The past couple of weeks, travelling round Eastern Australia meeting with several utilities there, has reconfirmed something I’ve known for quite a while: globally, utilities really aren’t all that different to each other.*
There was a time when if, for example, a vendor brought a case study from a US utility to a European prospect, they’d be told to think again. The US was too different: different funding mechanisms; different challenges; often still vertically integrated monopolies rather than deregulated and competitive businesses; etc. Now, much of that’s still true. But in this modern world of the emerging smart grid, it seems that the utility companies are recognising the scale of the challenges ahead of them – and realising they’re global challenges, with the potential for globally applicable solutions. They’re way bigger then whether your business gets funded via Rate Case or Regulated Asset Base or whether you’re nationalised or private. Looking specifically at electricity, no matter what your business circumstances as a utility, there are a handful of global fundamentals, including:
- We’re moving from the age of the consumer to the age of the customer. Customers are (incredibly?) becoming real people, with real requirements that we’re going to have to start taking care of
- The technical requirements of running a distribution network have increased hugely due to complexities of new loads and generation sources
- Generation assets behave differently than in the past. Traditional generation is being kept in service past original end-of-life; new types of generation are proliferating
- There’s not nearly as much money available to invest as once there was
- Smart meters are coming. Today, tomorrow, next year, whatever…no matter where you are, they’re coming
- Where once there was some data, now there is an awful lot of data. I mean a lot. Really
So what does this all mean? It means that utilities are now far more willing to listen to success stories and good practice from anywhere. (Actually, even more refreshingly, many are now open to the idea that other industries may have lessons for them too. But we’ll save that discussion for another day.) Gone are the days when the first question about a case study is “yes, but where is that business from?” Because the chances are that if it addresses one of the challenges above, it’ll make no difference if they’re from Melbourne, Milan or Moscow. Of course, telling an electricity distribution business about how you’ve done great things in energy retail will still get you some funny looks and a stony silence in response to your follow-up call. But that’s only fair.
Yes, different regulatory regimes mean different challenges. Different business models mean different constraints. Of course they do. But network automation is pretty much network automation. Becoming more responsive to customers starts with the same basic principles everywhere.
Teradata’s part in all this is of course in integrating data to allow your business to answer questions it couldn’t before. And you know what? Integrating utilities data across multiple sources is much the same anywhere you go. Let’s face it, the data sources themselves are usually from the same handful of vendors. If you’re in the business, I bet you could name them. In such a world, it’s refreshing to see that utility companies are now ready to understand how their peers have risen to the challenges, no matter where they come from.
*Having said that, I do recall a particular utility that shall remain nameless who told me that they “liked to think of themselves as a bit special, a bit unique”. After I casually mentioned that a few utilities had told me a similar thing, they didn’t have me back in for a period of some months….
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