Remember when smart grid was cool?
Like me, I am sure many of you remember when you first heard about the term smart grid. Depending on your background, you probably formed an opinion of what this new thing was:
- Distribution engineers probably thought, "SCADA on steroids?"
- Metering guys might have thought, "Fixed network AMR - what's the big deal?"
- Utility executives probably just saw the price tag and thought, "Holy #@$&%@*!"
Well, we have survived the smart grid and, in fact, some thrive in this new operating environment. Now, however, we see the landscape shifting again. Case in point: one high-profile utility CEO told our colleague Marty Rosenberg at EnergyBiz magazine that they don't use the term smart grid any more, and have removed this from all of their literature.
In many cases, the investments have been made, the technology deployed. Time to move on.
This shift is at the heart of why we launched the Utility Analytics Institute in 2011. Here at Energy Central, with our research capabilities at Sierra Energy Group, our content channels with Intelligent Utility and EnergyBiz, and a second-to-none audience that we have grown since 1996, we saw this shift as an opportunity to serve the emerging analytics market in ways that we were uniquely positioned to do.
We believe that the lasting value from smart grid investments will be primarily data- and analytics-centric. While this has not been a straight path, our research shows that this is the direction that things are heading. In fact, a member of the Institute's advisory board said it best in our first conference call: "Tomorrow's utility leaders are going to be analytics-driven."
Grappling with the past, positioning for the future
If we are emerging from a significant infrastructure build-out and moving towards a future of leveraging analytics, where does that leave us today? At the Institute, we see utilities across North America moving along what we call the utility analytics value curve, which is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Utility analytics value curve
At its core, the movement along the value curve speaks to utilities' efforts to do two things:
- Improve data management. In the foundational phase of the value curve, utilities are basically managing data -- data exploding in volume and complexity -- to answer the "what happened?" question. This can be tremendously complex, but is critical in building the ability to leverage the value of smart grid investments.
- Cross the chasm to predictive operations. While answering the "what happened?" question has value, business transformation begins when historic data is the foundation for predictive operations, such as changing out that transformer before it blows because you know when it will blow, targeting customers with laser-like precision, and delivering power in a world where outages are identified and restored in near-real time.
The road ahead
The road ahead is paved with challenges and frankly some exciting times.
The next wave, or what we might call "Analytics 2.0," is where utilities are operating in a predictive fashion, but are taking these predictive operations across traditional organizational and data boundaries. For example, picture a world where demand response has reached critical mass -- perhaps 15 or 20 percent of customers. How will this impact load? How will this impact grid assets? Suddenly, we are in a world where we need to understand how customer behavior impacts the electrons flowing through the grid and the physical assets enabling the grid. Three traditionally disparate data sets are working together. Yes, Analytics 2.0 will be interesting.
And what about the Utility Analytics Institute? We are positioning ourselves for the future. With this launch issue of Utility Analytics Weekly and issues still to come, we will provide timely insights and information to help utility analytics stakeholders do their jobs more effectively and develop professionally. Building on the strength of our February summit in Orlando, we are bringing an expanded event, Utility Analytics Week Conference and Exhibition, to the market on September 18-20, in Arlington, Texas. And we are now preparing for the second year of our research program, the Executive Insights Series. Lots of good stuff ahead!
So, that's where we are today. It is a really interesting time in an emerging market in an old industry. We appreciate those who have taken the lead in moving the market forward and have allowed us to hop in and ride along with them. We can't wait for the future and hope you'll come along with us -- enjoy the ride!
Mike Smith, vice president, Utility Analytics Institute, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.