This column is to create a forum for ideas, passions and perspectives on our industry that are controversial, provocative and energising. The views expressed here may be unpopular, politically incorrect, heretical or simply humorous. The views expressed may be ideas that all of us have had but didn’t care (or dare) to articulate. The opinions expressed are those of the author alone, but are probably shared by many who have yet to say so.

Compos Mentis 

It’s the vision thing … So simple! So basic! And yet, so often missing!

I'm talking about the number of AMR/AMI projects that somehow get launched by utilities – launched with no foggy glimmer of a vision of where they are going or why. I’m talking about the floundering efforts to create a justification for AMI when there is no top management sense of direction or unifying vision, no officer with a positive attitude that is a bright light for the operating departments of the utility to follow.

“Lacking a vision too many prospective justifications of AMI are doomed to fail.”

I’m talking about the parochial instincts of utility departments to resist the advances of technology that lead to cost savings, either from ‘headcount’ reductions or reduced operating costs. After all, aren’t some utility empires judged by the size of the budget or number of bodies? Why should you have your empire threatened by AMR/AMI for some speculative benefit that may never materialise if you don’t believe you can actually reduce staff or effectively harvest all the new data streaming from an AMI system? No, you will ‘circle the wagons’ and fight off the marauders. You will fight to preserve the status quo.

Lacking a vision – a compelling and innovative vision that is clearly articulated by top management – too many prospective justifications of AMI are doomed to fail. Why? Because the benefits come up short of the costs. With a vision, with leadership, with informed help from outside, it all changes, and department heads become eager to do their part in identifying the benefits that are already being harvested by other utilities. They ‘buy in’.

“... the real winners are the utilities that ventured into seriously considering or implementing AMI without a regulatory imperative.”

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 forced many utilities to examine the place for ‘smart metering’ in their planning. Many Canadian utilities have responded to regulatory imperatives on smart metering. That’s fine, but the real winners are the well managed utilities that thoughtfully ventured into seriously considering or implementing AMI without a regulatory imperative. These are the utilities with vision.

The first and most important step in launching an AMR/AMI assessment is creating a clear vision. A select multi-departmental team must meet with its top management sponsor to thrash out a concise, unifying vision statement. Then, as the AMI assessment progresses, that vision statement must be popped up and revisited regularly to see if the progress is consistent with the vision.

What does a good vision statement look like? They take many forms. They must be brief, and understandable by customers, regulators, and everyone in the utility. This one touches all the bases:

VISION: In our AMI deliberations and decisions we will:

  • Empower customers, with options and information
  • Reduce costs and improve quality of service
  • Meet state and federal requirements
  • Move toward a smarter grid
  • Provide an impetus and platform for future innovation.

That says it all.

If you can’t state your utility’s vision, you are truly lost at sea in the fog without a compass

If you would like to comment on this Viewpoint, please write to the author at cm@smart-energy.com