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Tomorrow's Utility: Where Customers, Technology and Solutions Intersect
By Lauren Kenney, VP of Grid Modernization, Entergy
When we talk about the utility of the future, it can seem like a distant concept. How do today’s utilities adapt to rapid changing technology and expectations? How do we meet today’s demands, while at the same time preparing for what’s next?
The truth is that our industry is a bit behind in adjusting to the needs of our customers, and we have traditionally segmented them into three large buckets: residential, commercial and industrial. Compare the type of relationship that most utilities have with their consumers to how Amazon customizes the experience for each individual user by clearly understanding how, when and why they use their service.
The utility industry, once considered very slow-to-adapt is starting to change how it thinks about customers, and in a very important way. We are driving toward a closer relationship with our customers, better positioning us to understand unique pain points, and provide results that exceed expectations.
Tomorrow’s utility is transitioning from supplier to partner. It offers tailored solutions based on individual preferences and ever-changing expectations. And it gets there through merging new technologies into not only existing grid infrastructure, but also by creating a platform for what’s to come.
Smarter Meters, Smarter System
Enter advanced metering—a foundational move in upgrading some of Entergy’s technology infrastructure. In 2019, our company will begin to deploy advanced meters throughout our four-state service area, spanning parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Installation for our nearly 3 million customers will be a multi-year effort with projected completion in 2021.
Advanced meters will impact many areas of the business— from how customers’ energy usage is read to how bills will be calculated and sent.
Through data and analytics, utilities can be more sophisticated in advanced distribution planning
Through their online account, customers will have the ability to be better informed about their electricity usage. From that one-stop portal, they can then manage their usage based on information that we will provide daily versus monthly.
From a system perspective, we will also have the ability to more accurately pinpoint outages from data fed into the company’s new Outage and Distribution Management system. This data leverages automated processes to diagnose causes and pinpoint outage locations. The result: faster outage response times and transparency from all sides of the work stream, from operations coordinators to contact center agents.
These technology upgrades are a game changer and bring a very significant opportunity for us as a utility. This gives our company the power to shift from being strictly an electricity supplier to a trusted partner who provides insights and offers solutions that include savings for customers.
Beyond the Meter… Data, Data, Data
By constructing the infrastructure required to enable smart functionalities—beyond the meter—we are also increasing our grid intelligence. These upgrades allow us to utilize data to optimize the operation, maintenance and planning of the grid—improving overall efficiency of our processes and delivering a better overall customer experience.
Through data and analytics, utilities can be more sophisticated in advanced distribution planning. For example: distribution automation will regulate through grid-edge computing and provide real-time awareness of the system’s health.
As customer needs shift and evolve, new challenges and opportunities arise for utilities. We must adapt quickly. We must be nimble. And, that’s made possible through new technologies. It may also require the development of new company processes, integration of new distributed resources, changes to traditional business and regulatory models, and more.
What won’t change is the focus of delivering solutions that continue to meet the changing needs of our customers— whether that’s adding microgrids to those communities hardest to serve or being a leader in the development of smart cities.
This is more than simply installing new, smarter meters throughout our multi-state service area. It’s laying the groundwork that allows us to upgrade our infrastructure, modernize our grid and ultimately offer better insight into what our customers want. Then we can truly pivot from being a traditional service provider to a trusted partner delivering electricity safely, helping our customers save money, being more environmentally responsible and making our services easier to use.
The future is bright for the energy industry. Technology is enabling exciting new ways to better serve customers. It is truly a revolutionary time to be part of a strong cultural shift that’s happening inside and outside of our company. It’s time for utilities to realize we are as much technology companies as we are operators.
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