The Smart Grid Maturity Model

The software industry has been using maturity models to define and measure software development capabilities for decades. These models have helped the industry create a shared vision for these capabilities. They also have driven individual software development organizations to set and pursue aggressive capabilities goals while allowing these groups to measure progress in reaching those objectives along the way.

As the utility industry embarks on the complex and ambitious transformation of the outdated power grid to the new smart grid, it has struggled to develop a shared vision for the smart grid end-state and the path to its development and deployment. Now, the smart grid maturity model (SGMM) is helping the industry overcome these challenges by presenting a consensus vision of the smart grid, the benefits it can bring and the various levels of smart grid development and deployment maturity. SGMM is helping numerous utilities worldwide develop targets for their smart grid strategy, and build roadmaps of the activities, investments and best practices that will lead them to their future smart grid state.

IBM worked closely with members of the Intelligent Utility Network Coalition (IUNC) to develop, discuss and revise several drafts of the SGMM. This team was assisted by APQC, a member-based nonprofit organization that provides benchmarking and best-practice research for approximately 500 organizations worldwide. The goal in the development process was to ensure the SGMM reflects a consensus industry vision for the smart grid, and brings together a wide range of industry experts to define the technical, organizational and process details supporting that vision.

APQC has a long history of benchmarking, performance measurement and maturity definition, and was therefore able to provide critical experience to drive development of a clear, measureable maturity model. IBM has worked on smart grid initiatives with numerous utilities around the world, and provided guidance and some initial structure to help start the development process. But the most important contributors to the SGMM were utilities themselves, as they brought a wealth of deep technical and strategic knowledge to build a shared vision of the smart grid and the various stages of maturity that could be achieved.

Because of this consensus development process, the SGMM reflects a broad industry vision for the smart grid, and it now gives utilities a tool for both strategic and tactical use to guide, measure and assess a utility’s smart grid transformation:

Strategic uses of the SGMM:

  • Establish a shared vision for the smart grid journey;
  • Communicate the smart grid vision, both internally and externally;
  • Use as a strategic framework for evaluating smart grid business and investment objectives;
  • Plan for technological, regulatory, and organizational readiness; and
  • Benchmark and learn from others

Tactical uses of the SGMM:

  • Guide development of a specific smart grid roadmap or blueprint;
  • Assess and prioritize current smart grid opportunities and projects;
  • Use as a decision-making framework for smart grid investments;
  • Assess resource needs to move from one smart grid level to another; and
  • Measure smart grid progress using key performance indicators (KPIs).

The SGMM structure is based on three fundamental concepts:

Domains: eight logical groupings of functional components of a smart grid transformation implementation;

Maturity Levels: five sets of defined characteristics and outcomes; and

Characteristics: descriptions of over 200 capabilities that are expected at each stage of the smart grid journey.

As Figure 1 shows, the domains span eight areas covering people, technology, and process, and comprise all of the fundamental components of smart grid capabilities.

Maturity levels range from an entry level of 1, up to a top level of 5, and can be summarized as follows:

Level 1 – Exploring and Initiating: contemplating smart grid transformation; may have a vision, but no strategy yet; exploring options; evaluating business cases and technologies; may have some smart grid elements already deployed.

Level 2 – Functional Investing: making decisions, at least at a functional level; business cases in place and investments being made; one or more functional deployments under way with value being realized; strategy in place.

Level 3 – Integrating Cross Functional: smart grid spreading; operational linkages established between two or more functional areas; management ensuring decisions span functional interests, resulting in cross-functional benefits.

Level 4 – Optimizing Enterprise-Wide: smart grid functionality and benefits realized; management and operational systems rely on and take full advantage of observability and integrated control, both across and between enterprise functions.

Level 5 – Innovating Next Wave of Improvements: new business, operational, environmental, and societal opportunities present themselves, and the capability exists to take advantage of them.

It is important to note that a utility may not choose to target maturity level 5 in every domain – in fact, it may not target level 5 for any domain. Instead, each utility using the SGMM must consider its own strategic direction and performance goals, and then decide on the levels of smart grid maturity that will support those goals to determine the target maturity in each domain. For example, a utility that is strategically focused on the retail side of the business may want to achieve relatively high maturity in the customer management and experience domain, but have a much lower target for maturity in the grid operations domain.

The key point is that the SGMM is not a report card with those utilities reaching the highest maturity levels "winning the game." Instead, each utility uses the SGMM to understand how the smart grid can help optimize its planning and investment to achieve its aspirations.

With over 200 characteristics describing the capabilities for each domain and maturity level, it is not possible to describe them here, but an example of a typical characteristic shown in Figure 2 provides a good sense of the level of detail in each characteristic of the SGMM.

Taken together, the domains, maturity levels, and characteristics form a detailed matrix that describes smart grid maturity across all critical areas.

Evaluating Smart Grid Maturity

A utility uses two surveys in conjunction with the SGMM structure described above to: assess its smart grid maturity; and track its progress and the resulting benefits during deployment. The first survey is the maturity assessment, which asks a series of about 40 questions that cover the current state of the utility’s smart grid strategy and spending, and the current penetration of smart grid capabilities into various areas of the business. The assessment yields a detailed report, providing the results for each domain, as well as higher-level reports that show the broader view of the utility’s current state and aspirations for the smart grid.

In this example, the utility’s current smart grid maturity is shown by the green circles, while its maturity aspirations are shown by the yellow circles. This highlevel view can be very useful as support for detailed plans on how to get from current state to aspirational state. It is also helpful for conveying maturity concepts and results to various stakeholders – both inside and outside the utility.

The second survey is the opportunity and results survey, which focuses on KPIs that track progress in smart grid deployment, as well as realization of the resulting benefits. For example, many questions in the survey cover grid operations, with the focus on cost, reliability and penetration of smart grid capabilities into the "daily life" of grid operations. The survey is expected to be completed annually, allowing each utility using the SGMM to track its deployment progress and benefits realization.

Using SGMM Results

The results from the SGMM can be applied in many ways to gauge a utility’s smart grid progress. From a practical management standpoint, the following important indicators can be derived directly from the SGMM process:

  • How the utility compares to other survey participants overall;
  • Where the utility has deficiencies in one domain that may adversely affect other domains;
  • Effects of being potentially projectoriented rather than program-driven, resulting in a jagged, "peaks and valleys" maturity profile with uneven advancement;
  • Indications that some domains are too far ahead of others, resulting in the risk of putting the "cart before the horse;" and
  • Confirmation of progress in domains that have been given particular focus by the utility, and indications of domains that may require increased focus.

More broadly, completion of the SGMM surveys provide a utility with the information needed to establish a shared smart grid vision with both internal and external stakeholders, mesh that vision with the utility’s overall business strategy to set maturity targets, and then build a detailed roadmap for closing the gaps between the current and target maturity levels.

Transition of SGMM Stewardship

IBM has been pleased to work with APQC and members of the IUNC to support definition and early roll-out of the SGMM. But as an important and evolving industry tool, IBM believes that the SGMM should be supported and maintained by a broader group. Therefore, we are planning to transition to a stewardship model with three organizations each playing a critical role:

  • Governance, Management, and Growth: the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute will govern the SGMM, working in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University and the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center. The institute and its 500 employees will leverage its 20 years of experience as stewards of the Capability Maturity Model for software development.
  • Global Stakeholder Representation and Advocacy: the World Energy Council will provide representation for stakeholders around the globe. The council was established in 1923, represents 95 member countries and regularly hosts the World Energy Congress. Its mission is to promote the sustainable supply and use of energy for the greatest benefit of all people. This mission fits well with the development of the smart grid and the expanding use of the SGMM.
  • Data Collection and Reporting: APQC will provide further support for the SGMM survey process. With over 30 years of quality and process improvement research, APQC will continue the work it has done to date to assist utilities in assessing their smart grid maturity and tracking their progress during deployment.

Summary

All utilities should consider using the SGMM as they develop their vision for the smart grid and begin to plan and execute the projects that will take them on the journey. The SGMM represents the best strategic and technical thinking of a broad cross-section of the utility industry. We believe that the SGMM will continue to represent a thoughtful and consensus view as the smart grid – and the technology that supports it – evolves over the next few years.

At Your Service

Today’s utility companies are being driven to upgrade their aging transmission and distribution networks in the face of escalating energy generation costs, serious environmental challenges and rising demand for cleaner, distributed generation from both developing and digital economies worldwide.

The current utilities environment requires companies to drive down costs while increasing their ability to monitor and control utility assets. Yet, due to aging infrastructure, many utilities operate without the benefit of real-time usage and distribution loads – while also contending with limited resources for repair and improvement. Even consumers, with climate change on their minds, are demanding that utilities find more innovative ways to help them reduce energy consumption and costs.

One of the key challenges facing the industry is how to take advantage of new technologies to better manage customer service delivery today and into the future. While introducing this new technology, utilities must keep data and networks secure to be in compliance with critical infrastructure protection regulations. The concept of “service management” for the smart grid provides an approach for getting started.

A Smart Grid

A smart grid is created with new solutions that enable new business models. It brings together processes, technology and business partners, empowering utilities with an IP-enabled, continuous sensing network that overlays and connects a utility’s equipment, devices, systems, customers, partners and employees. A smart grid also enables on-demand access to data and information, which is used to better manage, automate and optimize operations and processes throughout the utility.

A utility relies on numerous systems, which reside both within and outside their physical boundaries. Common internal systems include: energy trading systems (ETS), customer information systems (CIS), supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA), outage management systems (OMS), enterprise asset management (EAM); mobile workforce management systems (MWFM), geospatial information systems (GIS) and enterprise resource planning systems (ERP).

These systems are purchased from multiple vendors and often use a variety of protocols to communicate. In addition, utilities must interface with external systems – and often integrate all of them using a point-to-point model and establish connectivity on an as-needed basis. The point-to-point approach can result in numerous complex connections that need to be maintained.

Service Management

The key concept behind service management is the idea of managing assets, networks and systems to provide a “service,” as opposed to simply operating the assets. For example, Rolls Royce Civil Aerospace division uses this concept to sell “pounds of thrust” as a service. Critical to a utility’s operation is the ability to manage all facets of the services being delivered. Also critical to the operation of the smart grid are new solutions in advanced meter management (AMM), network automation and analytics, and EAM, including meter asset management.

A service management platform provides a way for utility companies to manage the services they deliver with their enterprise and information technology assets. It provides a foundation for managing the assets, their configuration, and the interrelationships key to delivering services. It also provides a means of defining workflow for the instantiation and management of the services being delivered. Underlying this platform is a range of tools that can assist in management of the services.

Gathering and analyzing data from advanced meters, network components, distribution devices, and legacy SCADA systems provides a solid foundation for automating service management. When combined with the information available in their asset management systems, utility companies can streamline operations and make more efficient use of valuable resources.

Advanced Reading

AMM centers on a more global view of the informational infrastructure, examining how automatic meter reading (AMR) and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) integrate with other information systems to provide value-added benefits. It is important to note that for many utilities, AMM is considered to be a “green” initiative since it has the ability to influence customer usage patterns and, therefore, lower peak demand.

The potential for true business transformation exists through AMM, and adopting this solution is the first stage in a utility’s transformation to a more information-powered business model. New smart meters are network addressable, and along with AMM, are core components of the grid. Smart meters and AMM provide the capability to automatically collect usage data in near real time and to transport meter reads at regular intervals or on demand.

AMR/AMIs that aggregate their data in collection servers or concentrators, and expose it through an interface, can be augmented with event management products to monitor the meter’s health and operational status. Many organizations already deploy these solutions for event management within a network’s operations center environments, and for consolidated operations management as a top-level “manager of managers.”

A smart grid includes many devices other than meters, so event management can also be used to monitor the health of the rest of the network and IT equipment in the utility infrastructure. Integrating meter data with operations events gives network operations center operators a much broader view of a utility’s distribution system.

These solutions enable end-to-end data integration, from the meter collection server in a substation to the back-end helpdesk and billing applications. This approach can lead to improved speed and accuracy of data, while leveraging existing equipment and applications.

Network Automation and Analytics

Most utility companies use SCADA systems to collect data from sensors on the energy grid and send events to applications with SCADA interfaces. These systems collect data from substations, power plants and other control centers. They then process the data and allow for control actions to be sent back out. Energy management and distribution management systems typically provide additional features on top of SCADA, targeting either the transmission or distribution grids.

SCADA systems are often distributed on several servers (anywhere from two to 100) connected via a redundant local area network. The SCADA system, in turn, communicates with remote terminal units (RTUs), other devices, and other computer networks. RTUs reside in a substation or power plant, and are hardwired to other devices to bring back meaningful information such as current megawatts, amps, volts, pressure, open/closed or tripped. Distribution business units within a utility company also utilize SCADA systems to track low voltage applications, such as meters and pole drops, compared to the transmission business units’ larger assets, including towers, circuits and switchgear.

To facilitate network automation, IT solutions can help utilities to monitor and analyze data from SCADA systems in real time, monitor the computer network systems used to deploy SCADA systems, and better secure the SCADA network and applications using authentication software. An important element of service management is the use of automation to perform a wide range of actions to improve workfl ow efficiency. Another key ingredient is the use of service level agreements (SLAs) to give a business context for IT, enabling greater accountability to business user needs, and improving a utility’s ability to prioritize and optimize.

A smart grid includes a large number of devices and meters – millions in a large utility – and these are critical to a utility’s operations. A combination of IT solutions can be deployed to manage events from SCADA devices, as well as the IT equipment they rely on.

EAM For Utilities

Historically, many utility companies have managed their assets in silos. However, the emergence of the smart grid and smart meters, challenges of an aging workforce, an ever-demanding regulatory environment, and the availability of common IT architecture standards, are making it critical to standardize on one asset management platform as new requirements to integrate physical assets and IT assets arise (see Figure 1).

Today, utility companies are using EAM to manage work in gas and electric distribution operations, including construction, inspections, leak management, vehicles and facilities. In transmission and substation, EAM software is used for preventative and corrective maintenance and inspections.

EAM also helps track financial assets such as purchasing, depreciation, asset valuation and replacement costs. This solution helps integrate this data with ERP systems, and stores the history of asset testing and maintenance management. It integrates with GIS or other mapping tools to create geographic and spatial views of all distribution and smart grid assets.

Meter asset management is another area of increasing interest, as meters have an asset lifecycle similar to most other assets in a utility. Meter asset management involves tracking the meter from receipt to storeroom, to truck, to final location – as compared to managing the data the meter produces.

Now there is an IT asset management solution with the ability to manage meters as part of the IT network. This solution can be used to provision the meter, track configurations and provide service desk functionality. IT asset management solutions also have the ability to update meter firmware, and easily move and track the location and status of the assets over time in conjunction with a configuration database.

Reducing the number of truck rolls is another key focus area for utility companies. Using a combination of solutions, companies can:

  • Better manage the lifecycles of physical assets such as meters, meter cell relays, and broadband over powerline (BPL) devices to improve preventive maintenance;
  • Reconcile deployed asset information with information collected by meter data management systems;
  • Correlate the knowledge of physical assets with problems experienced with the IT infrastructure to better analyze a problem for root cause; and
  • Establish more efficient business process workflows and strengthen governance across a company.

Utilities are facing many challenges today and taking advantage of new technologies that will help better manage the delivery of service to customers tomorrow. The deployment of the smart grid and related solutions is a significant initiative that will be driving utilities for the next 10 years or more.

The concept of “service management” for the smart grid provides an approach for getting started. But these do not need to be tackled all at once. Utilities should develop a roadmap for the smart grid; each one will depend on specific priorities. But utilities don’t have to go it alone. The smart grid maturity model (SGMM) can enable a utility to develop a roadmap of activities, investments and best practices to ensure success and progress with available resources.

The Smart Grid in Malta

On the Mediterranean island of Malta, with a population of about 400,000 people on a land mass of just over 300 square kilometers, power, water and the economy are intricately linked. The country depends on electrically powered desalination plants for over half of its water supply. In fact, about 75 percent of the cost of water from these plants on Malta is directly related to energy production. Meanwhile, rising sea levels threaten Malta’s underground freshwater source.

Additionally, in line with the Lisbon strategy and the other European countries, the government of Malta has set an objective of transforming the island into a competitive knowledge economy to encourage investment by foreign companies. Meeting all of these goals in a relatively short period of time presents a complex, interconnected series of challenges that require immediate attention to ensure the country has a sustainable and prosperous future.

In light of this need, the Maltese National Utilities for Electricity and Water – Enemalta Corp. (EMC) and Water Services Corp. (WSC) – reached a partnership agreement with IBM to undertake a complete transformation of its distribution networks to improve operational efficiency and customer service levels. IBM will replace all 250,000 electricity meters with new devices, and connect these and the existing water meters to advanced information technology applications. This will enable remote reading, management and monitoring throughout the entire distribution network.

This solution will be integrated with new back-office applications for finance, billing and cash processes, as well as an advanced analytics tool to transform sensor data into valuable information supporting business decisions and improving customer service levels. It will also include a portal to enable closer interaction with – and more engagement by – the end consumers.

Why are the utility companies in Malta making such a significant investment to reshape their operations? To explore this question, it helps to start with a broader look at smart grid projects to see how they create benefits – not just for the companies making the investment, but for the local community as well.

Smart Grid Benefits

A case is often made that basic operational benefits of a smart grid implementation can be achieved largely through an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) implementation, which yields real-time readings for use in billing cycles, reduced operational cost in the low voltage network and more control over theft and fraud. In this view, the utility’s operational model is further transformed to improve customer relationship management through the introduction of flexible tariffs, remote customer connection/disconnection, power curtailment options and early outage identification through low voltage grid monitoring.

But AMI extended to a broader smart grid implementation has the potential to achieve even greater strategic benefits. One can see this by simply considering the variety of questions about the impact of the carbon footprint of human activity on the climate and other environmental factors. What is a realistic tradeoff between energy consumption, energy efficiency and economic and political dependencies on the local, national and international levels? Which energy sources will be most effective with such tradeoffs? To what extent can smaller, renewable resources replace today’s large, fossil-based power sources? Where this is possible, how can hundreds or thousands of dispersed, independently operated generators be effectively monitored?

Ultimately, distribution networks need to be smart enough to distinguish among today’s large-scale utility generators; customers producing solar energy for their own needs who are virtually disconnected from the grid; those using a wind power generator and injecting the surplus back into the grid; and end-use customers requiring marginal or full supply. An even more dispersed model for distributed generation will emerge once electric vehicles circulate in towns, placing complex new demands on the grid while offering the benefit of new storage capabilities to the network.

Interdependence

Together, water and power distributors, transmission operators, generators, market regulators and final customers will interact in a much more complex, interconnected and interdependent world. This is especially true in a densely populated, modern island ecosystem, where the interplay of electricity, water, gas, communications and other services is magnified.

These points of intersection take numerous shapes. For example, on a national scale, water and sewer services can consume a large portion of the available energy supply. Water service, which is essential to customer quality of life, also presents distribution issues that are similar in many ways to those embedded in the electric grid. At a more local scale, co-generation and micro-CHP generation plants make the interdependency of electricity and gas more visible. Furthermore, utilities’ experience at providing centrally managed services that afford comfort and convenience makes the provision of additional services – communication, security, and more – imaginable. But how to make these interconnections effective contributors to quality of life raises real economic questions. Is it sensible to make an overarching investment in multiple services? How can this drive increased operational efficiency and bring new benefits to customers? Can a clear return on investment be demonstrated to investors and bill payers?

Malta is an example of an island that operates a vertically integrated and isolated electricity system. Malta has no connections with the European electricity grid and no gas pipelines to supply its generators. In the current configuration of the energy infrastructure, all of its demand must be fulfilled by the two existing power plants, which generate power using entirely imported fossil fuel. Because of these limitations on supply, and dependencies on non-native resources, electricity distribution must be extremely efficient, limiting any loss of energy as much as possible. Both technical and commercial losses must be kept fully under control, and theft must be effectively eliminated from the system to avoid unfair social accounting and to ensure proper service levels to all customers.

Estimates of current economic losses in Malta are in the millions of Euros for just the non-technical losses. At these levels, and with limited generation capacity, quality of service and ability to satisfy demand at all times is threatened. Straining the system even further is the reality that Malta, without significant natural water sources, must rely on a seawater purification process to supply water to its citizens. This desalinization process absorbs roughly one-third of the annual power consumption on the island.

But the production process is not the only source of interdependency of electricity and water as the distribution principles of each have strong ties. In most locations in the world, electricity and water distribution have opposing characteristics that allow them to enjoy some symbiotic benefits. Electricity cannot be effectively stored, so generation needs to match and synchronize in time with demand. Water service generally has the opposite characteristic: in fact, it can be stored so easily that it is frequently stored as pre-generation capacity in hydro generation.

But on an island like Malta, this relationship is turned on its head. There is no natural water to store, and once produced, purified water should be consumed rather quickly. If it is produced in excess, then reservoir evaporation and pipeline losses can affect the desalinization effort and the final efficiency of the process. So in Malta, unlike much of the rest of the world, water providers tend to view customer demand in a similar way as electricity providers, and the demand profiles are unable to support each other as they can elsewhere.

These are qualitative observations. But if electricity and water networks can be monitored, and real-time data supplied, providers can begin to assess important questions regarding operational and financial optimization of the system, which will, among other benefits, improve reliability and service quality and keep costs low.

Societal Implications

An additional issue the government of Malta faces is its effort to ensure that the population has a sufficient and diverse educational and technical experience base. When a company is attracted to invest in Malta, it benefits from finding local natives with appropriate skills to employ; costs increase if too many foreign nationals must be brought in to operate the company. Therefore, pervasive education on information and communication technology-related topics is a priority for the government, aimed at young students, as well as adult citizens.

Therein lies a further – but no less important – benefit of bringing a smart grid to Malta. Energy efficiency campaigns supported by smart meters will not only help its citizens control consumption behavior and make more efficient and effective electricity and water operations a reality, but they will prove to be a project that helps raise the island’s technology culture in a new dimension. Meter installers will deal with palmtop and other advanced IT applications, learning to connect the devices not only to the physical electrical infrastructure, but also to the embedded information infrastructure. From smart home components to value-added services, commercial and industrial players will look to new opportunities that leverage the smart grid infrastructure in Malta as well, adding highly skilled jobs and new businesses to the Maltese economy.

Benefits will expand down to the elementary education levels as well. For example, it will be possible for schools to visit utility demonstration centers where the domestic meter can be presented as an educational tool. This potential includes making energy efficiency a door to educational programs on responsible citizenship, science, mathematics, environmental sustainability and many other key learning areas. Families will find new incentive to become familiar with the Internet as they connect to the utility’s website to control their energy bill and investigate enhanced tariffs for more cost-effective use of basic services.

Conclusion

Malta is famed for its Megalithic Temples – the oldest free-standing buildings in Europe, older than the Pyramids of Egypt [1]. But with its smart grid project, it stands to be the home of one of the newest and most advanced infrastructure projects as well. The result of the Maltese smart grid effort will be an end-to-end electricity and water transmission and distribution system. It will not only enable more efficient consumption of energy and water, but will completely transform the relationship of Maltese consumers with the utilities, while enhancing their education and employment prospects. These benefits go well beyond the traditional calculation of benefits of, for example, a simple AMI-focused project, and demonstrate that a smart grid project in an island environment can go well beyond simply improving utility operations. It can transform the entire community in ways that will improve the quality of life in Malta for generations to come.

Reference:

  1. 1 The Bradshaw Foundation, 2009

Empowering the Smart Grid

Trilliant is the leader in delivering intelligent networks that power the smart grid. Trilliant provides hardware, software and service solutions that deliver on the promise of Advanced Metering and Smart Grid to utilities and their customers, including improved energy efficiency, grid reliability, lower operating cost, and integration of renewable energy resources.

Since its founding in 1985, the company has been a leading innovator in the delivery and implementation of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), demand response and grid management solutions, in addition to installation, program management and meter revenue cycle services. Trilliant is focused on enabling choice for utility companies, ranging from meter, network and IT infrastructures to full or hybrid outsource models.

Solutions

Trilliant provides fully automated, two-way wireless network solutions and software for smart grid applications. The company’s smart grid communications solutions enable utilities to create a more efficient and robust operational infrastructure to:

  • Read meters on demand with five minute or less intervals;
  • Improve cash flow;
  • Improve customer service;
  • Decrease issue resolution time;
  • Verify outages and restoration in real time;
  • Monitor substation equipment;
  • Perform on/off cycle reads;
  • Conduct remote connect/disconnect;
  • Significantly reduce/eliminate energy theft through tamper detection; and
  • Realize accounting/billing improvements.

Trilliant solutions also enable the introduction of services and programs such as:

  • Dynamic demand response; and
  • Time-of-use (TOU), critical peak pricing (CPP) and other special tariffs and related metering.

Solid Customer Base

Trilliant has secured contracts for more than three million meters to be supported by its network solutions and services, encompassing both C&I and residential applications. The company has delivered products and services to more than 200 utility customers, including Duke Energy, E.ON US (Louisville Gas & Electric), Hydro One, Hydro Quebec, Jamaica Public Service Company Ltd., Milton Hydro, Northeast Utilities, PowerStream, Public Service Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, Toronto Hydro Electric System Ltd., and Union Gas, among others.

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.