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Comparing the distribution network operator (DNO) of the past with that of the future, it is clear that the required extent of change is unprecedented.
A look at other industries illustrates the size of the leap required. Take the mobile phone industry. Who could have predicted in 1997 that the average handset in ten years’ time would not simply make calls but play music and video, browse the Web, manage e-mail and multi-media messaging, work with touch displays, and offer massive internal storage? The magnitude of that change is comparable to the DNO’s smart future.
How can networked utilities move on from analogue into the digital age? How might a state of the art future look and how could this positively impact the consumer? And how will utilities create a roadmap that allows new technologies to be transitioned in and avoid making regretful decisions?
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Looking into the future: how networked utilities can harness innovation to make consumers’ lives easier
The outcomes of Low Carbon Networks Fund (LCNF) projects and other research and development have undoubtedly informed DNO decisions regarding the investments needed and adoption of new technologies. Business cases for certain investments will strengthen as assumptions are verified.
Given the massive investment the network needs and the external factors influencing those requirements, it is clear that smart technologies will be layered on over time, including associated supporting information technology systems and other non-network technologies.
From a consumer perspective, it all centers around real time measurement, big data, and analytics tracking – all tightly coupled to create an intelligent system that knows how the network they rely on is performing 24/7.
Behind the scenes, the possibilities are endless, and complex. At its core, the smart future state is highly intelligent – a fully integrated system that is intelligent, responsive, flexible and where possible, self-healing.
Of course there are considerable challenges for utilities, including data handling, security, asset handling, and managing cultural change. Understanding the associated benefits these new technologies will bring is at the forefront of many of the discussions today. Security is also a hot topic that is an ever greater concern to consumers and providers alike.
By envisaging a potential future and then working back from that vision, DNOs can start to understand the “no regret” decisions they can make in the immediate future that will provide the foundation for subsequent layers of innovation.
Importantly, these investments need to be defendable from a regulatory perspective: i.e. that is, they need to consider customer satisfaction, reliability and availability, safe network service, and other similar factors.
Download the PDF to see a “day-in-the-life-of a future DNO” scenario that offers a view of a future state 10 years from today.
While uncertainty persists about networks moving from an analogue to a digital age, it is certain that DNOs will need to manage carefully the lengthy transition they face.
Lessons from pilots will be an invaluable source of information and the regulatory environment is set to mature in terms of innovation with the advent of RIIO (Revenue = Incentives + Innovation + Outputs). Decisions made today need to consider the future state and verify that any subsequent investments do not give cause for regret.
Regardless of the advent of smart technologies, customers will become savvier. A DNO’s field force will continue to strive towards greater efficiency. The demand for more information, work and asset management systems will continue to provide the operational backbone.
Enterprise systems will still need to be integrated. Data deficiencies will contain to plague DNO decision makers. Operational cost targets will remain. So, while the layering on of the technical elements associated with smart technologies (systems and hardware) is the correct approach, the principle also holds true for the business elements, as capabilities across a DNO’s organization need to transition accordingly.
June 25, 2013
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