European Utility Week 2013 was about Smart Grid Policy, Technology, and Customer Stories

Published: Tue 29 Oct 2013
A blog entry by Smart Grid Watch

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By Usman Sindhu, Senior Product Marketing Specialist, eMeter, a Siemens Business

At the European Utility Week conference in Amsterdam Oct. 15-17, utility professionals and energy industry vendors were keen to understand the innovations taking place in the industry. They're also eager to work together on addressing some growing challenges.

In Europe, progress on smart grid projects varies. Most European utilities have elaborate smart grid plans, but are cautiously executing on the EU 2020 renewable energy targets and internal roadmaps. The European energy market is quite fragmented; business drivers vary by country. Therefore, the separation of markets for energy transmission, distribution and suppliers creates specific challenges for each constituent. Consequently, there is no one-size-fits-all smart grid solution for utilities in Europe.

The biggest question posed by conference attendees was: How can players in Europe's energy market pull in one direction to embrace what matters most for end users, and also to create a sustainable energy market?

Industry leaders answered this question by demonstrating how technology and brand-awareness can help bridge the gaps.

A few observations from the conference:

1. Smart metering is happening, but at a slow pace. The European Commission is positive that utilities will reach 74% smart meter deployments by 2020. Yet utilities remain very cautious, and many smart meter projects are still only in the pilot phase. The European Smart Metering Industry Group claims that 74% is a "utopian number" -- and that Europe will not reach that target. Also, several utilities indicated at EUW13 that some consumers are not thrilled about how smart metering can increase their utility bills.

2. The smart grid should create a resilient ecosystem for utilities and customers. In his keynote address, Dr. Jan Mrosik, CEO of Siemens Smart Grid, explained that future of the smart grid requires balancing sustainability, security of supply and economic efficiency. He mentioned concerns about how distributed generation challenges the conventional utility business model.

Also, Mrosik noted that in some cases, regulatory mandates have created some obstacles hindering European utilities from adopting some smart grid strategies, such as time-of-use prices. An effective smart grid ecosystem can create an environment that address issues around reliability and the rising cost of energy to the consumer.

3. Information security and privacy are definitely attracting attention. Many European utilities are grappling with the security and privacy implications of smart meter deployments. Some utilities, such as EDP Portugal, are at the forefront of implementing security architecture and converging security operations for information technology and operational technology. Privacy discussions stem from customer concerns. However, since smart metering hasn't yet reached its peak in Europe, there are few "proof points" about this concern so far.

4. Data management and analytics are blurring the lines between IT and OT. Distribution system operators (DSOs) and energy suppliers are very interested in both the information technology and operations technology aspects of this convergence. For instance, smart metering and integration of distributed energy resources are causing ripple effects in how utilities manage data and create additional insights.

However, these topics and their implementation are at an early stage. At EUW13, infrastructure and enterprise architects expressed interests in learning more about analytics for consumer data -- to manage distribution grid data as well as to gain insight into consumption behavior. One conference attendee from the Dutch utility Alliander offered the metaphor of smart grid data as "a spider's web where data connects IT and OT."

5. Water and gas utilities are slowly catching up to smart grid. Anglian Water, Alliander, Eandis, GrDF France and other gas and water utilities shared their smart grid roadmaps. Energy efficiency, understanding consumption data, and fine-tuning grid operations (including identifying theft and losses) were some of the use cases that led these utilities to pilot smart metering and supporting technologies.

Key EUW13 takeaways for technology providers:

In the coming year, technology providers should focus on the following issues to help utilities navigate the smart grid transition:

1. Help utilities form a coherent regulatory and internal roadmap. Utilities are often confused about the regulatory landscape towards smart metering and broader smart grid strategy. Technology providers should create an infrastructure that fulfills the regulatory and internal compliance needs for the years to come.

2.Create IT/OT integration strategy that is a means to an end. Many utilities benefit from IT and OT sharing their successes and failures with each other. Both sides of utility operations solve similar problems and want to excel at their goals. Technology providers should create an infrastructure that enables both camps to share information and engage consumers.

3. Make security and privacy central to each implementation. Utilities should understand security and privacy implications right from the beginning of smart grid projects. This means that whenever a utility undertakes a smart meter pilot or creates a customer engagement program, it's crucial to thoroughly consider security and privacy requirements implications from the beginning and throughout the project.

4. Enable utilities to create a brand for their customers. Brand strategist Peter Economides told EUW13 attendees, "customers buy brands." Utility companies need to create a brand that consumers like, and that makes them happy. Technology providers can help utilities create an enabling environment where customers recognize their utility as serving their needs and interests.

Did you attend EUW? Please share your observations in the comments.

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