What’s the future likely to look like for utility customers?

What’s the future likely to look like for utility customers? The answer lies inside the global trends that are unfolding right now:

  • Smart Monitoring: Instrumenting grids via sensor networks (with an IP overlay) can continually improve the efficiency and effectiveness of legacy grid infrastructures.
  • Demand Management: To improve grid utilization and achieve energy consumption goals, leaders are leveraging industrial automation, building control systems, home energy management systems, AMI, dynamic pricing, and demand response signaling.
  • Solar/Wind: Meeting policy goals and market demand for cleaner energy from increasingly renewable sources is requiring the adoption of new technologies.
  • Distributed Generation: Policy-makers are focused on the potential for onsite generation by commercial and residential customers – who see here the opportunity to gain greater independence from an increasingly high-cost energy grid.
  • Electric Vehicles: New types of operations and new business models will support the rapid growth in plug-in electric vehicles via smart-distribution solutions and smart endpoints located in homes and businesses.
  • N-Way Smart Grids: Power flows on distribution networks will become 2-way; the power flow between transmission and distribution will increasingly become dynamic and multi-directional. Managing the resultant “n-way” power flows requires a peer-to-peer telecommunications platform.
  • Virtual Power Plants: Integrating highly distributed generation, energy storage and responsive demand into grids and into market operations is having the effect of creating higher levels of electric service reliability and is enabling broad market participation.
  • Distributed Storage: Grid-scale storage solution using large scale and distributed storage solutions to enhance grid reliability and utilization to manage grid stability for intermittent green power.


This alternative future is fully dependent on broad deployment of IP-based peer-to-peer telecommunications infrastructure. The good news is that much of the future is already happening, faster in some places and slower in others.

Near-real-time information allows utilities to manage the entire electricity system as an integrated framework, actively sensing and responding to changes in power demand, supply, costs, quality, and emissions across various locations and devices.

Making the grid smarter, faster, more secure, and more resilient is one of the great business and technology opportunities of the next century. The good news for utilities is, there is an exciting convergence going on already between energy technology and information technology. In order to fully realize the benefits of this convergence, the technology architecture must align to the business architecture. Utilities and the vendors who build technical solutions must be as knowledgeable about industry business issues as they are about their technology AND have a plan in place for the technology architecture to keep pace with the business architecture.

Electric utilities have significant challenges in implementing converged ET/IT platforms; among them are the issues of legacy integration and deployment management. The legacy device and system issue can dominate technology adoption in a utility: it is not possible to make wholesale and immediate changes to utility infrastructure for both financial and logistical reasons. Any technology upgrade plan must these points into account and must understand the business implications of a proposed upgrade.

In addition to the need to accommodate the existence of legacy devices/systems, it is necessary to understand that new technology implantations in a utility are done via roll-outs and transitions and that the utility must maintain operations and service all the while. While this issue is challenging, it’s been addressed successfully in other industries. But the unique needs of the power industry, and the means by which business processes and financing operate and impact such a technical transformation, must be integral parts of the convergence process.

Business architecture is the integration of corporate strategy, business models, processes and functions. It’s the starting point for determining the appropriate organization specific technology architecture. The strategic options facing utility industry executives involve an uncertain future and a period of rapid transformation.

Disentangling the complex linkages between public policy and business strategy makes it easier to determine the cost-benefit of particular investments, to understand the architectural context and to assess investments in terms of sequencing and synergies to develop robust technology roadmaps.

There are many different ways to innovate. This means that it’s not just about new boxes or devices. It’s increasingly about looking at the challenges and solutions in different ways. A strong reference architecture enables a rethink of the entire situation, applying IP protocols in innovative ways to achieve performance levels unachievable in the past.

What useful examples could be offered here?

  • Teleprotection where GOOSE messages moved across large distances (200km) at well under 4 miliseconds (with off-the-shelf items, using standard protocols). This was an innovation based purely on architecture, and one in which customization is unnecessary. One can use high-reliability, well-tested standards and equipment to implement such solutions.
  • Phasor Measurement Unit Network (NASPINet)
    • Using off the shelf equipment and standard protocols to manage complex data flows in PMU network. The result is that the utility can minimize/eliminate custom designs and external servers – items that the industry thought would be necessary. It comes as a surprise to many that it’s unnecessary to have as much equipment as everyone originally thought. Customization efforts can be drastically reduced, and in some cases even eliminated.

Investment in new energy technology along with replacement of ageing T&D infrastructure will create a stronger and more resilient grids. Investments in operational ICT in discreet investments and as part of the infrastructure upgrades will result in smarter grids that are also highly secure. Business transformation involves people and process changes along with ET and IT investments – the results can be significant operational productivity improvements and related earnings growth.

No one organization (whether governmental or business enterprise) will build smart grids. It will be a massive collaborative effort between utilities and tech innovators, regulators, and standards organizations like the IEC and ISO and ITU.

Utilities will demand specific benefits, such as:

  • Protection against stranded assets, by enabling multiple applications.
  • Simplified deployments, such as zero-touch deployments.
  • Lower total cost of ownership, by deploying common IP services over various communication technologies.
  • Standards-based architecture for multiple business applications.
  • Self-healing capabilities for resilient communications.
  • Ability to conform to evolving security requirements. These include the multi-layered end-to-end security systems which are based on NIST guidelines.

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