State utility regulators begin to question the benefits of smart grid technology, and customers take to the streets in public protests and demonstrations to oppose installation of smart meters....
The Meter Is Running
Oracle’s software guru Guerry Waters eats and breathes the new infrastructure.
moving target. Have you run into that problem?
Waters: Yes, of course. But understand there’s been a change of thinking in the industry with IT management. Executives are saying, “Do we really have to do that ourselves, using our own staff, or do we want to go more with packaged solutions?”
And that’s exactly why we’re in business. We develop packaged software for the utility industry—customer billing, customer care, outage management, meter data management, mobile workforce solutions—applications that are out-of-the-box and that fit your particular needs and are acclimated to your jurisdictional or geographic location.
Fortnightly: About MDM, is there enough standardization across the country to produce a generic software package?
Waters: It is possible, but you need the capability within the configuration to accommodate the many differences state by state, or even country by country. Fortunately there are enough basics in the business—communicating out to the meter, collecting, editing and storing the data, estimating and verification and so on—that it’s all pretty straightforward. We’ve been doing this for years, not down to the residential level, but primarily in the large C&I (commercial and industrial) marketplace.
What is new, however, is the two-way communication out to the meter. Now not only can you accumulate data, but you can do things like turn the meter on and off, determine the status of the meter—whether it is having its “last gasp,” as we say, because of an outage—or even control various devices within the home. You’re using that two-way communications channel to turn down or cycle thermostats, turn off the air conditioner.
Fortnightly: Can you name any state or region that stands out as having architecture and protocols in meter data management that you find easy to work with?
Waters: I can’t pick out any specific one. But I can say that in California, regulators for the most part have mandated programs and infrastructure—and that includes AMI and smart meters—to implement the kind of programs that will have an immeasurable effect on the need for generation. They’re making a relatively large bet on that.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not happening in other places. Duke Energy is putting in an infrastructure to do some similar things. Ontario, in Canada, is also becoming very advanced in putting in some of this infrastructure. Australia and New Zealand have been doing some of this for years. We’ve learned a lot by having to operate in those markets. I don’t see so much going on in Asian markets, but there’s a number of efforts going on in Europe—particularly Western Europe.
Do we see a best practice in all of this? No, I think we’re still early in the game.
The industry still is coalescing on a lot of the standards needed to do these kinds of things, which makes it a little difficult for us vendors. But we’re dealing with it. We have to deal with it.
Fortnightly: What about utility mergers? You get fewer clients, but more standardization. Do you see that as a good thing for your business?
Waters: Well, it’s a reality.