Is today’s disruption data, DER or just dead?
When you run a smart grid magazine, it makes you nervous when your boss says he hates the term “smart grid.” It makes you knee-knocking nervous, like that cemetery caretaker character in Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride.
The boss doesn’t hate it because the term is amorphous—though it is. It grows and changes meaning. It turns out that he’s just tired—tired of the terms overuse, tired of what it doesn’t really explain or cover, like those tiny squares of fabric on airplanes that they dare to call blankets.
We’ve run through a bevy of overused terms in the power industry over the last few years—perhaps as many as guests in a single day of Haunted Mansion Doom Buggies or a week’s worth of use with layered airplane blankies. Smart grid is just one. There’s also IT/OT convergence. There’s also the IoT. There’s grid mod. And now, in a term we’ve borrowed from the general business of business, there’s disruption.
Disruption is the latest in the series. We started talking it up in 2014. The question is: Are we still talking about it? Are we still worried about the same disruptions? Are there new disruptions to worry about? Or is the chatter of disruption dead?
The perfect opportunity to get answers to those burning questions popped up last week in Orlando at DistribuTECH 2016, one of the largest T&D gatherings in the industry. (By far the biggest is IEEE’s T&D show coming up in Dallas in a few months. Hope to see you there.)
In Orlando, I asked a whole lot of people those questions I just asked you. Here’s what they told me.
Data is king
I sat down with Spencer Rigler, CEO, and Tom Van Denover, executive vice president, with ONZO, a company that focuses on data analytics and the energy customer. Rigler compared the current utility industry evolution to what previously happened to telco, banking and retail—namely that we’re getting closer to the customer, that we’re getting more personal and that data is actually helping to drive that personalization, opening up new experiences for those customers when it comes to energy services.
Both gentlemen stressed that there’s a growing openness in the industry, a “real desire to do things differently with data,” as Rigler put it so succinctly.
So, I’d consider that one (group) vote for data as disruption.
Mike Carlson, president of Siemens Smart Grid NA, voted for disruption in the form of distributed energy, and he added that “saturation will make it a force to be recognized.” And that potential saturation will require a lot more monitoring, a lot more analysis, a lot more control of what’s happening on the grid.
So, maybe that’s two for data as disruption, since all that monitoring and analysis will require data, with a caveat of DER. The third for data as disruption has to be Phil Wilkerson, although his gig as enterprise architecture consultant with Xcel Energy may, certainly, be influencing that vote. He described the meeting of big data and cloud computing as the savior, in fact, to all the uncertainly we’ve seen in the industry. But, as that blending happens, Wilkerson advises that there’s a lot to consider: legal holds, security, who owns the data and discovery. So, despite the potential savior status of cloud data, there’s still some work to get there.