Meeting tomorrow's power needs will pose tough choices
"I have seen the future, and it doesn't work."
The CIO Forum: Budgets Byte Back
Chief tech officers discuss how they are using their data to beat the competitition.
This year's first IT commandment: Use what you've got. And the second is like unto it: Data is king. Those are the strong themes that emerged from this year's CIO Forum. Fortnightly interviewed three chief information officers at three diverse companies: a traditional utility, Cinergy; a merchant generator, Calpine; and an independent system operator (ISO), the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
Calpine and Cinergy weren't immune to the economic woes of the industry, nor were their information technology (IT) departments. At Calpine, CIO Dennis Fishback focused on taking information the company already had from multiple systems, and combining it in different ways for competitive advantage-without extra spending. Cinergy's chief technology officer (CTO), Bennett Gaines, spent most of last year trying to maximize the returns from prior years' heavy technology investments. Even though ERCOT had what CIO Ken Shoquist called a healthy year, the budget wasn't limitless. "We watch every penny," he notes. "We have a fiduciary responsibility to do that." Shoquist's time over the last year was taken up with hiring staff to replace ERCOT's heavy reliance on consultants and improve the ISO's bottom line.
Despite their companies' differing business models, all the CIOs emphasized how important easy access to all types of company data is to their bottom lines. At Calpine, for example, Fishback says that linking up data between an environmental monitoring system and an operations system allowed the company to trade emissions credits in the Houston area. "Most companies would go out and buy a system to track that. We didn't," he says. The project was completed in 2002, and due to handling it in-house, it had a fairly low price tag, Fishback notes. "But the real benefit came to the surface this year, when it looked like it could be as much as a $7 million benefit."
Another similar Fishback brainchild was linking up Calpine's automated dispatching system (ADS) and energy management system (EMS) for its plants in California. From his time spent as the California ISO's CIO, Fishback knew that Cal-ISO sent out new dispatch orders every 10 minutes. He explains that before linking up ADS and EMS, "the way we were dealing with these dispatch orders was the way most companies do: Go to a generation dispatcher, the generation dispatcher turns around and calls the plant and tells the plant what to do." A manual system like that often meant a 10- to 15-minute lag between new dispatch orders and response by Calpine. By eliminating all the human intervention and directly linking the ADS to the EMS, Calpine now automatically responds to commands from Cal-ISO. "What that does is allow us to ramp up and ramp down a lot more quickly, so you either make more money going up, or you avoid spending money you don't need to going down," Fishback observes.
The cost for the project? "It was virtually no cost. All we had to do is put the code in place to link the two," says Fishback. And