Utility Of The Future - The Optimized Network Utility

The Optimized Network Utility envisions a holistic approach to smart grids.
Published: Tue 03 Feb 2015

“There is no single answer on how a utility can successfully transition to become more integrated and digitally connected, but there are common approaches,” says Ana Domingues, portfolio director for Global Utilities at CGI.

For CGI these approaches define the “Optimized Network Utility” (ONU), with its basis in a holistic approach to smart grids technology deployment.

Holistic approach

CGI's Global Utilities vice president Nigel Spooner will be presenting an Engerati webinar on The Optimized Network Utility - the journey towards digital integration on March 26, outlining the route for network operators to take in order to become an ONU, with examples from model projects.

Domingues explains: “A holistic approach means not just looking at an immediate value driver delivered by a specific technology, but rather looking at all the benefits and opportunities that technology can deliver if thought of in an interconnected and integrated way.”

As an example, she cites deploying smart meters in order just to reduce meter reading costs, as has been done in some countries, as opposed to looking at maximizing the value that smart meters can offer when the their data is integrated with other data sources and infused into multiple business processes, from network to customer operations.

“Ultimately a network utility doesn’t seek a smart grid as an end objective, but looks to it as a means to achieve certain business outcomes, exploiting the opportunities of the coming paradigm shifts. That is why CGI prefers to talk of the Optimized Networked Utility that seeks to optimize grid operations, asset maintenance strategies, investments in assets and other technologies, and the balance between investments and the business opportunities in the market.”

Optimized Network Utility mindsets

Domingues says the Optimized Network Utility is driven by three fundamental mindsets:

1. Embracing the bidirectional element of energy and information flows assuming a leading role in an interconnected ecosystem

2. Defining a journey of progressively rolling out technologies with a clear return on investment while building knowledge and flexibility

3. Seeking to exploit control and visibility by driving end-to-end business processes enabled by automation and integration of operational and information technologies.

As such, “the ONU defines a journey of progressively rolling out an integrated information centric and automated utility and seeks to exploit collaborative business models balancing investments in technology, knowledge and change with the opportunities of the paradigm shift.”

The journey

The reason there is a unique journey for each ONU is that it will depend on multiple factors, such as the market structure, regulatory regime, level of technology maturity of the network utility, and rate of technology adoption by consumers, Domingues explains.

“Only with a holistic approach is it possible to define a journey that enables the exploitation of  the immediate opportunities while preparing for the longer term,” she says. “There are many different ways of moving towards an Optimized Network Utility, from exploiting existing siloed data from enterprise systems or other operational technologies such as smart meters, to increasing the level of applications integration with add-on solutions that facilitate IT/OT convergence, or a massive smart meter deployment. It depends on what is most appropriate for a network utility given the local market where it operates and the prioritization of initiatives based on ROI and risk.”

InovGrid in Portugal

As a good example of a project where the ONU vision is being realized, Domingues cites Energias de Portugal’s InovGrid project, which will be represented on the webinar by Paulo Libano Monteiro, director - Inovgrid Solution Development at EDP Distribuição. CGI is serving as system integrator using its Smartering solution to orchestrate the integration across several OT and IT systems in support of end-to-end business processes.

“InovGrid has been selected by the EU and Eurelectric as the case study for the business case methodology, because it defines a journey to move gradually towards an active managed network, considering the multiple benefits that interconnected technologies can deliver across the ecosystem.

“EDP has taken a holistic approach to smart grid technologies, from electric vehicles to public lighting management to microgeneration. The project looks at the interconnection of these and other technologies to support multiple processes across the supply chain.”

Among the benefits there are, for example, 12% savings in servicing trouble calls, as a result of re-engineering business processes across OT and IT and the integration of key systems such as AMI and CIS.

Low Carbon London

A second example Domingues cites is that CGI has provided PMO and technical architects as well as our Smart Data Service to support the Low Carbon London project, part funded through the British energy regulator Ofgem’s Low Carbon Network Fund.

“IDC Energy Insights has recognized this as a key programme promoting innovation in distribution networks,” she says. “Over the past 4 years it has been trialing and demonstrating a broad range of potential approaches to help network operators understand how they should operate the grid in the future. Taken together in  an inter-related way, these explore how to manage a sustainable and affordable electricity network in London as deployment of low carbon technologies increase.” These include investigating interactions between commercial innovation, low carbon technologies and customer behaviour involving, for example, dynamic tariffs and EVs.

Domingues adds that Low Carbon London made use of our smart meter data collection platform, Instant Energy, that is supporting eight utilities with their smart meter programmes during the Foundation Phase of Britain’s Smart Metering Implementation Programme. A key aspect of the Low Carbon London project was to obtain and analyze a large amount of data in order to understand the new market requirements and business models needed to support the low carbon technologies being deployed, with an understanding of their impact across the value chain.

"With tools such as this, we are plugging the gaps between the commercially available software and the functionality required in the future for the utility to become an Optimized Network Utility.”

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