A couple of weeks ago Larry Cochrane and I embarked on a long overdue trip to visit customers and partners in Australia. It was an incredible trip “down under,” jammed packed with 19 customer/partner sessions over five days plus breakfast and dinner meetings across three cities as well as a 22 hour trip getting there and another 22 hours getting back! Our host for the week, John Bradley who is the Microsoft industry lead for Australia, mentioned that we could only watch “Avatar” so many times on the plane ride. My response was it was more like “ Men that Stare at Goats” for us after 22 hours!

For many, Australia is far away and its 20 million person population small in comparison to the United States 300-plus million or Europe’s 400 million. But upon arriving I was quickly reminded that dynamite comes in small packages and the Australian power and utility market is one of the most active and dynamic in the world. It was a refreshing and invigorating experience, to see all the things that can be done around the utility markets and are being done in Australia.

image

For instance, customer switching in the retail energy market in Victoria in 2009 was the highest ever recorded in a fully contestable market according to the VaasaETT Global Energy Think-Tank. Not only are retail companies readily available to consumers but they are actively price shopping, a dynamic that keeps all companies on their toes to continually increase their competitiveness through realizing greater efficiencies and cutting costs.

But the dynamism doesn’t just reside in retail markets.  Their build-out of the smart grid, their efforts to deal with an aging infrastructure, their investments in wind, and their efforts to tap natural gas reserves all deserve A+ grades in terms of utility proactivity. In fact, there’s so much going on that we visited several non-utility companies that are eyeing various parts of the utility value chain for points of entry to take advantage of the growing opportunities! 

Oh, I forgot to mention water. Australia is the driest inhabited continent on Earth and the water utilities in Australia may be some of the most advanced on the planet on implementing demand management measures to encourage consumers to use less water. Their strategies include advertising, education, pricing and appliance redesign and strong interest in consumer conservation solutions like Microsoft Hohm.

In some ways it’s a market that loves to be on the leading edge and isn’t afraid of a little experimentation. There’s lots of discussion about what the new energy economy will look like and how the customer will be an active participate.

On our trip, our customers and partners offered tremendous feedback on the solutions that Microsoft and its partners are offering to the utility sector. Here’s what I jotted down verbatim from several attendees:

- “I had no idea some of these solutions were available on the Microsoft platform. How do we get them locally?”

- “Best industry session I have ever attended in Melbourne”

- “We have invested heavily in OSIsoft PI. For us to use the SharePoint platform to extend that investment is of interest to me”

- “MS Hohm, shows that Microsoft has a vision and is showing leadership around sustainability. It was a highlight for me.”

- “This SERA stuff is really impressive and the [Smart Energy Reference] architecture really looks applicable to many industries”. I have reviewed similar “utility architectures” from other industry solution providers and that the Microsoft SERA document was the most comprehensive they have seen.

In sum, it was a great trip to the other side of the world and a refreshing view. It was very nice to receive affirmation that the solutions we’re developing with our partners are hitting home with a robust utility industry in Australia. In the future, I foresee that many worldwide utilities will look at what has been happening in Australia and seek to adapt that in their part of the world. – Jon C. Arnold