Spokane and the Urbanova project: How can utilities stay relevant?

As one of the oldest utility companies in the United States, Avista is continuously seeking new ways to innovate and improve the business.
Published: Tue 06 Mar 2018

In the era of digital integration and customer engagement, utilities are increasingly becoming consumer-driven businesses and keeping up with changes is essential.

Anticipating future energy trends

Heather Rosentrater, Avista’s Vice President of Energy Delivery, believes that staying relevant to the concerns of current times is vital for a company’s survival in the competitiveness of the field. “We’ve got to be looking ahead, we’ve got to be trying to prepare for the next 128 years to be competitive, because energy use, appliances, and everything else is getting much more energy efficient.”

To Rosentrater, anticipating future trends, consumer demands and preferences and innovative business models are paramount factors to staying relevant in the energy market. “To continue to grow and stay relevant, we’ve got to identify additional business models, additional partnerships, and relationships.”

The Urbanova project

One of the ways in which Avista is endeavouring to do so is with the Urbanova project in the city of Spokane, in Washington state. Urbanova is carrying on a pilot in which a sensor network is being installed in street lights with goals such as increasing public safety, energy efficiency, and air quality. The management and control of the street lights are done using Itron's OpenWay Riva solution.

“Historically, we’ve looked for trends, and what opportunities might be coming out of those trends,” says Rosentrater. “Some of the trends going on right now are the availability of networks as well as the trends in sensor technology. Sensor technology continues to come down in price – again, the network availability is becoming broader – and specifically, we’ll be installing the AMI network system in our service territory”.

Energy efficiency and economic growth

For Rosentrater, the implementation of this project has myriad benefits for all parties involved. “There’s opportunity in terms of reducing the duplication of assets. If we have a network that we’re building for our metering system, there’s an opportunity for others that need network access to utilize that infrastructure as well. For the community members, you’re being more efficient in terms of providing the services that they’re getting from multiple different entities.”

Thus the initiative goes beyond being a way to keep up with current advancements and trends in the energy market. It’s a means by which the utility can directly improve the city in which it operates and positively impact its economy and functioning.

“For us, it’s more about the health of our economy in our community,” says Rosentrater. “We’ve done a lot of studies in the past about how do we grow our utility and how do we stay a healthy utility. The best way we can do that by being part of a healthy community, both the economic health and the health of the citizens.”

“We see the opportunities around our smart city efforts as one of our main goals and where we have a common goal with the city, the universities, and other partners. How can we help create healthier citizens in that area?”

Avista demonstrates how utilities can, and should, take full advantage of available assets to innovate and stay on top of the market. Surviving and advancing as a business means looking forward to future trends, instead of reproducing outdated, unsustainable traditions.

To watch the full interview and read more about smart city projects, access our digital magazine.