The Distributed Utility of the (Near) Future

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

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

A FAILING MODEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

SMART GRID NO SILVER BULLET

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE DEMAND FOR AMI

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

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

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

THE AUTOMATED HOME

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

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

GREEN PRESSURE AND THE TIPPING POINT

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

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

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

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

Making Change Work: Why Utilities Need Change Management

Many times organizations are reluctant to engage change management programs, plans and teams. More often, change management programs are launched too late in the project process, are only moderately funded or are absorbed within the team as part-time responsibilities – all of which we’ve seen happen time and again in the utility industry.

“Making Change Work,” an IBM study done in collaboration with the Center of Evaluation and Methods at Bonn University, analyzed the factors for successful implementation of change. The scope of this study, released in 2007, is now being expanded because the project management and change management professions, formerly aligned, are now at a turning point of differentiation. The reason is simple: too many projects fail to consider both components as critical to success – and therefore lack insight into the day-today impact of a change on members of the organization.

Despite this, many organizations have been reluctant to implement change management programs, plans and teams. And when they have put such programs in place, the programs tend to be launched too late in the project process, are inadequately funded or are perceived as part-time tasks that can be assigned to members of the project management team.

WHAT IS CHANGE MANAGEMENT?

Change management is a structured approach to business transformation that manages the transition from a current state to a desired future state. Far from being static or rigid, change management is an ever-evolving program that varies with the needs of the organization. Effective change management involves people and provides open communication.

Change management is as important as project management. However, whereas project management is a tactical activity, change management represents a strategic initiative. To understand the difference, consider the following

  • Change management is the process of driving corporate strategy by identifying, addressing and managing barriers to change across the organization or enterprise.
  • Project management is the process of implementing the tools needed to enable or mobilize the corporate strategy.

Change management is an ongoing process that works in close concert with project management. At any given time at least one phase of change management should be occurring. More likely, multiple phases will be taking place across various initiatives.

A change management program can be tailored to manage the needs of the organizational culture and relationships. The program must close the gaps among workforce, project team and sponsor leadership during all phases of all projects. It does this by:

  • Ensuring proper alignment of the organization with new technology and process requirements;
  • Preparing people for new processes and technology through training and communication;
  • Identifying and addressing human resource implications such as job definitions, union negotiations and performance measures;
  • Managing the reaction of both individuals and the entire organization to change; and
  • Providing the right level of support for ongoing implementation success.

The three fundamental activities of a change management program are leading, communicating and engaging. These three activities should span the project life cycle to maintain both awareness of the change and its momentum (Figure 1).

KEY ELEMENTS OF A CHANGE PROGRAM

There are three best practice elements that make the difference between successful projects and less successful projects: [1]

Organizational awareness for the challenges inherent in any change. This involves the following:

  • Getting a real understanding of – and leadership buy-in to – the stakeholders and culture;
  • Recognizing the interdependence of strategy and execution;
  • Ensuring an integrated strategy approach linking business strategy, operations, organization design and change and technology strategy; and
  • Educating leadership on change requirements and commitment.

Consistent use of formal methods for change management. This should include:

  • Covering the complete life cycle – from definition to deployment to post-implementation optimization;
  • Allowing for easy customization and flexibility through a modular design;
  • Incorporating change management and value realization components into each phase to increase the likelihood of success; and
  • Providing a published plan with ongoing accountability and sponsorship as well as continuous improvement.

A specified share of the project budget that is invested in change management. This should involve:

  • Investing in change linked to project success. Projects that invest more than 10 percent of the project budget have an average of 45 percent success (Figure 2). [2]
  • Assigning the right resources to support change management early on and maintaining the required support. This also limits the adverse impacts of change on an organization’s productivity (Figure 3). [3]

WHY DO UTILITIES NEED CHANGE MANAGEMENT?

Utilities today face a unique set of challenges. For starters, they’re simultaneously dealing with aging infrastructures and aging workforces. In addition, there are market pressures to improve performance, become more “green” and mitigate rising energy costs. To address these realities, many utilities are seeking mergers and acquisition (M&A) opportunities as well as implementing new technologies.

The cost cutting of the past decade combined with M&As has left utilities with gaps in workforce experience as well as budget challenges. Yet utilities are facing major business disruptions going into the next decade and beyond. To cope with these disruptions, companies are implementing new technologies such as the intelligent grid, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), meter data management (MDM), enterprise asset management (EAM) and work management systems (WMS’s). It’s not uncommon for utilities to be implementing multiple new systems simultaneously that affect the day-to-day activities of people throughout the organization, from frontline workers to senior managers.

A change management program can address a number of challenges specific to the utilities industry.

CULTURAL CLIMATE: ‘BUT WE’RE DIFFERENT’

A utility is a utility is a utility. But a deeper look into individual businesses reveals nuances in their relationships with both internal and external stakeholders that are unique to each company. A change management team must intimately understand these relationships. For example, externally how is the utility perceived by regulators, customers, the community and even analysts? As for internal relationships, how do various operating divisions relate and work together? Some operating divisions work well together on project teams and respect each other and their differences; others do not.

There may be cultural differences, but work is work. Only change management can address these relationships. Knowing the utility’s cultural climate and relationships will help shape each phase of the change management program, and allow change management professionals to customize a project or system implementation to fit a company’s culture.

REGULATORY LANDSCAPE

With M&As and increasing market pressures across the United States, the regulatory landscape confronting utilities is becoming more variable. We’ve seen several types of regulatory-related challenges.

Regulatory pressure. Whether regulators mandate or simply encourage new technology implementations can make a significant difference in how stakeholders in a project behave. In general, there’s more resistance to a new technology when it’s required versus voluntarily implemented. Change management can help work through participant behaviors and mitigate obstacles so that project work can continue as planned.

Multiple regulatory jurisdictions. Many utilities with recently expanded footprints following M&As now have to manage requests from and expectations of multiple regulatory commissions. Often these commissions have different mandates. Change management initiatives are needed to work through the complexity of expectations, manage multiple regulatory relationships and drive utilities toward a unified corporate strategy.

Regulatory evolution. Just as markets evolve, so do regulatory influences and mandates. Often regulators will issue orders that can be interpreted in many ways. They may even do this to get information in the form of reactions from their various constituents. Whatever the reason, the reality is that utilities are managing an ever-changing portfolio of regulations. Change management can better prepare utilities for this constant change.

OPERATIONS MATURITY

When new systems and technologies being implemented encompass multiple operating divisions, it can be difficult for stakeholders to agree on operating standards or processes. Project team members representing the various operating regions can resist compromise for fear of losing control. This often occurs when utilities are attempting to integrate systems across operating regions following an acquisition.

Change management helps ensure that various constituents – for example, the regional operating divisions – are prepared for eminent business transformation. In large organizations, this preparation period can take a year or more. But for organizations to realize the benefits of new systems and technology implementations, they must be ready to receive the benefits. Readiness and preparedness are largely the responsibilities of the change management team.

ORGANIZATIONAL COHESIVENESS

The notion of organizational cohesiveness is that across the organization all constituents are equally committed to the business transformation initiative and have the same understanding of the overarching corporate strategy while also performing their individual roles and responsibilities.

Senior executives must align their visions and common commitment to change. After all, they set the tone for change through their respective organizations. If they are not in sync with each other, their organizations become silos, and business processes are less likely to be fluid across organizational boundaries. Frontline managers and associates must, in turn, be engaged and enthusiastic about the transformations to come.

Organizational cohesiveness is especially critical during large systems implementations involving utility field operations. Leaders at multiple locations must be ready to communicate and support change – and this support must be visible to the workforce. Utilities must understand this requirement at the beginning of a project to make change manageable, realistic and personal enough to sustain momentum. All too often, we’ve heard team members comment, “We had a lot of leadership at the project kickoff, but we really haven’t seen leadership at any of our activities or work locations since then. The project team tells us what to do.”

Moreover, leadership – when removed from the project – usually will not admit that they’re in the dark about what’s going on. Yet their lack of involvement will not escape the attention of frontline employees. Once the supervisor is perceived as lacking information – and therefore power – it’s all over. Improving customer service and quality, cutting costs and adopting new technology-merging operations all require changing employees. [4]

For utilities, the concept of organizational cohesiveness is especially important because just as much technology “lives” outside IT as inside. Yet the engineers who use this non-IT-controlled technology – what Gartner calls “operations technology” – are usually disconnected from the IT world in terms of both practical planning and execution. However, these worlds must act as one for a company to be truly agile. [5]

Change management methods and tools ensure that organization cohesiveness exists through project implementation and beyond.

UNION ENGAGEMENT

Successful change occurs with a sustained partnership among union representatives throughout the project life cycle. Project leadership and union leadership must work together and partner to implement change. Union representation should be on the project team. Representatives can be involved in process reviews, testing and training, or asked to serve as change champions. In addition, communication is critical throughout all phases of a project. Frontline employees must see real evidence of how this change will benefit them. Change is personal: everyone wants to know how his or her job will be impacted.

There should also be union representation in training activities, since workers tend to be more receptive to peer-to-peer support. Utilities should, for example, engage union change champions to help co-workers during training and to be site “go to” representatives. Utilities should also provide advance training and recognize all who participate in it.

Union representatives should also participate in design and/or testing, since they will be able to pinpoint issues that will impact routine daily tasks. It could be something as simple as changing screen labels per their recommendation to increase user understanding.

More than one union workforce may be involved in a project. Location cultures that exist in large service territories or that have resulted from mergers may try to isolate themselves from the project team and resist change. Utilities should assemble a team from various work groups and then do the following to address the history and differences in the workforce:

  • Request ongoing union participation throughout the life of the project.
  • Include union roles as part of the project charter and define these roles with union leadership.
  • Provide a kickoff overview to union leadership.
  • Include union representation in work process development with balanced representation from various areas. Union employees know the job and can quickly identify the pros and cons of work tasks. A structured facilitation process and issue resolution process is required.
  • Assign a corporate human resource or labor relations role to review processes that impact the union workforce.
  • Develop communication campaigns that address union concerns, such as conducting face-to-face presentations at employing locations and educating union leaders prior to each change rollout.
  • Involve union representatives in training and user support.

Change management is necessary to sort through the relationships of multiple union workforces so that projects and systems can be implemented.

AN AGING WORKFORCE

A successful change management program will help mitigate the aging workforce challenges utilities will be facing for many years to come.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A SUCCESSFUL CHANGE MANAGEMENT PROGRAM

The result of a successful change management program is a flexible organization that’s responsive to customer needs, regulatory mandates and market pressures, and readily embraces new technologies and systems. A change-ready organization anticipates, expects and is increasingly comfortable with change and exhibits the following characteristics:

  • The organization is aligned.
  • The leaders are committed.
  • Business processes are developed and defined across all operational units.
  • Associates at all levels have received communications and have continued access to resources.

Facing major business transformations and unique industry challenges, utilities cannot afford not to engage change management programs. This skill set is just as critical as any other role in your organization. Change is a cost. Change should be part of the project budget.

Change is an ongoing, long-term investment. Good change management designed specifically for your culture and challenges minimizes change’s adverse effect on daily productivity and helps you reach and sustain project goals.

ENDNOTES

  1. “Making Change Work” (an IBM study), Center of Evaluation and Methods, Bonn University, 2007; excerpts from “IBM Integrated Strategy and Change Methodology,” 2007.
  2. “Making Change Work,” Center of Evaluation and Methods, Bonn University, 2007.
  3. Ibid.
  4. T.J. Larkin and Sandar Larkin, “Communicating Change: Winning Employee Support for New Business Goals,” McGraw Hill, 1994, p. 31.
  5. K. Steenstrup, B. Williams, Z. Sumic, C. Moore; “Gartner’s Energy and Utilities Summit: Agility on Both Sides of the Divide”; Gartner Industry Research ID Number G00145388; Jan. 30, 2007; p. 2.
  6. P. R. Bruffy and J. Juliano, “Addressing the Aging Utility Workforce Challenge: ACT NOW,” Montgomery Research 2006 journal.

Growing (or Shrinking) Trends in Nuclear Power Plant Construction

Around the world, the prospects for nuclear power generation are increasing – opportunities made clear by the number of currently under-construction nuclear plants that are smaller than those currently in the limelight. Offering advantages in certain situations, these smaller plants can more readily serve smaller grids as well as be used for distributed generation (with power plants located close to the demand centers and the main grid providing back-up). Smaller plants are also easier to finance, particularly in countries that are still in the early days of their nuclear power programs.

In recent years, development and licensing efforts have focused primarily on large, advanced reactors, due to their economies of scale and obvious application to developed countries with substantial grid infrastructure. Meanwhile, the wide scope for smaller nuclear plants has received less attention. However, of the 30 or more countries that are moving toward implementing nuclear power programs, most are likely to be looking initially for units under 1,000 MWe, and some for units of less than half that amount.

EXISTING DESIGNS

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the current designs.

There are many plants under 1,000 MWe now in operation, even if their replacements tend to be larger. (In 2007 four new units were connected to the grid – two large ones, one 202-MWe unit and one 655-MWe unit.) In addition, some smaller reactors are either on offer now or likely to be available in the next few years.

Five hundred to 700 MWe. There are several plants in this size range, including Westinghouse AP600 (which has U.S. design certification) and the Canadian Candu-6 (being built in Romania). In addition, China is building two CNP-600 units at Qinshan but does not plan to build any more of them. In Japan, Hitachi-GE has completed the design of a 600-MWe version of its 1,350-MWe ABWR, which has been operating for 10 years.

Two hundred and fifty to 500 MWe. And finally, in the 250- to 500-MWe category (output that is electric rather than heat), there are a few designs pending but little immediately on offer.

IRIS. Being developed by an international team led by Westinghouse in the United States, IRIS – or, more formally, International Reactor Innovative and Secure – is an advanced third-generation modular 335-MWe pressurized water reactor (PWR) with integral steam generators and a primary coolant system all within the pressure vessel. U.S. design certification is at pre-application stage with a view to final design approval by 2012 and deployment by 2015 to 2017.

VBER-300 PWR. This 295- to 325-MWe unit from Russia was designed by OKBM based on naval power plants and is now being developed as a land-based unit with the state-owned nuclear holding company Kazatomprom, with a view to exporting it. The first two units will be built in Southwest Kazakhstan under a Russian-Kazakh joint venture.

VK-300. This Russian-built boiling water reactor is being developed for co-generation of both power and district heating or heat for desalination (150 MWe plus 1675 GJ/hr) by the nuclear research and development organization NIKIET. The unit evolved from the VK-50 BWR at Dimitrovgrad but uses standard components from larger reactors wherever possible. In September 2007, it was announced that six of these units would be built at Kola and at Primorskaya in Russia’s far east, to start operating between 2017 and 2020.

NP-300 PWR. Developed in France from submarine power plants and aimed at export markets for power, heat and desalination, this Technicatome (Areva)- designed reactor has passive safety systems and can be built for applications of from 100 to 300 MWe.

China is also building a 300-MWe PWR (pressurized water reactor) nuclear power plant in Pakistan at Chasma (alongside another that started up in 2000); however, this is an old design based on French technology and has not been offered more widely. The new unit is expected to come online in 2011.

One hundred to 300 MWe. This category includes both conventional PWR and high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTRs); however, none in the second category are being built yet. Argentina’s CAREM nuclear power plant is being developed by CNEA and INVAP as a modular 27-MWe simplified PWR with integral steam generators designed to be used for electricity generation or for water desalination.

FLOATING PLANTS

After many years of promoting the idea, Russia’s state-run atomic energy corporation Rosatom has approved construction of a nuclear power plant on a 21,500-ton barge to supply 70 MWe of power plus 586 GJ/hr of heat to Severodvinsk, in the Archangelsk region of Russia. The contract to build the first unit was let by nuclear power station operator Rosenergoatom to the Sevmash shipyard in May 2006. Expected to cost $337 million (including $30 million already spent in design), the project is 80 percent financed by Rosenergoatom and 20 percent financed by Sevmash. Operation is expected to begin in mid-2010.

Rosatom is planning to construct seven additional floating nuclear power plants, each (like the initial one) with two 35- MWe OKBM KLT-40S nuclear reactors. Five of these will be used by Gazprom – the world’s biggest extractor of natural gas – for offshore oil and gas field development and for operations on Russia’s Kola and Yamal Peninsulas. One of these reactors is planned for 2012 commissioning at Pevek on the Chukotka Peninsula, and another is planned for the Kamchatka region, both in the far east of the country. Even farther east, sites being considered include Yakutia and Taimyr. Electricity cost is expected to be much lower than from present alternatives. In 2007 an agreement was signed with the Sakha Republic (Yakutia region) to build a floating plant for its northern parts, using smaller ABV reactors.

OTHER DESIGNS

On a larger scale, South Korea’s SMART is a 100-MWe PWR with integral steam generators and advanced safety features. It is designed to generate electricity and/or thermal applications such as seawater desalination. Indonesia’s national nuclear energy agency, Batan, has undertaken a pre-feasibility study for a SMART reactor for power and desalination on Madura Island. However, this awaits the building of a reference plant in Korea.

There are three high-temperature, gas-cooled reactors capable of being used for power generation, but much of the development impetus has been focused on the thermo-chemical production of hydrogen. Fuel for the first two consists of billiard ball-size pebbles that can withstand very high temperatures. These aim for a step-change in safety, economics and proliferation resistance.

China’s 200-MWe HTR-PM is based on a well-tested small prototype, and a two-module plant is due to start construction at Shidaowan in Shandong province in 2009. This reactor will use the conventional steam cycle to generate power. Start-up is scheduled for 2013. After the demonstration plant, a power station with 18 modules is envisaged.

Very similar to China’s plant is South Africa’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR), which is being developed by a consortium led by the utility Eskom. Production units will be 165 MWe. The PBMR will have a direct-cycle gas turbine generator driven by hot helium. The PBMR Demonstration unit is expected to start construction at Koeberg in 2009 and achieve criticality in 2013.

Both of these designs are based on earlier German reactors that have some years of operational experience. A U.S. design, the Modular helium Reactor (GT-MHR), is being developed in Russia; in its electrical application, each unit would directly drive a gas turbine giving 280 MWe.

These three designs operate at much higher temperatures than ordinary reactors and offer great potential as sources of industrial heat, including for the thermo-chemical production of hydrogen on a large scale. Much of the development thinking going into the PBMR has been geared to synthetic oil production by Sasol (South African Coal and Oil).

MODULAR CONSTRUCTION

The IRIS developers have outlined the economic case for modular construction of their design (about 330 MWe), and it’s an argument that applies similarly to other smaller units. These developers point out that IRIS, with its moderate size and simple design, is ideally suited for modular construction. The economy of scale is replaced here with the economy of serial production of many small and simple components and prefabricated sections. They expect that construction of the first IRIS unit will be completed in three years, with subsequent production taking only two years.

Site layouts have been developed with multiple single units or multiple twin units. In each case, units will be constructed with enough space around them to allow the next unit to be constructed while the previous one is operating and generating revenue. And even with this separation, the plant footprint can be very compact: a site with three IRIS single modules providing 1000 MWe is similar to or smaller in size than one with a comparable total power single unit.

Eventually, IRIS’ capital and production costs are expected to be comparable to those of larger plants. however, any small unit offers potential for a funding profile and flexibility impossible to achieve with larger plants. As one module is finished and starts producing electricity, it will generate positive cash fl ow for the construction of the next module. Westinghouse estimates that 1,000 MWe delivered by three IRIS units built at three-year intervals financed at 10 percent for 10 years requires a maximum negative cash flow of less than $700 million (compared with about three times that for a single 1,000-MWe unit). For developed countries, small modular units offer the opportunity of building as necessary; for developing countries, smaller units may represent the only option, since such country’s electric grids are likely unable to take 1,000-plus- MWe single units.

Distributed generation. The advent of reactors much smaller than those being promoted today means that reactors will be available to serve smaller grids and to be put into use for distributed generation (with power plants close to the demand centers and the main grid used for back-up). This does not mean, however, that large units serving national grids will become obsolete – as some appear to wish.

WORLD MARKET

One aspect of the global Nuclear Energy Partnership program is international deployment of appropriately sized reactors with desirable designs and operational characteristics (some of which include improved economics, greater safety margins, longer operating cycles with refueling intervals of up to three years, better proliferation resistance and sustainability). Several of the designs described earlier in this paper are likely to meet these criteria.

IRIS itself is being developed by an international team of 20 organizations from ten countries (Brazil, Croatia, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Mexico, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States) on four continents – a clear demonstration of how reactor development is proceeding more widely.

Major reactor designers and vendors are now typically international in character and marketing structure. To wit: the United Kingdom’s recent announcement that it would renew its nuclear power capacity was anticipated by four companies lodging applications for generic design approval – two from the United States (each with Japanese involvement), one from Canada and one from France (with German involvement). These are all big units, but in demonstrating the viability of late third-generation technology, they will also encourage consideration of smaller plants where those are most appropriate.

Enhancing Energy Efficiency and Security for Sustainable Development

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

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

KEY CONCERNS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUSTAINABLE REALITIES

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

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

AN INTERDEPENDENT WORLD

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

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

WORKING TOWARD A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE

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

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

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

On an international level, we must continue to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weathering the Perfect Storm

A “perfect storm” of daunting proportions is bearing down on utility companies: assets are aging; the workforce is aging; and legacy information technology (IT) systems are becoming an impediment to efficiency improvements. This article suggests a three-pronged strategy to meet the challenges posed by this triple threat. By implementing best practices in the areas of business process management (BPM), system consolidation and IT service management (ITSM), utilities can operate more efficiently and profitably while addressing their aging infrastructure and staff.

BUSINESS PROCESS MANAGEMENT

In a recent speech before the Utilities Technology Conference, the CIO of one of North America’s largest integrated gas and electric utilities commented that “information technology is a key to future growth and will provide us with a sustainable competitive advantage.” The quest by utilities to improve shareholder and customer satisfaction has led many CIOs to reach this same conclusion: nearly all of their efforts to reduce the costs of managing assets depend on information management.

Echoing this observation, a survey of utility CIOs showed that the top business issue in the industry was the need to improve business process management (BPM).[1] It’s easy to see why.

BPM enables utilities to capture, propagate and evolve asset management best practices while maintaining alignment between work processes and business goals. For most companies, the standardized business processes associated with BPM drive work and asset management activities and bring a host of competitive advantages, including improvements in risk management, revenue generation and customer satisfaction. Standardized business processes also allow management to more successfully implement business transformation in an environment that may include workers acquired in a merger, workers nearing retirement and new workers of any age.

BPM also helps enforce a desirable culture change by creating an adaptive enterprise where agility, flexibility and top-to-bottom alignment of work processes with business goals drive the utility’s operations. These work processes need to be flexible so management can quickly respond to the next bump in the competitive landscape. Using standard work processes drives desired behavior across the organization while promoting the capture of asset-related knowledge held by many long-term employees.

Utility executives also depend on technology-based BPM to improve processes for managing assets. This allows them to reduce staffing levels without affecting worker safety, system reliability or customer satisfaction. These processes, when standardized and enforced, result in common work practices throughout the organization, regardless of region or business unit. BPM can thus yield an integrated set of applications that can be deployed in a pragmatic manner to improve work processes, meet regulatory requirements and reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) of assets.

BPM Capabilities

Although the terms business process management and work flow are often used synonymously – and are indeed related – they refer to distinctly different things. BPM is a strategic activity undertaken by an organization looking to standardize and optimize business processes, whereas work flow refers to IT solutions that automate processes – for example, solutions that support the execution phase of BPM.

There are a number of core BPM capabilities that, although individually important, are even more powerful than the sum of their parts when leveraged together. Combined, they provide a powerful solution to standardize, execute, enforce, test and continuously improve asset management business processes. These capabilities include:

  • Support for local process variations within a common process model;
  • Visual design tools;
  • Revision management of process definitions;
  • Web services interaction with other solutions;
  • XML-based process and escalation definitions;
  • Event-driven user interface interactions;
  • Component-based definition of processes and subprocesses; and
  • Single engine supporting push-based (work flow) and polling-based (escalation) processes.

Since BPM supports knowledge capture from experienced employees, what is the relationship between BPM and knowledge management? Research has shown that the best way to capture knowledge that resides in workers’ heads into some type of system is to transfer the knowledge to systems they already use. Work and asset management systems hold job plans, operational steps, procedures, images, drawings and other documents. These systems are also the best place to put information required to perform a task that an experienced worker “just knows” how to do.

By creating appropriate work flows in support of BPM, workers can be guided through a “debriefing” stage, where they can review existing job plans and procedures, and look for tasks not sufficiently defined to be performed without the tacit knowledge learned through experience. Then, the procedure can be flagged for additional input by a knowledgeable craftsperson. This same approach can even help ensure the success of the “debriefing” application itself, since BPM tools by definition allow guidance to be built in by creating online help or by enhancing screen text to explain the next step.

SYSTEM CONSOLIDATION

System consolidation needs to involve more than simply combining applications. For utilities, system consolidation efforts ought to focus on making systems agile enough to support near real-time visibility into critical asset data. This agility will yield transparency across lines of business on the one hand, and satisfies regulators and customers on the other. To achieve this level of transparency, utilities have an imperative to enforce a modern enterprise architecture that supports service-oriented architectures (SOAs) and also BPM.

Done right, system consolidation allows utilities to create a framework supporting three key business areas:

  • Optimization of both human and physical assets;
  • Standardization of processes, data and accountability; and
  • Flexibility to change and adapt to what’s next.

The Need for Consolidation

Many utility transmission and distribution (T&D) divisions exhibit this need for consolidation. Over time, the business operations of many of these divisions have introduced different systems to support a perceived immediate need – without considering similar systems that may already be implemented within the utility. Eventually, the business finds it owns three different “stacks” of systems managing assets, work assignments and mobile workers – one for short-cycle service work, one for construction and still another for maintenance and inspection work.

With these systems in place, it’s nearly impossible to implement productivity programs – such as cross-training field crews in both construction and service work – or to take advantage of a “common work queue” that would allow workers to fill open time slots without returning to their regional service center. In addition, owning and operating these “siloed” systems adds significant IT costs, as each one has annual maintenance fees, integration costs, yearly application upgrades and retraining requirements.

In such cases, using one system for all work and asset management would eliminate multiple applications and deliver bottom-line operational benefits: more productive workers, more reliable assets and technology cost savings. One large Midwestern utility adopting the system consolidation approach was able to standardize on six core applications: work and asset management, financials, document management, geographic information systems (GIS), scheduling and mobile workforce management. The asset management system alone was able to consolidate more than 60 legacy applications. In addition to the obvious cost savings, these consolidated asset management systems are better able to address operational risk, worker health and safety and regulatory compliance – both operational and financial – making utilities more competitive.

A related benefit of system consolidation concerns the elimination of rogue “pop-up” applications. These are niche applications, often spreadsheets or standalone databases, which “pop up” throughout an organization on engineers’ desktops. Many of these applications perform critical rolls in regulatory compliance yet are unlikely to pass muster at any Sarbanes-Oxley review. Typically, these pop-up applications are built to fill a “functionality gap” in existing legacy systems. Using an asset management system with a standards-based platform allows utilities to roll these pop-up applications directly into their standard supported work and asset management system.

Employees must interact with many systems in a typical day. How productive is the maintenance electrician who uses one system for work management, one for ordering parts and yet another for reporting his or her time at the end of a shift? Think of the time wasted navigating three distinct systems with different user interfaces, and the duplication of data that unavoidably occurs. How much more efficient would it be if the electrician were able to use one system that supported all of his or her work requirements? A logical grouping of systems clearly enables all workers to leverage information technology to be more efficient and effective.

Today, using modern, standards-based technologies like SOAs, utilities can eliminate the counterproductive mix of disparate commercial and “home-grown” systems. Automated processes can be delivered as Web services, allowing asset and service management to be included in the enterprise application portfolio, joining the ranks of human resource (HR), finance and other business-critical applications.

But although system consolidation in general is a good thing, there is a “tipping point” where consolidating simply for the sake of consolidation no longer provides a meaningful return and can actually erode savings and productivity gains. A system consolidation strategy should center on core competencies. For example, accountants or doctors are both skilled service professionals. But their similarity on that high level doesn’t mean you would trade one for the other just to “consolidate” the bills you receive and the checks you have to write. You don’t want accountants reading your X-rays. The same is true for your systems’ needs. Your organization’s accounting or human resource software does not possess the unique capabilities to help you manage your mission-critical transmission and distribution, facilities, vehicle fleet or IT assets. Hence it is unwise to consolidate these mission-critical systems.

System consolidation strategically aligned with business requirements offers huge opportunities for improving productivity and eliminating IT costs. It also improves an organization’s agility and reverses the historical drift toward stovepipe or niche systems by providing appropriate systems for critical roles and stakeholders within the organization.

IT SERVICE MANAGEMENT

IT Service Management (ITSM) is critical to helping utilities deal with aging assets, infrastructure and employees primarily because ITSM enables companies to surf the accelerating trend of asset management convergence instead of falling behind more nimble competitors. Used in combination with pragmatic BPM and system consolidation strategies, ITSM can help utilities exploit the opportunities that this trend presents.

Three key factors are driving the convergence of management processes across IT assets (PCs, servers and the like) and operational assets (the systems and equipment through which utilities deliver service). The first concerns corporate governance, whereby corporate-wide standards and policies are forcing operational units to rethink their use of “siloed” technologies and are paving the way for new, more integrated investments. Second, utilities are realizing that to deal with their aging assets, workforce and systems dilemmas, they must increase their investments in advanced information and engineering technologies. Finally, the functional boundaries between the IT and operational assets themselves are blurring beyond recognition as more and more equipment utilizes on-board computational systems and is linked over the network via IP addresses.

Utilities need to understand this growing interdependency among assets, including the way individual assets affect service to the business and the requirement to provide visibility into asset status in order to properly address questions relating to risk management and compliance.

Corporate Governance Fuels a Cultural Shift

The convergence of IT and operational technology is changing the relationship between the formerly separate operational and IT groups. The operational units are increasingly relying on IT to help deal with their “aging trilogy” problem, as well as to meet escalating regulatory compliance demands and customers’ reliability expectations. In the past, operating units purchased advanced technology (such as advanced metering or substation automation systems) on an as-needed basis, unfettered by corporate IT policies and standards. In the process, they created multiple silos of nonstandard, non-integrated systems. But now, as their dependence on IT grows, corporate governance policies are forcing operating units to work within IT’s framework. Utilities can’t afford the liability and maintenance costs of nonstandard, disparate systems scattered across their operational and IT efforts. This growing dependence on IT has thus created a new cultural challenge.

A study by Gartner of the interactions among IT and operational technology highlights this challenge. It found that “to improve agility and achieve the next level of efficiencies, utilities must embrace technologies that will enable enterprise application access to real-time information for dynamic optimization of business processes. On the other hand, lines of business (LOBs) will increasingly rely on IT organizations because IT is pervasively embedded in operational and energy technologies, and because standard IT platforms, application architectures and communication protocols are getting wider acceptance by OT [operational technology] vendors.”[2]

In fact, an InformationWeek article (“Changes at C-Level,” August 1, 2006) warned that this cultural shift could result in operational conflict if not dealt with. In that article, Nathan Bennett and Stephen Miles wrote, “Companies that look to the IT department to bring a competitive edge and drive revenue growth may find themselves facing an unexpected roadblock: their CIO and COO are butting heads.” As IT assumes more responsibility for running a utility’s operations, the roles of CIO and COO will increasingly converge.

What Is an IT Asset, Anyhow?

An important reason for this shift is the changing nature of the assets themselves, as mentioned previously. Consider the question “What is an IT asset?” In the past, most people would say that this referred to things like PCs, servers, networks and software. But what about a smart meter? It has firmware that needs updates; it resides on a wired or wireless network; and it has an IP address. In an intelligent utility network (IUN), this is true of substation automation equipment and other field-located equipment. The same is true for plant-based monitoring and control equipment. So today, if a smart device fails, do you send a mechanic or an IT technician?

This question underscores why IT asset and service management will play an increasingly important role in a utility’s operations. Utilities will certainly be using more complex technology to operate and maintain assets in the future. Electronic monitoring of asset health and performance based on conditions such as meter or sensor readings and state changes can dramatically improve asset reliability. Remote monitoring agents – from third-party condition monitoring vendors or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of highly specialized assets – can help analyze the increasingly complex assets being installed today as well as optimize preventive maintenance and resource planning.

Moreover, utilities will increasingly rely on advanced technology to help them overcome the challenges of their aging assets, workers and systems. For example, as noted above, advanced information technology will be needed to capture the tacit knowledge of experienced workers as well as replace some manual functions with automated systems. Inevitably, operational units will become technology-driven organizations, heavily dependent on the automated systems and processes associated with IT asset and service management.

The good news for utilities is that a playbook of sorts is available that can help them chart the ITSM waters in the future. The de facto global standard for best practices process guidance in ITSM is the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), which IT organizations can adopt to support their utility’s business goals. ITIL-based processes can help utilities better manage IT changes, assets, staff and service levels. ITIL extends beyond simple management of asset and service desk activities, creating a more proactive organization that can reduce asset failures, improve customer satisfaction and cut costs. Key components of ITIL best practices include configuration, problem, incident, change and service-level management activities.

Implemented together, ITSM best practices as embodied in ITIL can help utilities:

  • Better align asset health and performance with the needs of the business;
  • Improve risk and compliance management;
  • Improve operational excellence;
  • Reduce the cost of infrastructure support services;
  • Capture tactical knowledge from an aging workforce;
  • Utilize business process management concepts; and
  • More effectively leverage their intelligent assets.

CONCLUSION

The “perfect storm” brought about by aging assets, an aging workforce and legacy IT systems is challenging utilities in ways many have never experienced. The current, fragmented approach to managing assets and services has been a “good enough” solution for most utilities until now. But good enough isn’t good enough anymore, since this fragmentation often has led to siloed systems and organizational “blind spots” that compromise business operations and could lead to regulatory compliance risks.

The convergence of IT and operational technology (with its attendant convergence of asset management processes) represents a challenging cultural change; however, it’s a change that can ultimately confer benefits for utilities. These benefits include not only improvements to the bottom line but also improvements in the agility of the operation and its ability to control risks and meet compliance requirements associated with asset and service management activity.

To help weather the coming perfect storm, utilities can implement best practices in three key areas:

  • BP technology can help utilities capture and propagate asset management best practices to mitigate the looming “brain drain” and improve operational processes.
  • Judicious system consolidation can improve operational efficiency and eliminate legacy systems that are burdening the business.
  • ITSM best practices as exemplified by ITIL can streamline the convergence of IT and operational assets while supporting a positive cultural shift to help operational business units integrate with IT activities and standards.

Best-practices management of all critical assets based on these guidelines will help utilities facilitate the visibility, control and standardization required to continuously improve today’s power generation and delivery environment.

ENDNOTES

  1. Gartner’s 2006 CIO Agenda survey.
  2. 2. Bradley Williams, Zarko Sumic, James Spiers, Kristian Steenstrup, “IT and OT Interaction: Why Confl ict Resolution Is Important,” Gartner Industry Research, Sept. 15, 2006.

The Power of Prediction: Improving the Odds of a Nuclear Renaissance

After 30 years of disfavor in the United States, the nuclear power industry is poised for resurgence. With the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the specter of over $100 per barrel oil prices and the public recognition that global warming is real, nuclear power is now considered one of the most practical ways to clean up the power grid and help the United States reduce its dependence on foreign oil. The industry has responded with a resolve to build a new fleet of nuclear plants in anticipation of what has been referred to as a nuclear renaissance.

The nuclear power industry is characterized by a remarkable level of physics and mechanical science. Yet, given the confluence of a number of problematic issues – an aging workforce, the shortage of skilled trades, the limited availability of equipment and parts, and a history of late, over-budget projects – questions arise about whether the level of management science the industry plans to use is sufficient to navigate the challenges ahead.

According to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), nuclear power comprises 20 percent of the U.S. capacity, producing approximately 106 gigawatts (GW), with 66 plants that house 104 reactor units. To date, more than 30 new reactors have been proposed, which will produce a net increase of approximately 19 GW of nuclear capacity through 2030. Considering the growth of energy demand, this increased capacity will barely keep pace with increasing base load requirements.

According to Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dennis Spurgeon, we will need approximately 45 new reactors online by 2030 just to maintain 20 percent share of U.S. electricity generation nuclear power already holds.

Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley vice chairman Jeffrey Holzschuh is very positive about the next generation of nuclear power but warns that the industry’s future is ultimately a question of economics. “Given the history, the markets will be cautious,” he says.

As shown in Figures 1-3, nuclear power is cost competitive with other forms of generation, but its upfront capital costs are comparatively high. Historically, long construction periods have led to serious cost volatility. The viability of the nuclear power industry ultimately depends on its ability to demonstrate that plants can be built economically and reliably. Holzschuh predicts, “The first few projects will be under a lot of public scrutiny, but if they are approved, they will get funded. The next generation of nuclear power will likely be three to five plants or 30, nothing in between.”

Due to its cohesive identity, the nuclear industry is viewed by the public and investors as a single entity, making the fate of industry operators – for better or for worse – a shared destiny. For that reason, it’s widely believed that if these first projects suffer the same sorts of significant cost over-runs and delays experienced in the past, the projected renaissance for the industry will quickly revert to a return to the dark ages.

THE PLAYERS

Utility companies, regulatory authorities, reactor manufacturers, design and construction vendors, financiers and advocacy groups all have critical roles to play in creating a viable future for the nuclear power industry – one that will begin with the successful completion of the first few plants in the United States. By all accounts, an impressive foundation has been laid, beginning with an array of government incentives (as loan guarantees and tax credits) and simplified regulation to help jump-start the industry.

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the U.S. Department of Energy has the authority to issue $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear plants and $2 billion for uranium enrichment projects. In addition, there’s standby support for indemnification against Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and litigation-oriented delays for the first six advanced nuclear reactors. The Treasury Department has issued guidelines for an allocation and approval process for production tax credits for advanced nuclear: 1.8 cents per kilowatt-hour production tax credit for the first eight years of operation with the final rules to be issued in fiscal year 2008.

The 20-year renewal of the Price- Andersen Act in 2005 and anticipated future restrictions on carbon emissions further improve the comparative attractiveness of nuclear power. To be eligible for the 2005 production tax credits, a license application must be tendered to the NRC by the end of 2008 with construction beginning before 2014 and the plant placed in service before 2021.

The NRC has formulated an Office of New Reactors (NRO), and David Matthews, director of the Division of New Reactor Licensing, led the development of the latest revision of a new licensing process that’s designed to be more predictable by encouraging the standardization of plant designs, resolving safety and environmental issues and providing for public participation before construction begins. With a fully staffed workforce and a commitment to “enable the safe, secure and environmentally responsible use of nuclear power in meeting the nation’s future energy needs,” Matthews is determined to ensure that the NRC is not a risk factor that contributes to the uncertainty of projects but rather an organizing force that will create predictability. Matthews declares, “This isn’t your father’s NRC.”

This simplified licensing process consists of the following elements:

  • An early site permit (ESP) for locations of potential facilities.
  • Design certification (DC) for the reactor design to be used.
  • Combined operating license (COL) for the certified reactor as designed to be located on the site. The COL contains the inspections, tests, analyses and acceptance criteria (ITAAC) to demonstrate that the plant was built to the approved specifications.

According to Matthews, the best-case scenario for the time period between when a COL is docketed to the time the license process is complete is 33 months, with an additional 12 months for public hearings. When asked if anything could be done to speed this process, Matthews reported that every delay he’s seen thus far has been attributable to a cause beyond the NRC’s control. Most often, it’s the applicant that’s having a hard time meeting the schedule. Recently, approved schedules are several months longer than the best-case estimate.

The manufacturers of nuclear reactors have stepped up to the plate to achieve standard design certification for their nuclear reactors; four are approved, and three are in progress.

Utility companies are taking innovative approaches to support the NRC’s standardization principles, which directly impact costs. (Current conventional wisdom puts the price of a new reactor at between $4 billion and $5.5 billion, with some estimates of fully loaded costs as high as $7 billion.) Consortiums have been formed to support cross-company standardization around a particular reactor design. NuStart and UniStar are multi-company consortiums collaborating on the development of their COLs.

Leader of PPL Corp.’s nuclear power strategy Bryce Shriver – who recently announced PPL had selected UniStar to build its next nuclear facility – is impressed with the level of standardization UniStar is employing for its plants. From the specifics of the reactor design to the carpet color, UniStar – with four plants on the drawing board – intends to make each plant as identical as possible.

Reactor designers and construction companies are adding to the standardization with turnkey approaches, formulating new construction methods that include modular techniques; sophisticated scheduling and configuration management software; automated data; project management and document control; and designs that are substantially complete before construction begins. Contractors are taking seriously the lessons learned from plants built outside the United States, and they hope to leverage what they have learned in the first few U.S. projects.

The stewards of the existing nuclear fleet also see themselves as part of the future energy solution. They know that continued safe, high-performance operation of current plants is key to maintaining public and state regulator confidence. Most of the scheduled plants are to be co-located with existing nuclear facilities.

Financing nuclear plant construction involves equity investors, utility boards of directors, debt financiers and (ultimately) the ratepayers represented by state regulatory commissions. Despite the size of these deals, the financial community has indicated that debt financing for new nuclear construction will be available. The bigger issue lies with the investors. The more equity-oriented the risk (principally borne by utilities and ratepayers), the more caution there is about the structure of these deals. The debt financiers are relying on the utilities and the consortiums to do the necessary due diligence and put up the equity. There’s no doubt that the federal loan guarantees and subsidies are an absolute necessity, but this form of support is largely driven by the perceived risk of the first projects. Once the capability to build plants in a predictable way (in terms of time, cost, output and so on) has been demonstrated, market forces are expected to be very efficient at allocating capital to these kinds
of projects.

The final key to the realization of a nuclear renaissance is the public. Americans have become increasingly concerned about fossil fuels, carbon emissions and the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. The surge in oil prices has focused attention on energy costs and national security. Coal-based energy production is seen as an environmental issue. Although the United States has plenty of access to coal, dealing with carbon emissions using clean coal technology involves sequestering it and pumping it underground. PPL chairman Jim Miller describes the next challenge for clean coal as NUMBY – the “Not under my back yard” attitude the public is likely to adopt if forced to consider carbon pumped under their communities. Alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal enjoy public support, but they are not yet scalable for the challenge of cleaning up the grid. In general, the public wants clean, safe, reliable, inexpensive power.

THE RISKS

Will nuclear fill that bill and look attractive compared with the alternatives? Although progress has been made and the stage is set, critical issues remain, and they could become problematic. While the industry clearly sees and is actively managing some of these issues, there are others the industry sees but is not as certain about how to manage – and still others that are so much a part of the fabric of the industry that they go unrecognized. Any one of these issues could slow progress; the fact that there are several that could hit simultaneously multiplies the risk exponentially.

The three widely accepted risk factors for the next phase of nuclear power development are the variability of the cost of uranium, the availability of quality equipment for construction and the availability of well-trained labor. Not surprising for an industry that’s been relatively sleepy for several decades, the pipeline for production resources is weak – a problem compounded by the well-understood coming wave of retirements in the utility workforce and the general shortage of skilled trades needed to work on infrastructure projects. Combine these constraints with a surge in worldwide demand for power plants, and it’s easy to understand why the industry is actively pursuing strategies to secure materials and train labor.

The reactor designers, manufacturers and construction companies that would execute these projects display great confidence. They’re keen on the “turnkey solution” as a way to reduce the risk of multiple vendors pointing fingers when things go wrong. Yet these are the same firms that have been openly criticized for change orders and cost overruns. Christopher Crane, chief operating officer of the utility Exelon Corp., warned contractors in a recent industry meeting that the utilities would “not take all the risk this time around.” When faced with complicated infrastructure development in the past, vendors have often pointed to their expertise with complex projects. Is the development of more sophisticated scheduling and configuration management capability, along with the assignment of vendor accountability, enough to handle the complexity issue? The industry is aware of this limitation but does not as yet have strong management techniques for handling it effectively.

Early indications from regulators are that the COLs submitted to date are not meeting the NRC’s guidance and expectations in all regards, possibly a result of the applicants’ rush to make the 2008 year-end deadline for the incentives set forth in the Energy Policy Act. This could extend the licensing process and strain the resources of the NRC. In addition, the requirements of the NRC principally deal with public safety and environmental concerns. There are myriad other design requirements entailed in making a plant operate profitably.

The bigger risk is that the core strength of the industry – its ability to make significant incremental improvements – could also serve as the seed of its failure as it faces this next challenge. Investors, state regulators and the public are not likely to excuse serious cost overruns and time delays as they may have in the past. Utility executives are clear that nuclear is good to the extent that it’s economical. When asked what single concern they find most troubling, they often reply, “That we don’t know what we don’t know.”

What we do know is that there are no methods currently in place for beginning successful development of this next generation of nuclear power plants, and that the industry’s core management skill set may not be sufficient to build a process that differs from a “learn as you go” approach. Thus, it’s critical that the first few plants succeed – not just for their investors but for the entire industry.

THE OPPORTUNITY – KNOWING WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

The vendors supporting the nuclear power industry represent some of the most prestigious engineering and equipment design and manufacturing firms in the world: Bechtel, Fluor, GE, Westinghouse, Areva and Hitachi. Despite this, the industry is not known for having a strong foundation in managing innovation. In a world that possesses complex physical capital and myriad intangible human assets, political forces and public opinion as well as technology are all required to get a plant to the point of producing power. Thus, more advanced management science could represent the missing piece of the puzzle for the nuclear power industry.

An advanced, decision-making framework can help utilities manage unpredictable events, increasing their ability to handle the planning and anticipated disruptions that often beset long, complex projects. By using advanced management science, the nuclear industry can take what it knows and create a learning environment to fi nd out more about what it doesn’t know, improving its odds for success.