SMART GRID GURUS: Keith Sturkie

MCEC information technology VP has new goals

Published In: Intelligent Utility Magazine March/April 2010

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KEITH STURKIE WAS NO STRANGER TO electric cooperatives when he joined Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative (MCEC) in 2002. For about 20 years prior, he had dealt with coops from his position as principal at Southern Business Services, a designer and marketer of CIS and financial software systems.

Yet, when he received an offer to join Mid-Carolina on a full-time basis, Sturkie was conflicted. His decision to leave the company he cofounded was complicated further by the fact that his long-time chief competitor would be his direct boss at MCEC.

Driving the move into AMI

After conducting his due diligence, Sturkie made the switch and drove Mid-Carolina's move into AMI and other technologies as vice president of information technology. MCEC completed a 45,000-meter AMI deployment in 2005. Under Sturkie's direction, the project was completed six months early and $1 million under budget. Among other operational and productivity gains, the new system reduced field trips for high-usage complaints by 90 percent in the first year, to fewer than 25 field calls for the first summer season that AMI was in use. For the most part, Sturkie is pleased with his decision to make the career change. ''I miss the action on the vendor side a little bit, but I wear a lot more hats now. In my previous life, I mainly dealt in CIS. I did 

have some experience on the financial side but now we've got the whole system here, everything including accounting and finance,'' he said.

When Sturkie was helping to found Southern Business Services, he never dreamed that utilities would have the capabilities they do today through modern technology. Now, the possibilities seem endless. Currently, MCEC is studying in-home network devices, and waiting for the technology to mature to the point at which it will be more cost efficient for the customer.

''Mid-Carolina hasn't always been on the leading edge, but they've always bought technologies within a framework of being effective and efficient,'' he says.

Aside from in-home network displays, Sturkie has other immediate goals. MCEC does not have an ABL [automatic vehicle location] system in place, although Sturkie says, ''it's on our immediate radar,'' as is the deployment of a mobile workforce.

Technology roadmap in place

''As far as the technology roadmap, I can see a lot of things in the future that we want to embrace,'' he says. ''We don't have a comprehensive method for our customers to get into the system and do things themselves. They can make payments but they can't get in and see their data. We don't have a self-service plan in place right now if you will, and we're looking to explore that.''

Sturkie continues to see the utility industry making giant strides when it comes to technology, and he thinks it will require a balancing act when it comes to harvesting the data that consumers will have at their fingertips moving forward.

''You hear all kinds of meanings for the smart grid, but what I would like to see is the ability to automate people to the degree that they don't feel like they are being watched by Big Brother, but they have the capability to manage their appliances,'' he said.

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