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Structuring success for utilities: Q&A with Lelon Winstead

Taking advantage of differentiated capabilities in smart grid and trading for utilities


Lelon Winstead
Managing director

Accenture completed its acquisition of Structure in January 2015. Why was it a good time for Accenture and Structure to join forces?
Over the past few years the market has been defined by change. It’s a disruptive and exciting time. Regulatory environments, business models, consumer demands and commodity prices are all in a state of flux. At Structure, we’ve had great success helping clients manage their grid operations and trading and risk, but we weren’t big enough to help them deal with major disruptions. As part of Accenture, we knew we could take on larger and more strategic opportunities—and not just in the United States, but globally. Accenture gives us the platform to help on a much broader scale. 

What excites you the most now that Structure is a part of Accenture? 
Going into the acquisition, we believed that Structure and Accenture together would create something greater than anything we could achieve on our own. “1+1 = 5” became our rallying cry. And now, one year on, it’s tremendously exciting to see that vision materialized. 

What will be the top areas of concern for utilities over the next five years?
I see four areas of concern for utilities. One is specifically around the growth rates of distributed energy resources and the different types of sources of generation. No one imagined they would grow at such a rapid pace, and now utilities are wondering what the impact of that growth will be. 

Other areas of concern will be cyber security, customer engagement and regulations. All of those combined are putting a lot of pressure on utility business models. Utilities are going to have to make some decisions around their business model and the type and level of relationships they want to have with their consumers. 

What are some emerging areas of transformation you find particularly interesting for utilities?
Years ago, Structure invested in developing our capabilities in the area of intelligent grid operations. Those investments have paid off. Today, we’re really well positioned to capitalize on utilities’ growing interest in optimizing their distribution management and outage management systems. 

There’s also a lot of potential in distribution automation, which is driving new levels of efficiencies and completely changing the way field workers do their jobs. There’s also transformation brewing in the area of information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) convergence. We’re seeing IT taking advantage of emerging technologies and blending those with real-time OT solutions. That means applications like outage management systems and distribution management systems can now be treated as real-time applications with critical functionality. 

What about transformation opportunities in trading and risk management?
Trading and risk for utilities are going to become increasingly important as disruptive technologies continue to roll out and more distributed energy resources get deployed. We think there’s a real opportunity for utilities to apply risk management strategies to take better advantage of this disruption. 

There’s also a big shift happening in wind generation. Longer-term power purchase agreements and wind investments are now declining. Managing wind assets is going to require active forecasting tools and being able to trade around those assets to optimize returns. In fact, trading and risk activities will be playing a more important role in shaping utility business models. 

Early in your career you worked in the metering business. What are some of the biggest differences you have seen since then?
When I started out, metering was really just considered the front end of the meter-to-cash cycle. Meters monitored usage and fed that to billing systems. Then metering evolved to support rate cases. That made the use of meters much more strategic. Now, it’s evolved again. 

With AMI and two-way communications, metering data can be turned into useful information that drives efficiencies and operational benefits. For example, utilities now use their meter data to forecast loads and reinforce their distribution systems. They can justify their AMI investments now, since meters do so much more than gather consumption data. It’s a much more exciting area of work today than it was just a few years ago. 

How did you get your start in the industry?
When I was at North Carolina State’s College of Engineering I had the opportunity to do an internship with Carolina Power & Light, which is now Duke Energy. I have to be honest; I took the internship not because I had some great ambition to work with utilities, but mostly because it was based at the beach. That was my first exposure to the utilities industry, and I was hooked. 

Which accomplishments are you most proud of in your career?
Any success I’ve had is due to two main factors—luck and the talented people who’ve surrounded me. I’ve been fortunate to have some great mentors over the course of my career. And my greatest accomplishment will be having others say the same of me one day. 

Is there anything that people would be surprised to learn about you?
I'm not sure how surprising it will be, but I call North Carolina home. And, yes, I drive a pick-up truck.


"Trading will continue to be a key tool to help manage not only the long-term cash flows associated with the utilities business, but also help manage through any downside risk associated with those investments."

Lelon Winstead

Managing director