We just released our third Worldwide Utility Industry Survey for 2012 at the DistribuTECH Conference & Exhibition. The survey, a collaboration between Microsoft Corp. and OSIsoft, polled Utility professionals from around the world and highlights the challenges utilities face as they move from planning to actual smart grid implementation. smart grid

The headline is a 25 percent increase over last year in the number of utilities companies that have implemented smart grid technology. The survey shows that 10 percent have completed their smart grid deployments, 66 percent are either in the planning or adoption phase, but there is still 24 percent sitting on the sidelines in terms of adopting any smart grid technology.

Of course, we know that one’s POV concerning the smart grid can vary and our opinion is that the smart grid is a never-ending journey. At Microsoft, we talk about the smart energy ecosystem that encompasses the entire power value chain, from generation to inside the home of the customer. Segments such as smart metering and the integration of the renewables into the bulk power system are reasonably mature. However, other areas such as distribution management are just now taking on a full head of steam.

Elephant in the room

The elephant in the room is the challenges Utilities face as they move from planning to actual smart grid implementation. Nearly 20 percent of those surveyed said that technical issues kept them from moving forward, which was a larger group than in last year’s survey. What jumped out was that 72 percent of the respondents do not have an enterprise wide, technology scalable architecture in place to structure current and future smart grid deployments. Our view is that leveraging adaptable architectures will remove many of these issues. That’s why we created the Microsoft Smart Energy Reference Architecture (SERA) to provide a detailed framework for existing technologies and the flexibility to incorporate new technologies and solutions as they become available.

BI Center stage

Business intelligence solutions help companies realize the vision of smart grid, as we know; it is a subject that is center stage with press, analysts as well as Utilities. This point came out loud and clear in the survey results: nearly one quarter of companies referenced the importance of business intelligence solutions to manage the avalanche of data created by the smart grid. The need for speed of analysis, volume, and real-time analysis were identified as the top three challenges. In addition, the time to learn the tools needed for “Big Data” analysis was cited as a major challenge for Utilities. To address this challenge, OSIsoft’s PI System, which is designed to absorb massive amounts of smart streaming data and events, works with Microsoft BI tools such as SQL Server, SharePoint and the Office suite of products. These tools are familiar and easy-to-use and put BI on every desktop, thereby putting more relevant data in the hands of information workers. This enables Utilities to make informed decisions that increase efficiencies, lower costs and build greater reliability into the electric power system. A good example of this in practice is Mexico’s Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) where they are saving millions of dollars through collaborative BI and making faster and better informed decisions. You can read the case study here.

Surprise, the Holy Grail of the smart grid!

One of the big surprises in this year’s survey was that consumer energy management systems sky rocketed to the top of the most important solutions for implementing tomorrow's smart grid. This category was rated dead last in the 2011 survey results. The consumer side has been a tough nut to crack, as I know only too well from my experience with Microsoft Hohm, but you can see that it’s still being viewed as a key ingredient for the smart grid of the future.

Impact of the smart grid on customer information systems

This is a big ticket item, a bet-your-career project if you undertake major changes to your customer information systems (CIS). Never the less, 45 percent of the Utilities responding expect major changes in their CIS due to the smart grid. As we move towards time of use pricing, interval billing, electric vehicles and consumer energy management, Utilities will see tremendous pressure on their legacy CIS systems. At Microsoft we are working with our partner Ferranti on solutions to replace legacy customer care and billing systems with solutions based on Dynamics AX. The Ferranti CIS solution, Mecoms, is more agile so Utilities can adapt quickly to change at a much lower price point. In addition, our partner Convergys has developed CRM solutions based on Dynamics CRM that can enhance existing customer systems and provide more flexibility and extensibility to Utilities to support the new customer requirements of the smart grid. Convergys’ experience in the competitive Telecom market makes them an option that every Utility should consider in enhancing their existing customer system.

I could go on and on as there is an amazing of amount of insight in the survey but I risk making this blog intolerably too long! You can read the press release here, and replay the webinar where Jon Peterson, Vice President Marketing OSIsoft and I discuss the survey results. Enjoy!  – Jon C. Arnold