Managing the changes

Utility executives discuss the issues

Published In: Intelligent Utility Magazine January/February 2011


A SMARTER ELECTRICITY GRID COULD FUNdamentally change the way people pay for and manage their electricity use. Smart grid investments could help reduce demand, save money and improve reliability and efficiency. But implementing the necessary changes can be challenging.

Intelligent Utility recently sat down with a group of smart grid utility executives to discuss how the smart grid is impacting their companies and the lessons that have been learned to date. Their comments, edited for style and length, follow.


LABRICCIOSA It's interesting. I think that the customer is the owner of the data, where the security group keeps the repository. I like the Texas model where it's actually centralized and someone else is looking after that. We have a privacy commissioner in Ontario that wrote a paper on how to handle the privacy issues, so we are mandated to hold it and keep it confidential, and only the consumer is able to see their particular data. There is a richness in the data beyond just energy consumption, and people are afraid that you can now try to discern consumer behavior beyond energy consumption based on what you see in the energy profile. And so I guess the approach in Ontario is to lock it right down until we figure how to handle that. So utilities are keeping that data, and I guess we're the trusted souls to protect it.

KREVAT You say the customer owns the data. I find that term to be a little ambiguous because there are things that we need to do with that data. We need to bill off that data. We need to do system design around that data. We need to decide whether to replace the transformer based on how it's being loaded, now that we have that data. So I look at it more as we have rights to the data. Our customers have the right to authorize various parties to be able to look at that data and help them save money, but we have rights. We have rights to bill off the data and to do some design. So ownership makes it sound like there's only one owner, and they get all the rights. And I think different parties need the data for different reasons.

LABRICCIOSA There's a role and responsibility I guess that comes with the rights; unfortunately I think somebody has to actually be responsible to own it and keep it. Whether it's a centralized approach or whether it's the decentralized utility approach.

LAWRY Especially with regard to the personal information of our customers. When the customer decides they're going to give the rights to somebody else, then you need to make sure it's clear who has the responsibility for protecting that customer data.

LABRICCIOSA You're absolutely right. When you bring in the third-party applications like the Google PowerMeter, for example, that's a channel. And so it's a public channel, which is great because they develop applications a lot quicker and bring them to market. But it raises an issue when data is flowing through that channel. How are you protecting it if your role is to protect it along the way? Or do you just allow that open access?

LAWRY In our regulatory environment, the customer has to authorize, in writing, for us to send it to a third party such as Google. Once Google has their information, it's really up to the customer then to manage their relationship with Google. Now Google needs to provide that oversight for the data, but we still want the overall relationship with the customer.


BOOK Well I think what happened at the outset was the government really drove the smart grid to us. And now that it's here and we have our meters fully deployed we are faced with the task of making this data useful to our members. But I think what we're finding is education is key. We believe that the most important part of the smart grid is the customer being able to use energy information in some kind of an actual form. And that's the important thing, turning all this data that we're getting into the office into an actionable commodity for the customer to use. And it's a challenge, but we're finding ways to do it.

LABRICCIOSA It's an odd phenomenon. The government is driving this agenda rather than the other way around. Never in our industry's history do I recall the agenda being driven quite the way it is here. I feel that's wrong, but it is advancing the industry.


MCEVOY Utilities have been managing massive amounts of field data for a while, for a long time. We've had SCADA, and been managing SCADA data. I think that area is still going to exponentially grow, and there has to be a stronger infrastructure on that to be able to handle and manage that data. The customer arena is really where the complexity is coming in, from a couple of standpoints. First, how do you handle all the data, how do you manage it; and then what do you do with it. We've developed a center of excellence within the company to be able to start getting used to modeling, predictive modeling, and using the data smarter. Our IT group is also working on setting up the infrastructure to be able to handle the massive amounts of data. So I think it's going to be more of building the skill sets internally within the utilities on how to use that data smarter, to be able to make sure the customers do get some value out of it. It's not an easy world, but it's there. The interesting thing is I feel comfortable we're going to be able to manage the data and use the data smartly. The challenges I think we're all dealing with now is that whole customer energy usage and the right of the data-who owns the data, how do you handle that data with third-party providers and how do you manage your customer's data? Whose data really is it? So that's our biggest challenge right now, and most of our focus, trying to work and set some policy on that.

FRAZIER The Texas model is a little different in that the wires delivery company is different than the retail electric providers, and you can switch retail electric providers in a very short period of time-so the PUC has made it very clear that the data belongs to the customer. They allow other people-like the utility, like your retail electric provider-to also see that data for billing purposes and load management, but it belongs to the customer and needs to be protected accordingly. Texas is very clear around this issue. While we were very supportive of an AMI program, as a large investor-owned company, we had financial viability concerns for such a large project when the Texas Legislature first told the PUC to move forward with an AMI program. The Commission then wrote the rules and standards for the whole state. Every wires company had to meet these standards in the types of meters and in how to provide the data to customers, REPs and ERCOT. You had to have a portal and you had to have machine-to-machine standard interfaces. The PUC decided that the way to do that was to collaborate, lay out common rules with the advanced meter implementation teams. We spent an unbelievable amount of time in Austin in these committees coming up with the standards. Ultimately we decided that it would be easier and cheaper to have one source of data all using the same portal and automated interfaces. So as a result, all of the Texas wires companies are sending the data to an outsourced central repository to avoid different companies keeping all of that 15-minute data. The models work pretty well, and we feel that it's less expensive as a result of each of us not having to develop these. It's also easier if you're a large company and you want to go get the data for all of your gas stations in the state, you don't have to go to four different utilities to do it; you just go to one central repository.


SHERICK At Southern California Edison we are looking to manage many of these new devices through our distribution management system. Of course, this is going to be a new and improved distribution management system that is going to have more monitoring and control functionality than the current systems. The system will not only have to incorporate the devices and data, but the opportunities to optimally manage the system will increase exponentially. If all of this progresses as we are predicting, we have a very large complex system with a whole new set of applications optimizing across all of these interconnected devices. This new distribution system and the applications to manage the system will not only be a technology challenge-requiring smart data management, new optimization algorithms, sophisticated control systems, and new customer programs for demand response and energy efficiency-but this new distribution system will also require a new process in distribution management. We expect a significant requirement to proactively manage resources at the distribution level and integrate this management more tightly with our overall energy management activities throughout the grid. This approach will not only require new systems but also require our engineering and operations personnel to collaboratively manage this new environment.

So we are working with our technology vendors in the distribution management, work scheduling, asset management, and geographical systems to manage these new resources and devices. But we also know a real key factor is the visualization tools that are provided to our operations people to manage the complexity. The distribution world is going to look very different and the tools to manage this new environment and the skills required to manage the environment are going to evolve with the system complexity.

We are in the middle of tackling the full-scale change out of our 5 million residential meters and have worked through the change impacts from this effort. We know going forward there will be more impacts on the technology front as well as the people and process sides that will keep us busy over the next couple of years.


Smart Grid Initiative
San Diego Gas & Electric

Director of Technology
CenterPoint Energy

Energy Delivery Technology

Power Systems Technologies
Southern California Edison

Government & Community Relations
Delaware Electric Cooperative

Vice President
Asset Management
Toronto Hydro-Electric Corporation

IT Smart Grid Program
Integration Manager
Northeast Utilities

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Smart Grids

I formulated a project here in India wayback in 2003 which was remote metering integrated with simulation software. Idea was to know where exactly electricity theft was taking and also to know how to reduce normal network losses by finding ways to supply energy to a particular point thru most economic route or channel. The remote metering did get underway and the result was that using statistical data the utility people were able to catch some electricity thiefs.Now as far as simulation software was concerned it never got underway because I believe it was too complex and you required lot of data to do it. As every one knows modeling was always there but it had to be modified time and again. However all this did result in locating the localities where theft was more. As far as communication is concerned very advanced methodology was proposed but no utility came forward to fund the Fiber optic modem that was required. Also many people were having their own telcos so GSM was used.We received considerable support from my colleagues from South Africa and the project is still continuing. The point is all this thing require money and would ultimately raise the price of electricity. A Distribution Automation formulation is under way and this will furthur increase the cost. Considering that all across India people complain about the rising prices how much convenient will it be to do this?There is group here which is named smart!Now I want to say that do as much automation as people demand. If you put internet on every thing in home including silencing the baby when she is crying I do not think her mother will appreciate.There is joy in everything - do not remove it.So studies are req2uired in sociology/ behaviour etc before one goes around with his screw driver to reformat the world!Technology are there , we all know and they will all be used - but then we are not building a society to live on the moon. Why not ask the people what they want!