Getting caught up in the smart grid scenery

Kate Rowland | Mar 23, 2010

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It's easy to get caught up in the scenery and forget how long the path is that stretches before us.

The recently released Microsoft Worldwide Utility Industry Survey 2010 is a clear indication of this: Jon Arnold, managing director for the Worldwide Power & Utilities Industry at Microsoft, says the study shows the disruptive nature of the smart grid revolution, and the innovations it brings, has caught many in the industry by surprise, including many utilities that already have embraced smart grid technologies.

Late last week, I spoke to Arnold and Larry Cochrane, a technology strategist/architect with Microsoft, about the survey results, and about the emergence of a smart energy ecosystem. Microsoft surveyed almost 200 professionals within electric, gas and water utilities and related companies around the world. It found only 8 percent of utilities worldwide have completed their smart grid technology implementations, while 37 percent have projects underway and more than half haven't yet started.

"Some incorrectly assert that the utility industry is unwilling to change, but the survey shows the opposite," Arnold said. "It's the magnitude of change to everything from business models to systems that's overwhelming, especially given utilities' existing asset and technology investments combined with the need to ensure profitability and reliability."

Arnold told me: "If you look at some of the survey results, there's a lot of work to be done. Everybody is waiting. As we looked at the information as a whole, depending on what kind of utility you are and where you are, your vision of the smart grid is different."

Survey results indicated that utility executives ranked distribution management systems as an even more important technology than smart metering. In many places in the world, the infrastructure isn't there to handle a two-way power flow, Cochrane explained.

"Talk about disruption!" Arnold added. With the results of the survey now in hand, and a Smart Energy Reference Architecture built last October, Microsoft is working with its industry partners towards a single supplier vision for the distribution system of the future, "developed, deployed and integrated by a single provider," Cochrane explained.

"We had 83 architects - engineers and suppliers, key utilities, key architects within utilities and IT departments, and system architects - all review the system architecture before we released it," Cochrane said.

"We believe this journey to the smart energy integration system, leveraging the power and innovation from all these partners, has a lot more value than its individual parts," Arnold added.

Microsoft's survey indicated 70 percent of those surveyed felt the technology platform has to improve. In terms of integration.

"It's definitely disruptive - there is definitely work to be done," Arnold said. "The key issues for utilities are: what are the core abilities they need in their infrastructure and how can they get to where they need to be quickly," he said.

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