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Customers, security, storage continue to drive discussion

Here's another quick look at the year past to inform our look ahead to the trends and currents shaping the new year to come.

This past April, the beginning of the year's second quarter, began with a handful of issues that continue rock the world for investor-owned utilities.

In "SCADA Vulnerabilities, Redux?" we pointed out that the cyber security conversation in the power sector needs to expand. 

"The difference between cyber security for enterprise networks that handle corporate data and securing industrical control systems (ICS) in the power industry is, of course, that messing with the former can disrupt business and lead to lost revenue and profit," we wrote back then. "Messing with ICSs can lead to the malfunction of high voltage equipment, possibly leading to lost lives."

That conversation is ongoing and likely to remain so, having turned to a discussion of whether the federal government should host a voluntary repository for related incident data and best practices or whether that activity should remain in the purview of the industry itself. 

See how the conversation has developed by checking in on a Q&A we did with Patrick Miller, president/CEO of EnergySec and principal investigator for its offshoot, the National Electric Sector Cybersecurity (NESCO), a public-private partnership operated by EnergySec with funding from the Department of Energy, in "Talking Cyber Security: Practices, Policies and Scenarios." 

Here's another theme that emerged in April and will only receive more attention, if recent coverage is any clue. From "Connecticut: In Search of Microgrids":

"Just as microgrids are sought in developing economies in lieu of a centralized power grid, so microgrids have become the focus of entities-cities, towns, campuses (military, hospital, university)-in the de-evolution of centralized power in developed countries."

Our coverage this week on an IEEE global survey of power industry executives, "Distributed Resources: Wave of the Future?," establishes that utility leadership agrees. The question going forward is: how will regulated monopolies deal with that trend? The answer has everything to do with how grid modernization choices are made and where they lead.

Likewise, "California's Energy Storage Policies" described the Golden State's deliberations over another technology trend that is only going to grow. The question is: in which direction? Will storage serve self-sufficiency for homes, businesses and even neighborhoods, or will it be utility scale and thrive despite market complexities? As another phase of California's deliberations are due for resolution in 2013, we can look forward to more robust discussion on that topic. 

A series of columns on customer engagement also set the stage for an issue that will get more play in the months (and years) ahead: "Ameren Missouri: From CSR to `Energy Advisor,'" "Utilities Race to Reach the Customer," and "Accenture on Utilities and Their Customers."  

In the first piece we learned of one utility that's beefing up its human interface with the customer while, in the second piece, I wrote that "the stodgy old power industry appears to be making some adroit moves to catch up with its customer base after a century of extending electricity to all corners of the country and doing such a good job of delivering it at low cost that no one cared about the relationship until now." In the third piece, Accenture offered a global survey of electricity consumers' attitudes and perceptions around service and cost. 

A quick glance at the rest of the quarter's work revealed other topics likely to continue seizing our attention in the New Year: outage management, data analytics, mobile technology, energy management applications, the role of grid modernization in urban revitalization, the list goes on.

But we won't discuss those in this column because, I'm told, our audience doesn't have the attention span of a teenage gamer. Although I disagree, let me know whether you have a preference for 300-, 500- or 700-word posts in this space, or whether length should vary with the topic. Cursory or a little in-depth? We'll tailor this space to your needs, if you express interest. 

 

Phil Carson's picture

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