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Critical infrastructure, embracing change

02232015-embrace-changeThe electric utility industry focuses on new growth drivers and leadership requirements.

Imagine if all of our interstates, designed for high-speed one way traffic, had to be transformed into two-way traffic AND had to accommodate bicycle traffic. Now you might have an idea of the transformation utilities are dealing with.

Let’s explore the importance of the utility industry embracing change. Considering the dependence the entire critical infrastructure industry has on electricity, one may ask why any changes have to be made. The short answer? We all depend on safe, cost-effective delivery of reliable electricity.

The electric utility industry is in the middle of a major transformation globally! Domestically, the generation, transmission and distribution systems are facing industry drivers such as:

  • Increased reliability
  • Price and cost pressures
  • Introduction of renewable energy into the system
  • Storage options
  • Cyber and physical threats to the power grid
  • Limited and declining support for traditional plain old phone services (POTS)
  • Increased management and control systems to onsite bidirectional power
  • Communications with the consumer

Wow! Sometimes it seems like it may be easier to ask, “What’s not changing within the utility industry?” One sound response? Leadership and commitment. Every leader engaged in critical infrastructure recognizes how important their role is to our families, communities and the economic health of our country. Be it an engineer designing a substation, bridge, highway, airplane, electric car, or a first responder responding to a 9-1-1 call, industry leaders are critical links in the quality of life we enjoy.

As the electric utility industry addresses changes in cost and reliability requirements, it also faces increased demand to support a board range of alternative energy generation sources. The planned upgrades to the power grid require significant investments over years, as this chart shows.

When compared to other costs like cell phones, cable, fuel and so forth, electricity costs have remained relatively stable while reliability has increased. Consider the number of homes that have cut the cord to the traditional one phone per family, replacing it with a cell phone per family member. As utility industry leaders lean into the challenges by updating internal processes and procedures to address changing requirements, the power grid will be going through a very similar transformation that will touch every public, member-owned or investor owned utility.

This transformation will not only enable and manage the bi-directional flow of electricity, but will require increased interactive electric utility applications as the consumer transforms into an “Energy Portfolio Manager.”

businessman with financial symbols coming from handInnovation and the digital transformation of the power grid is expected to improve the cost-effective delivery of reliable electricity. But, it should be noted, only if properly deployed. Thus utility leaders have been updating their internal processes to support the internal convergence of technology and infrastructure for the broad array of variables the industry is addressing. This is introducing a constant state of change to the electric utility industry, but like the power grid, it’s a change process that’s here to stay.

One fundamental change in process is a shift towards standards. However, with rapid technology advancements, utilities are making a shift to manage internal and external integration of data gathering systems. This is a significant task to achieve while maintaining the security of the operating systems that mentor, protect and manage the delivery of electricity.

From the consumer’s perspective, these advancements will be welcomed as long as the quality and reliability of electricity delivery is maintained or improved. Change and innovation in the electric utility industry historically has been a very slow process, not an environment where rapid change produces positive results. Yet with the natural convergence of technologies, development of standards, and training of utility industry leaders and stakeholders, the industry will be transformed.

About the author

Dan is our account executive in the Critical Infrastructure market and has more than 35 years of providing customer-driven technology and energy solutions to critical infrastructure operators in the United States and Canada. He focuses on critical intelligent infrastructure, from smart grids to communications connections, and how they are used as consumers become energy portfolio managers.