This episode of the Smart Grid Today Podcast is available now on the Smart Grid Today website and most major podcast websites and apps including iTunes, Google audio including through the Google Home device, SoundCloud, Stitcher, TuneIn – and Amazon’s Echo device by saying, “Alexa, play the Smart Grid TodayPodcast on TuneIn.”
The smart grid industry is still in the early stages of utilities realizing the kinds of opportunities that are available to them in using smart grid technology and gaining access to the data it can deliver, Hugo van Nispen told us recently in an interview for the Smart Grid Today audio program. He is CEO of Bridge Energy Group, a consultancy and technology integrator that helps utilities choose and deploy smart grid.
“The good news is that we are beginning to develop some traction around the notion that this interoperability of the data, from having different uses as it goes through the organization – that knowledge and awareness is growing, but obviously there are still many organizations that struggle with the organizational model that supports the disruption of data inadvertently.” Some utilities are pioneers and have started to combine the customer function with the operations function by putting it all under one executive “to get that linear view of what’s happening.”
But the organizational structure within each utility “was developed because they had specific needs… and the ‘org’ structure that they embraced was the one that they felt best met those needs. I think that the reality that the needs are changing will begin to drive organizations to think more holistically about, ‘how to I embrace the new needs with a new organizational model and then flow that through.
“I think challenge is that, right now, because of the rush towards implementing smart grid or smarter grid technology and the huge amounts of money that are involved, in many cases these things are being viewed as siloed activities and in many cases that’s being amplified by regulatory decisions that force the utility to adopt a particular path.
“For example, I was quite surprised to see that in Massachusetts the regulator approved all of the smarter grid investments that the utilities had put forward but kept on hold all of the customer-facing investments – for example the AMI – that utilities had recommended to be implemented,” van Nispen said. “I certainly think hardening and strengthening the system ultimately is the right way to go and I applaud the fact that the regulator enabled these utilities to move forward with their grid investments – but it just amplifies the problem when you have even the regulator saying, ‘oh, those two can be completely separated and we can think about one without thinking about the other.’
“I think that’s directionally not the way that we’d ideally like to see the industry moving,” he added.
QUOTABLE: I’d like to see us thinking about how do we harden the system and create reliability and resilience in the context of understanding how to better engage the consumer in what we’re doing… We’re beginning to see the awareness. Some utilities have acted, others are beginning to act, and yet others are standing on the sidelines and saying, ‘we’ll get to that once we’ve done all the other stuff. – Bridge Energy Group CEO Hugo van Nispen on the Smart Grid Today audio program
The biggest challenge the industry faces in gaining the value of data is a tendency of engineers to focus on the problem at hand. “We look at a particular issue. We say we wish we had more data and we then find ways to avail ourselves of the data that we need to solve the problem that we have at hand.
“I think that the inflection point has been reached and we need to turn that equation on its head,” van Nispen said. “We have access to so much information – should we choose to embrace it and to seek to understand it – that we can fundamentally begin to ask a completely different set of questions about how we can improve our service.”
Rather than trying to find the right data to solve a problem, van Nispen wants the industry to turn the question around and say, “‘what does the available data now enable us to do in terms of improving our operations, in terms of improving the sustainability of our business, in terms of improving the connectivity that we have with our customers and the visibility that customers have to the great work that we as an industry are doing.
“I think if we begin to ask questions from that perspective and be open to the answers that come forth, we end up in a place where we have much better opportunity to make breakthrough discoveries,” he added. If founders of Uber had been focused on an app that alerted people when their taxi was going to be late, they might never have realized they could actually create a service that made the taxi obsolete, van Nispen said.
“That’s kind of the re-thinking of the value proposition, the re-thinking of the elements of the way in which we engage with our customers.” He wants to see the industry treat the data “as the valuable asset it is and figure out new ways to engage and to optimize our business.”