We sat down for a short chat with Francois Vazille, vice president, Oracle Utilities, JAPAC, about evolving smart grid technology and the emergence of the digital data-driven utility.
Before we get into the devil of those details, let's start with jargon and general concepts. We talk a lot in this industry about the smart grid, and, in the last few years, about the Internet of Things. How do you see those two ideas intersecting?
Vazille: Well, the smart grid, after all, is essentially the application of Internet of Things technology—smart sensors, two-way communications, and analytics—that allow the electric grid infrastructure to enable better efficiency, improved reliability, the integration of more renewable energy and distributed energy resources, reduced emissions, and more engaged and empowered customers.
How will that intersection impact the utility industry?
Vazille: You'll see a global impact over the next few years. Our industry is expected to drive exponential growth of new Internet of Things applications to communicate machine-to-machine to new field devices and consumer energy technology devices.
But even more important than this machine-to-machine communication is the sensor data being gathered by these machines—and especially how this data can be used more efficiently and proactively by utilities.
Can you give us an example or two?
Vazille: Armed with data in real time, a utility has a more reliable view of the asset health of its infrastructure and can make better investment and work decisions. They'll know best how to balance compliance, reliability, safety and risk.
Proactive work has been shown to reduce asset failure rates and drive down the cost to operate each asset. By scheduling proactive work during normal business hours, instead of having to react immediately to a failure causing an outage, costs are reduced and reliability is greatly improved.
If you add automation to this equation, made possible by smart sensor and control devices—many of which are IP-addressable and wirelessly connected—along the utility's infrastructure, you can also add real-time asset analysis and advanced asset risk analysis to the asset management toolset and alleviate problems along the infrastructure while they are still minor.
So, it all circles back to the increasing importance of data?
Vazille: This more holistic view of utility assets, as well as load profiles, all along the grid infrastructure allows for the ability to reduce losses while optimizing the operation of the grid at the same time. And, yes, it all begins with the view that, if utility data is viewed as an asset that can produce its own value in the same way that physical assets such as poles and wires can, this data has the potential to transform the utility industry, just as it has so many other industries.
From smart grid to IoT to the combined next step then?
Vazille: Yes, digitization, or digital transformation—enabled by smart grid technologies that provide utilities with automation, self-healing, remote monitoring and control, and more—is vital for the evolution of the modern utility.
That's the combined next step, as you call it. At Oracle Utilities, we have focused our research and development efforts on providing the new technology platform and business processes to enable digitization and the data-driven utility enterprise.
What does that digital transformation mean for utilities globally?
Vazille: As data volumes grow, intelligent device capabilities advance, and consumer expectations continue to evolve, utilities around the world must prepare to take on those challenges and adopt new digital capabilities in order to produce values across the business.
For utilities, there are typically three main focus areas for digital transformation. The first is the transformation of information and technology: as utilities transform from reactive to proactive use of information and rely more heavily on analytics, they will require more advanced and integrated technology to take advantage of the full business value of the data.
The second area is the transformation of the workplace: improvements in access to information, automation, and integrated business processes will result in new ways to work. And the final focus area is the transformation of the customer experience: digital transformation allows the utility to quickly pivot as consumer expectations and communication trends change, and allows for a deeper level of customer engagement across all channels.
I've heard you call this future digital model the "data-driven utility." Could you expand on that a bit?
Vazille: The data-driven utility uses focused analysis of the new volume of data coming in from its grid assets—as well as its customer end points—to uncover new opportunities to better manage its enterprise.
This type of focused analysis can do any number of things, including pinpointing network losses, identifying peak-demand times, integrating renewable energy resource into the distribution grid, or better profiling customers' energy usage in order to more successfully introduce demand response and energy efficiency programs or other potential energy services.
Could you walk us through how Oracle can help utilities evolve into that data-driven utility model?
Vazille: Let's track a specific example with growing popularity: EVs. In the case of electric vehicle charging, Oracle DataRaker analytics can identify where EV charging is increasing load on certain transformers. In one documented case, the addition of one electric vehicle resulted in a 71 percent increase in transformer loading.
Once this analysis identifies the transformers at risk, the data can be fed back into an Oracle Opower peak management program and used to micro-target utility customers who are charging their electric vehicles during peak hours with an EV-specific peak time rebate offer to encourage them to charge during off-peak hours.Editor's note: This is part one of a two-part interview. Part two is forthcoming.