospatial and statistical analysis.

The model builds upon information such as usage data, network diagrams, device characteristics and existing sensors. It then adds elements that could present a discrepancy with the known model such as social behavior, demand-side programs, and future grid operations based on both spatio-temporal and statistical modeling. Finally, suggestions can be made about sensors’ placement and characteristics to the network to support system monitoring once in place.

Generally, a utility would take a more simplistic view of the problem. It would start by directly applying statistical analysis and stochastic modeling across the grid to develop a generic methodology for selecting the number of sensors, and where to place them based on sensor accuracy, cost and risk-of-error introduction from basic modeling assumptions (load allocation, timing of peak demand, and other influences on error.) However, doing so would limit the utility, dealing only with the data it has in an environment that will be changing dramatically.

The recommended and preferred approach performs some analysis to determine what the potential error sources are, which source is material to the sensor question, and which could influence the system’s power flows. Next, an attempt can be made to geographically characterize where on the grid these influences are most significant. Then, a statistical approach can be applied to develop a model for setting the number, type and location of additional sensors. Lastly sensor density and placement can be addressed.

Feeder Modeling Technique

Feeder conditioning is important to minimize the losses, especially when the utility wants to moderate voltage levels as a load modification method. Without proper feeder conditioning and sufficient sensors to monitor the network, the utility is at risk of either violating regulatory voltage levels, or potentially limiting its ability to reduce the optimal load amount from the system during voltage reduction operations.

Traditionally, feeder modeling is a planning activity that is done at periodic (for example, yearly) intervals or during an expected change in usage. Tools such as CYME – CYMDIST provide feeder analysis using:

  • Balanced and unbalanced voltage drop analysis (radial, looped or meshed);
  • Optimal capacitor placement and sizing to minimize losses and/or improve voltage profile;
  • Load balancing to minimize losses;
  • Load allocation/estimation using customer consumption data (kWh), distribution transformer size (connected kVA), real consumption (kVA or kW) or the REA method. The algorithm treats multiple metering units as fixed demands; and large metered customers as fixed load;
  • Flexible load models for uniformly distributed loads and spot loads featuring independent load mix for each section of circuit;
  • Load growth studies for multiple years; and
  • Distributed generation.

However, in many cases, much of the information required to run an accurate model is not available. This is either because the data does not exist, the feeder usage paradigm may be changing, the sampling period does not represent a true usage of the network, the network usage may undergo significant changes, or other non-electrical characteristics.

This represents a bit of a chicken-or-egg problem. A utility needs to condition its feeders to change the operational paradigm, but it also needs operational information to make decisions on where and how to change the network. The solution is a combination of using existing known usage and network data, and combining it with other forms of modeling and approximation to build the best future network model possible.

Therefore, this exercise refines traditional modeling with three additional techniques: geospatial analysis; statistical modeling; and sensor selection and placement for accuracy.

If a distribution management system (DMS) will be deployed, or is being considered, its modeling capability may be used as an additional basis and refinement employing simulated and derived data from the above techniques. Lastly, if high accuracy is required and time allows, a limited number of feeder segments can be deployed and monitored to validate the various modeling theories prior to full deployment.

The overall goals for using this type of technique are:

  • Limit customer over or under voltage;
  • Maximize returned megawatts in the system in load reduction modes;
  • Optimize the effectiveness of the DMS and its models;
  • Minimize cost of additional sensors to only areas that will return the most value;
  • Develop automated operational scenarios, test and validation prior to system-wide implementation; and
  • Provide a foundation for additional network automation capabilities.

The first step starts by setting up a short period of time to thoroughly vet possible influences on the number, spacing and value offered by additional sensors on the distribution grid. This involves understanding and obtaining information that will most influence the model, and therefore, the use of sensors. Information could include historical load data, distribution network characteristics, transformer name plate loading, customer survey data, weather data and other related information.

The second step is the application of geospatial analysis to identify areas of the grid most likely to have influences driving a need for additional sensors. It is important to recognize that within this step is a need to correlate those influential geospatial parameters with load profiles of various residential and commercial customer types. This step represents an improvement over simply applying the same statistical analysis generically over the entirety of the grid, allowing for two or more “grades” of feeder segment characteristics for which different sensor standards would be developed.

The third step is the statistical analysis and stochastic modeling to develop recommended standards and methodology for determining sensor placement based on the characteristic segments developed from the geospatial assessment. Items set aside as not material for sensor placement serve as a necessary input to the coming “predictive model” exercise.

Lastly, a traditional electrical and accuracy- based analysis is used to model the exact number and placement of additional sensors to support the derived models and planned usage of the system for all scenarios depicted in the model – not just summertime peaking.

Conclusion

The modern distribution network built for the smart grid will need to undergo significantly more detailed planning and modeling than a traditional network. No one tool is suited to the task, and it will take multiple disciplines and techniques to derive the most benefit from the modeling exercise. However, if a utility embraces the techniques described within this paper, it will not only have a better understanding of how its networks perform in various smart grid scenarios, but it will be better positioned to fully optimize its networks for load and loss optimization.

Measuring Smart Metering’s Progress

Smart or advanced electricity metering, using a fixed network communications path, has been with us since pioneering installations in the US Midwest in the mid-1980s. That’s 25 years ago, during which time we have seen incredible advancements in information and communication technologies.

Remember the technologies of 1985? The very first mobile phones were just being introduced. They weighed as much as a watermelon and cost nearly $9,000 in today’s dollars. SAP had just opened its first sales office outside of Germany, and Oracle had fewer than 450 employees. The typical personal computer had a 10 megabyte hard drive, and a dot-com Internet domain was just a concept.

We know how much these technologies have changed since then, how they have been embraced by the public, and (to some degree at least) where they are going in the future. This article looks at how smart metering technology has developed over the same period. What has been the catalyst for advancements? And, most important, what does that past tell us about the future of smart metering?

Peter Drucker once said that “trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.”

Let’s take a brief look out the back window, before driving forward.

Past Developments

Developments in the parallel field of wireless communications, with its strong standards base, are readily delineated into clear technology generations. While we cannot as easily pinpoint definitive phases of smart metering technology, we can see some major transitions and discern patterns from the large deployments illustrated in Figure 1, and perhaps, even identify three broad smart metering “generations.”

The first generation is probably the clearest to delineate. The first 10 years of smart metering deployments (until about 2004) were all one-way wireless, limited two-way wireless, or very low-bandwidth power-line carrier communications (PLC) to the meter, concentrated in the U.S. The market at this time was dominated by Distribution Control Systems, Inc. (DCSI) and, what was then, CellNet Data Systems, Inc. Itron Fixed Network 2.0 and Hunt Technologies’ TS1 solution would also fit into this generation.

More than technology, the strongest characteristic of this first generation is the limited scope of business benefits considered. With the exception of Puget Sound Energy’s time-of-use pricing program, the business case for these early deployments was focused almost exclusively on reducing meter reading costs. Effectively, these early deployments reproduced the same business case as mobile automated meter reading (AMR).

By 2004, approximately 10 million of these smart meters had been installed in the U.S. (about 7 percent of the national total); however, whatever public perception of smart metering there was at the time was decidedly mixed. The deployments received scant media coverage, which focused almost solely on troubled time-of-use pricing programs, perhaps digressing briefly to cover smart metering vendor mergers and lawsuits. But generally smart meters, by any name, were unknown among the general population.

Today’s Second Generation

By the early 2000s, some utilities, notably PPL and PECO, both in Pennsylvania, were beginning to expand the use of their smart metering infrastructure beyond the simple meter-to-cash process. With incremental enhancements to application integration that were based on first generation technology, they were initiating projects to use smart metering to: transform outage identification and response; explore more frequent reading and more granular data; and improve theft detection.

These initiatives were the first to give shape to a new perspective on smart metering, but it was power company Enel’s dramatic deployment of 30 million smart meters across Italy that crystallized the second generation.

For four years leading to 2005, Enel fully deployed key technology advancements, such as universal and integrated remote disconnect and load limiting, that previously did not exist on any real scale. These changes enabled a dramatically broader scope of business benefits as this was the first fully deployed solution designed from the ground up to look well beyond reducing meter reading costs.

The impact of Enel’s deployment and subsequent marketing campaign on smart metering developments in other countries should not be underestimated, particularly among politicians and regulators outside the U.S. In European countries, particularly Italy, and regions such as Scandinavia, the same model (and in many cases the same technology) was deployed. Enel demonstrated to the rest of the world what could be done without any high-profile public backlash. It set a competitive benchmark that had policymakers in other countries questioning progress in their jurisdictions and challenging their own utilities to achieve the same.

North American Resurgence

As significant as Enel’s deployment was on the global development of smart metering, it is not the basis for today’s ongoing smart metering technology deployments now concentrated in North America.

More than the challenges of translating a European technology to North America, the business objectives and customer environments were different. As the Enel deployment came to an end, governments and regulators – particularly those in California and Ontario – were looking for smart metering technology to be the foundation for major energy conservation and peak-shifting programs. They expected the technology to support a broad range of pricing programs, provide on-demand reads within minutes, and gather hourly interval profile data from every meter.

Utilities responded. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), with a total of 9 million electric and natural gas meters, kick-started the movement. Others, notably Southern California Edison (SCE), invested the time and effort to advance the technology, championing additions such as remote firmware upgrades and home area network support.

As a result, a near dormant North American smart metering market was revived in 2007. The standard functionality we see in most smart metering specifications today and the technology basis for most planned deployments in North America was established.

These technology changes also contributed to a shift in public awareness of smart meters. As smart metering was considered by more local utilities, and more widely associated with growing interest in energy conservation, media interest grew exponentially. Between 2004 and 2008, references to smart or advanced meters (carefully excluding smart parking meters) in the world’s major newspapers nearly doubled every year, to the point where the technology is now almost common knowledge in many countries.

The Coming Third Generation

In the 25 years since smart meters were first substantially deployed, the technology has progressed considerably. While progress has not been as rapid as advancements in consumer communications technologies, smart metering developments such as universal interval data collection, integrated remote disconnect and load limiting, remote firmware upgrades and links to a home network are substantial advancements.

All of these advancements have been driven by the combination of forward-thinking government policymakers, a supportive regulator and, perhaps most important, a large utility willing to invest the time and effort to understand and demand more from the vendor community.

With this understanding of the drivers, and based on the technology deployment plans, we can map out key future smart metering technology directions. We expect to see the next generation of smart metering exhibit two dominant differences from today’s technology. This includes increased standardization across the entire smart metering solution scope and changes to back-office systems architecture that enables the extended benefits of smart metering.

Increased Standardization

The transition to the next generation of smart metering will be known more for its changes to how a smart meter works, rather than what a smart meter does.

The direct functions of a smart meter appear to be largely set. We expect to see continued incremental advancements in data quality and read reliability; improved power quality measurement; and more universal deployment of a remote disconnect and load limiting.

But how a smart meter provides these functions will further change. We believe the smart meter will become a much more integrated part of two networks: one inside the home; the other along the electricity distribution network.

Generally, an expectation of standards for communication from the meter into a home area network is well accepted by the industry – although the actual standard to be applied is still in question. As this home area network develops, we expect a smart meter to increasingly become a member of this network, rather than the principal mechanism in creating one.

As other smart grid devices are deployed further down the low voltage distribution system, we expect utilities to demand that the meter conform to these network communications standards. In other words, utilities will continue to reject the idea that other types of smart grid devices – those with even greater control of the electrical network – be incorporated into a proprietary smart meter local area network.

It appears that most of this drive to standardization will not be led by utilities in North America. For one, technology decisions in North America are rapidly being completed (for this first round of replacements, at least). The recent Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) staff report, entitled “2008 Assessment of Demand Response and Advanced Metering” found that of the 145 million meters in the U.S., utilities have already contracted to replace nearly 52 million with smart meters over the next five to seven years.

IBM’s analysis indicated that larger utilities have declared plans to replace these meters even faster – approximately 33 million smart meters by 2013. The meter communications approach, and quite often the vendors chosen for these deployments, has typically already been selected, leaving little room to fundamentally change the underlying technological approach.

Outside of Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) experiments by utilities such as American Electric Power (AEP) and those in Ontario, and shared services initiatives in Texas and Ontario, none of the remaining large North American utilities appear to have a compelling need to drive dramatic technology advancements, given rate and time pressures from regulators.

Conversely, a few very large European programs are poised to push the technology toward much greater standards adoption:

  • EDF in France has started a trial of 300,000 meters following standard PLC communications from the meter to the concentrator. The full deployment to all 35 million EDF meters is expected to follow.
  • The U.K. government recently announced a mandatory replacement of both electricity and natural gas meters for all 46 million customers between 2010 and 2020. The U.K.’s unique market structure with competitive retailers having responsibility for meter ownership and operation is driving interoperability standards beyond currently available technology.
  • With its PRIME initiative, the Spanish utility Iberdrola plans to develop a new PLC-based, open standard for smart metering. It is starting with a pilot project in 2009, leading to full deployment to more than 10 million residential customers.

The combination of these three smart metering projects alone will affect 91 million smart meters, equal to two thirds of the total U.S. market. This European focus is expected to grow now that the Iberdrola project has taken the first steps to be the basis for the European Commission’s Open Meter initiative, involving 19 partners from seven European countries.

Rethinking Utility System Architectures

Perhaps the greatest changes to future smart metering systems will have nothing to do with the meter itself.

To date, standard utility applications for customer care and billing, outage management, and work management have been largely unchanged by smart metering. In fact, to reduce risk and meet schedules, utilities have understandably shielded legacy systems from the changes needed to support a smart meter rollout or new tariffs. They have looked to specialized smart metering systems, particularly meter data management systems (MDMS), to bridge the gap between a new smart metering infrastructure and their legacy systems.

As a result, many of the potential benefits of a smart metering infrastructure have yet to be fully realized. For instance, billing systems still operate on cycles set by past meter reading routes. Most installed outage management applications are unable to take advantage of a direct near-real-time connection to nearly every end point.

As application vendors catch up, we expect the third generation of smart meters to be characterized by changes to the overall utility architectures and the applications that comprise them. As applications are enhanced, and enterprise architectures adapted to the smart grid, we expect to see significant architectural changes, such as:

  • Much of the message brokering functions from disparate head-end systems to utility applications in an MDMS will migrate to the utility’s service bus.
  • As smart meters increasingly become devices on a standards-based network, more general network management applications now widely deployed for telecommunications networks will supplement vendor head-end systems.
  • Complex estimating and editing functions will become less valuable as the technology in the field becomes more reliable.
  • Security of the system, from home network to the utility firewall, needs to meet the much higher standards associated with grid operations, rather than those arising from the current meter-as-the-cash-register perspective.
  • Add-on functionality provided by some niche vendors will migrate to larger utility systems as they evolve to a smart metering world. For instance, Web presentment of interval data to customers will move from dedicated sites to become a broad part of utilities’ online offerings.

Conclusions

Looking back at 25 years of smart metering technology development, we can see that while it has progressed, it has not developed at the pace of the consumer communications and computing technologies they rely upon – and for good reasons.

Utilities operate under a very different investment timeframe compared to consumer electronics; decisions made by utilities today need to stand for decades, rather than mere months. While consumer expectations of technology and service continue to grow with each generation, in the regulated electricity distribution industry, any customer demands are often filtered through a blurry political and regulatory lens.

Even with these constraints, smart metering technology has evolved rapidly, and will continue to change in the future. The next generation, with increased standardized integration with other networks and devices, as well as changes to back office systems, will certainly transform what we now call smart metering. So much so, that much sooner than 25 years from now, those looking back at today’s smart meters may very well see them as we now see those watermelon-sized cell phones of the 1980’s.

Silver Spring Networks

When engineers built the national electric grid, their achievement made every other innovation built on or run by electricity possible – from the car and airplane to the radio, television, computer and the Internet. Over decades, all of these inventions have gotten better, smarter and cheaper while the grid has remained exactly the same. As a result, our electrical grid is operating under tremendous stress. The Department of Energy estimates that by 2030, demand for power will outpace supply by 30 percent. And this increasing demand for low-cost, reliable power must be met alongside growing environmental concerns.

Silver Spring Networks (SSN) is the first proven technology to enable the smart grid. SSN is a complete smart grid solutions company that enables utilities to achieve operational efficiencies, reduce carbon emissions and offer their customers new ways to monitor and manage their energy consumption. SSN provides hardware, software and services that allow utilities to deploy and run unlimited advanced applications, including smart metering, demand response, distribution automation and distributed generation, over a single, unified network.

The smart grid should operate like the Internet for energy, without proprietary networks built around a single application or device. In the same way that one can plug any laptop or device into the Internet, regardless of its manufacturer, utilities should be able to “plug in” any application or consumer device to the smart grid. SSN’s Smart Energy Network is based on open, Internet Protocol (IP) standards, allowing for continuous, two-way communication between the utility and every device on the grid – now and in the future.

The IP networking standard adopted by Federal agencies has proven secure and reliable over decades of use in the information technology and finance industries. This network provides a high-bandwidth, low-latency and cost-effective solution for utility companies.

SSN’s Infrastructure Cards (NICs) are installed in “smart” devices, like smart meters at the consumer’s home, allowing them to communicate with SSN’s access points. Each access point communicates with networked devices over a radius of one or two miles, creating a wireless communication mesh that connects every device on the grid to one another and to the utility’s back office.

Using the Smart Energy Network, utilities will be able to remotely connect or disconnect service, send pricing information to customers who can understand how much their energy is costing in real time, and manage the integration of intermittent renewable energy sources like solar panels, plug-in electric vehicles and wind farms.

In addition to providing The Smart Energy Network and the software/firmware that makes it run smoothly, SSN develops applications like outage detection and restoration, and provides support services to their utility customers. By minimizing or eliminating interruptions, the self-healing grid could save industrial and residential consumers over $100 billion per year.

Founded in 2002 and headquartered in Redwood City, Ca., SSN is a privately held company backed by Foundation Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Northgate Capital. The company has over 200 employees and a global reach, with partnerships in Australia, the U.K. and Brazil.

SSN is the leading smart grid solutions provider, with successful deployments with utilities serving 20 percent of the U.S. population, including Florida Power & Light (FPL), Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) and Pepco Holdings, Inc. (PHI), among others.

FPL is one of the largest electric utilities in the U.S., serving approximately 4.5 million customers across Florida. In 2007, SSN and FPL partnered to deploy SSN’s Smart Energy Network to 100,000 FPL customers. It began with rigorous environmental and reliability testing to ensure that SSN’s technology would hold up under the harsh environmental conditions in some areas of Florida. Few companies are able to sustain the scale and quality of testing that FPL required during this deployment, including power outage notification testing, exposure to water and salt spray and network throughput performance test for self-healing failover characteristics.

SSN’s solution has met or exceeded all FPL acceptance criteria. FPL plans to continue deployment of SSN’s Smart Energy Network at a rate of one million networked meters per year beginning in 2010 to all 4.5 million residential customers.

PG&E is currently rolling out SSN’s Smart Energy Network to all 5 million electric customers over a 700,000 square-mile service area.

OG&E, a utility serving 770,000 customers in Oklahoma and western Arkansas, worked with SSN to deploy a small-scale pilot project to test The Smart Energy Network and gauge customer satisfaction. The utility deployed SSN’s network, along with an energy management web-based portal in 25 homes in northwest Oklahoma City. Another 6,600 apartments were given networked meters to allow remote initiation and termination of service.

Consumer response to the project was overwhelmingly positive. Participating residents said they gained flexibility and control over their household’s energy consumption by monitoring their usage on in-home touch screen information panels. According to one customer, “It’s the three A’s: awareness, attitude and action. It increased our awareness. It changed our attitude about when we should be using electricity. It made us take action.”

Based on the results, OG&E presented a plan for expanded deployment to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for their consideration.

PHI recently announced its partnership with SSN to deliver The Smart Energy Network to its 1.9 million customers across Washington, D.C., Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey. The first phase of the smart grid deployment will begin in Delaware in March 2009 and involve SSN’s advanced metering and distribution automation technology. Additional deployment will depend on regulatory authorization.

The impact of energy efficiency is enormous. More aggressive energy efficiency efforts could cut the growth rate of worldwide energy consumption by more than half over the next 15 years, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. The Brattle Group states that demand response could reduce peak load in the U.S. by at least 5 percent over the next few years, saving over $3 billion per year in electricity costs. The discounted present value of these savings would be $35 billion over the next 20 years in the U.S. alone, with significantly greater savings worldwide.

Governments throughout the EU, Canada and Australia are now mandating implementation of alternate energy and grid efficiency network programs. The Smart Energy Network is the technology platform that makes energy efficiency and the smart grid possible. And, it is working in the field today.