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Software, Cloud Services,“Internet of Things” Emerge Front and Center at ConEd

ConEdison’s $1.5 billion New York metro area-wide automated metering infrastructure (AMI) project shines a light on the means by which leading U.S. utilities are combining Internet of Things (IoT) technology, cloud-based information and communications services and a range of utility- and customer-side assets and resources to build more software-oriented, as well as customer-centric power grids and more reliable, resilient and efficient low-carbon energy services.

In part one of this two-part report, Matt Ketschke, ConEd’s VP of Distributed Energy Integration, highlighted the necessity for utilities to develop and successfully market a diversified portfolio of customer-sited, “behind the meter” energy services solutions as the transition to more open, competitive power markets, distributed clean energy resources and decentralized power grids continues.

We delve further into this topic here in part two by zooming in on some of the key elements in the mix of software applications, platforms and other digital grid assets ConEd is employing as its AMI roll-out progresses and the investor-owned utility’s employees work to realize their organization’s, as well as New York State’s, strategic renewable energy, climate change and grid modernization plans.

Software and network services for a smarter, leaner and cleaner grid

Back in February 2016 ConEd and its sister company, Orange & Rockland (O&R) Utilities, chose Redwood City, Calif.-based Silver Springs Networks to support their respective electric and gas AMI projects. 

As Silver Springs explained at the time: “This secure communications network will provide Con Edison and O&R with data and insights into its grid, empowering customers to better manage their energy usage, and enabling advancements in reliability and customer service.

“For example, Con Edison and O&R will be able to better monitor and manage distributed energy resources to significantly improve outage detection and speed up restoration time, and enable grid operation at optimum voltage levels which will reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions." 

Furthermore, Silver Spring’s communications network will facilitate automation of energy distribution automation, the integration of sensing devices, and deployment of applications across the two utilities New York metro area service territories, the company added.

Oracle Utilities is another key ConEd information and communications technology partner. ConEd has been leveraging the customer engagement, information and energy management capacity of Oracle Opower’s flagship cloud-based application software services since March 2016 when the regulated distribution utility awarded Opower a multi-year contract to support its territory-wide Digital Customer Experience (DCX) initiative and AMI roll-out.

“Our work with Opower will help us provide customers with valuable information about their energy usage, more access to new products and services, and faster restoration when outages occur,” ConEd President Craig Ivey explained

“The digital upgrades will make it easier for customers to interact with us online, while smart meters will give them rich data about they’re using energy and ideas for using less. They’ll also get the convenience of not having to schedule appointments for us to take meter readings.”

Changing utility customer relationships, grid structures, resources and planning

Elaborating further during an interview, Ketschke pointed out that utilities’ grid resource planning has traditionally focused on having ready access to enough power generation capacity to meet expected peak demand on the expected hottest days. 

When it came to energy usage, associated data acquisition, reporting and customer billing, measuring, tallying and recording total volumetric use on a monthly basis by and large sufficed, he continued. That has changed dramatically in light of expected increases in utility network data flows orders of magnitude higher. 

The latest energy and utility industry ICT, such as Opower’s cloud software services platform, is enabling ConEd and its peers to rise to the challenge. “We’ve been working with Opower to acquire much more customer usage data at a much more granular level and then use their refined analytics to understand it,” Ketschke said.

That, in turn, is enabling ConEd to identify key energy usage patterns and identify key customers to approach with targeted solutions that are mutually beneficial. As Ketschke explained: 

“Opower provides us with the right touch points with the right sets of customers to develop customer-sided energy services solutions. We’re also able to push data and information out to customers that may spur their interest and lead them to change their usage patterns so as to optimize resources on the grid.”

It appears that ConEd may well expand on its partnership with the multinational, Redwood Shores, Calif.-based software and ICT services giant. ConEd was a featured participant in Oracle Industry Connect 2017 in Orlando this past week, during which Oracle Utilities unveiled two new utility-specific cloud services products. 

Taking center stage

Taking center stage at Oracle Industry Connect 2017Oracle Utilities unveiled  its Operational Device Cloud Service (ODCS) and Work and Asset Cloud Asset/Performance Management Service (WACS). Pursuing a strategy driven by both acquisitions and in-house development, Oracle Utilities has assembled and created what it contends is now the largest utility-specific set of cloud services in the global industry sector.

“From a functional point of view, this is a complete platform that provides ‘crade to grave’ asset management for utilities, including digital assets –  solar energy, energy storage, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, next-generation distributed energy resources, such as smart meters and smart sensors – all accessible via same user interface and employing the same logic and processes as traditional utility assets,” Oracle Utilities Group VP for product development and management Dan Byrnes elaborated in an interview.

Byrnes drew attention to the tremendous challenge ConEd and similarly minded utility peers face in undertaking fundamental, wholesale restructuring of their power grids, as well as their organizational and business models. 

ConEd and other utilities carrying out smart grid and distributed energy resource management intiatives can expect data and overall information and communications network traffic orders of magnitude higher. That, in turn, invokes the need to process, store, analyze and act upon all that data and information. 

Utilities’ existing legacy ICT systems and platforms just aren’t up to the task, particularly when it comes to reaching out to customers at the grid edge and beyond, Byrnes pointed out. 

For its part, Oracle Utilities is already “deep into engineering” the final, remaining elements of its cloud services platform, one that rounds out the customer engagement capabilities that come with Opower. 

“The last building block, you might say, is our customer cloud service, a comprehensive CIS (customer information service) that spans ratings, billings, collections, customer service, field activity and call center management." The Oracle global business unit expects it will be ready to unveil this final, remaining piece of its utility cloud services platform in the next 12-18 months, Byrnes said.

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Ali Ibrahim's picture
Ali Ibrahim on Aug 14, 2017 1:19 pm GMT

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