How best to implement smart grid technologies that provide customers with the tools necessary to manage energy usage and improve energy efficiency, and utilities with the tools required to effectively manage the grid? Itâ€™s a question thatâ€™s top of the agenda for grid designers and power industry experts alike â€“ particularly given the growing number of utilities looking to roll such systems out in the near future.
Indeed, a recent survey showed that there has been a surge in the number of utility companies across the globe either adopting smart grid technologies or planning to do so. The Microsoft Worldwide Utility Industry Survey 2011 polled more than 210 professionals within electric, gas and related companies around the world and found that 39 percent of utilities were adopting smart grid technologies.
A further 37 percent had plans in place or were in the process of drafting plans, only 16 percent had not started any activities, while eight percent claimed complete implementation, the report revealed. Moreover, the report indicated that 73 percent of respondents expect their smart grid budget to increase over the next two-three years, while 21 percent expect it to stay the same and six percent to decrease.
For Australian firms, smart grids promise to bring significant benefits. Speaking at last Novemberâ€™s Next Generation Utilities Summit Australia, organised by GDS International, Ergon Energy CEO Ian McLeod believes the reason interest in smart metres is exploding is that they offer an opportunity â€“ in concert with energy management technologies and asset management solutions â€“ to really understand the customer. â€œThis is critical to making better management decisions,â€ he said. â€œSensors, smart metres, energy management systems â€“ they all help us identify consumer demand, meet that demand effectively, and improve the reliability of the network.â€
However, it isnâ€™t all plain sailing for smart grids. For while there is widespread industry consensus that they have the potential to provide customers with detailed energy use data that can help them reduce their energy use, and utilities with better information to improve the detection of power outages, aid in outage restoration and even provide improved customer services, there is still much debate about the best way to rollout and integrate the myriad technologies that go to make up a so-called smart grid.
Around 27 percent of respondents to the Microsoft survey revealed that the main challenge to moving forward from planning to actual smart grid implementation is financial, while others point the finger at organisational and regulatory issues, as well as the lack of a comprehensive plan.
More than half the respondents expect their customersâ€™ bills to become more complex, and almost half expect their organisation will need to be significantly restructured to achieve the vision of a fully integrated smart grid. And, despite their confidence in todayâ€™s smart grid technology, 64 percent of respondents say they donâ€™t have a clear view of the enterprise information and technology infrastructure that will be used to structure current and future smart grid developments.
Smart grids will again be top of the agenda at the Next Generation Utilities Summit Australia 2011, which takes place from 12-14 October at the Marriott Resort and Spa, Gold Coast. This closed-door summit, hosted by GDS International, features some of the leading voices in the US utilities sector, including Sharron Kennedy, CIO of Energy Australia; Ken Sutherland, CEO of Unison; Ziggy Wilk, General Manager for Operations at Horizon Power; and Andre Botha, GM of Networks at Aurora Energy.
Along with smart grids, other key topics for discussion include energy management systems, overcoming infrastructural and regulatory challenges and how to improve customer engagement with real-time feedback.
Next Generation Utilities Summit Australia 2011 is an exclusive C-level event reserved for 100 participants that includes expert workshops, facilitated roundtables, peer-to-peer networks and co-ordinated meetings.
For more information, visit http://www.nguaustralia.com