Telecoms and IT will enable next generation utility

Washington, DC, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — June 14, 2007- Many energy and water utilities are on the move towards “next generation” operations, with information and communications systems that will make them more efficient, more responsive to consumers, and more friendly to the environment.

This was a key finding of a new report “Next Steps to the Next Generation Utility,” from the global utility telecommunications trade association, the Utilities Telecom Council (UTC), and The Shpigler Group strategy management consultants.

The report, which reviews the trends, technologies, risks and opportunities that will shape future utility investments, found that the opportunity for utilities to explore automation deployments, such as Automatic Meter Reading (AMR), Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), supply automation, supply control and optimization, and eventually “self-healing grids”, is greater than ever, given the drive to address consumer demand and environmental and energy supply concerns. However, each utility must be mindful of its unique circumstances as it designs a technology roadmap. A gradual approach to automation will help ensure that the acquisition of systems or technologies do not limit future opportunities or create “stranded investments” that become tomorrow’s failed legacy systems, and systems implemented must be upgradeable, scaleable and interoperable with one another.

Differing utility scenarios have resulted in varying specific applications. Increasing customer satisfaction is often cited as a reason to embark on automation, but the building of a sound business case for next-generation upgrades is critical.

State commissions are seeking to implement advanced metering rules in the wake of the passage of the Energy Policy Act 2005 (EPAct 2005). Utilities that take the initiative by offering proposals to state commissions will likely fare much better than utilities that wait for rules to be imposed upon them.

William R. Moroney, UTC’s president and CEO says the aging utility infrastructure needs upgrading and regulatory, market, and societal pressures can no longer be ignored. “While the dramatic change in the business environment offers tremendous opportunity for utilities, the task is large and the risks great, and the study aims to provide a first look at the communications and information technologies that utilities will rely on to get them to the next generation.”

The study also notes that there is still a great deal to be done in terms of research and development into components, system interoperability, business processes and financial business cases. For example critical components, such as “intelligent” sensors, are still too expensive to install on utility substations and transmission lines in the U.S. and the potential for return-on-investment is not clear.