Disruption Encourages Innovation

Can disruption create a space for innovation? Is OT/IT convergence the next big thing? - Results of the Smart Grid Impact Report
Published: Tue 07 Jan 2014
“If you ask a hundred people in this industry for their definition of smart grid, you will get 100 different answers.” This is according to Jeff Ray, CEO of Ventyx. The company recently compiled a Global Smart Grid Impact Report after carrying out a survey amongst industry leaders. The report points out that a clear definition of smart grid does not exist. In fact, everyone seems to be doing different things with it and reaching various levels of success.

A community’s set of priorities are dictating how the smart grid should be utilized. Although this lack of clarity can be frustrating for those who prefer a clear definition, it can also be liberating as there is more latitude and freedom to innovate, explains Mr Ray. “This is a space which is open to new ideas, new ways of thinking and execution.”

OT/IT ConvergenceM

We asked Mr Ray about the recent OT (Operational Technology) / IT (business software) convergence and what it gives back to the utility. “There has always been a chasm between the two. For the last 15 years, the industry has aimed to merge the two. The lack of progress has been a source of major frustration,” explains Mr Ray. OT/IT convergence is often taken for granted. For instance, today’s motor vehicles are a product of OT/IT convergence. A vehicle’s performance today can be personalized to meet specific needs, thanks to the massive amounts of software written. According to Mr Ray, we don’t see this upfront in industrialize-strength software.

Since Ventyx has joined forces with ABB, the firm has complete access to the domain experts, batteries, and circuit breakers, as well as access to the algorithms in the performance history of the devices, the OT. Vnetyx (with its IT experience and ABB (with its OT experience) have teamed up with AEP, the largest distribution and transmission utility in the US.

AEP requested an automatic system which will give updates on how the infrastructure is operating. This would effectively replace the crew that is normally sent out to obtain operating data which is never properly analysed. Explains Mr Ray, “In the past, the data would sit on a shelf and not be analysed or utilised by the utility. This type of data collection, at an operational level, is useless to a business decision-maker. The data which is now being analysed and interpreted, is presented to the business decision-makers at AEP so that they can do a better job of running the network.”

According to Mr Ray, the utility is now able to “sweat the assets” (or extend lifespan) because the utility can monitor the actual condition of the device during usage. Operational efficiencies and inefficiencies can be plotted and planned for in advance and as a result, the right crew will be sent out to the right places. AEP is now also able to work out the economic effect on consumers and as a result, jobs can be prioritised.

Technology should serve the people

Mr Ray points out that technology should bend itself to serve the will of the people- not the other way around. Displays, for instance, should be developed to meet decision-makers’ requirements. “Focus must be placed on the consumer’s needs. We engage with companies’ decision-makers to see what they need and what is meaningful to them. They don’t want to see spreadsheets and data. Instead, they need help in understanding what is at risk of failure. Our job is to help them understand- in an intuitive way- the impact on the grid. This is the power of working with our user experience team and the customer.”

Adoption of Technology won’t be based on ORI

We asked Mr Ray what the Overall Return of Investment (ORI) time frame of the technology would be. He responded by explaining that the technology will help prevent a lot of technical and financial losses in the long run. “Eventually all businesses will use it-it will be a given. Adoption won’t even be based on ORI.” He adds that for asset health, all transmission and distribution companies should be considering the technology.

Other plans

According to Mr Ray, there is a great opportunity in generation. “We are currently speaking with EDF in order to find out how we can get more out of existing nuclear infrastructure. It’s tough to get approval to develop additional nuclear plans outside of China. It takes a lot of time.” Ventyx is developing solutions for EDF by implementing an asset management system which will closely monitor and assess their existing nuclear infrastructure. This will give EDF the ability to run the nuclear infrastructure at a higher capacity and at the same time, improve the safety of employers. “You can’t do this without great software technology and expertise.”

Ventyx is also in the process of developing solutions for the efficient introduction of renewable energy in to the grid. The smart grid is obviously a large part of this solution. The company is involved with the Vattenfall project (excess offshore wind supply) and is assisting with the deployment of a next generation smart grid that recognizes the variable nature of renewables.

Last word

“There are so many factors affecting the energy industry today-some that we never imagined possible. There is a high level of disruption and proof of this is the level of discussions at the EU conference. However, disruption gives us an opportunity to innovate. It gives us a free pass to say that there is a better way to do things. I cannot think of a better time to be in this industry than now.”