Given all the smart grid news that has been floating around, it seems relevant to end this week with some more data, this time from two surveys of utility executives—one by Oracle and one by Microsoft.
The Oracle data, which was collected in January 2010, represents the views of roughly 150 utility industry executives from the United States and Canada. One of the most surprising high-level findings is that only one in five of the executives said their company is moving ahead with a system-wide smart grid deployment. This despite the fact that many expect smart grid technologies to improve their communications with energy consumers over the next decade. As you might expect, cost was the biggest impediment to smart grid technology investments.
Utilities cited the following as the three top priorities for their smart grid strategies:
- Improving service reliability and operational efficiency (45%)
- Implementing smart metering (41%)
- Developing demand response and energy efficiency programs (37%)
The goods news is that close to half of the respondents from utility companies with more than 100,000 customers said they are working on trials or pilot programs, while approximately 18 percent of utilities with smaller consumer bases said the same. Slightly more than 20 percent of respondents (regardless of the utility company size) said they were charging ahead with system-wide deployments.
Gary Waters, vice president of industry strategy for the utility industry with Oracle, says the survey shows that utility executives believe there is a clear mandate for them to update their distribution and information technology infrastructures. However, the pressures of the economic slowdown and associated power consumption declines have made it tough for many of them to invest heavily at this time. "Some utilities will struggle to do this," he observes.
Despite some backlash involving smart meter pilot projects in California and Texas, respondents to the Oracle survey indicate that this is the first component of the smart grid that will be adopted most quickly, followed by mechanisms for demand response.
Let it be duly noted that another software company with aspirations for the smart grid infrastructure, Microsoft, also recently released its own survey of utility companies about this topic. Many of its findings mirror those of the Oracle survey. For example, Microsoft's study found that only 8 percent of the utility companies around the world have actually completed their smart grid deployments; approximately 37 percent have projects under way. That leaves more than half that haven't yet started on ANY smart grid work, the survey found.
The Microsoft Worldwide Utility Industry Survey 2010 accounted for the perspectives of about 200 "professionals" from electric, gas and water utilities. The respondents pointed to distribution management and smart meters as the two most important technologies for successful smart grid deployments.
Here's a comment from Microsoft's managing director of Worldwide Power & Utilities Industry Jon Arnold, which I plucked from the press release:
"Some incorrectly assert that the utility industry is unwilling to change, but the survey shows the opposite. It's the magnitude of change to everything from business models to systems that's overwhelming, especially given utilities' existing asset and technology investments combined with the need to ensure profitability and reliability."
Financial concerns were the biggest obstacles to smart grid investments cited by the Microsoft survey respondents.