November 2012
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Are Utilities Ready for the Smart Grid?
Utilities
must change current cultural behaviors to embrace the technology and learn from mistakes to deliver a smart grid that is viable to its investors. 

Nirosha Munasinghe
Nirosha Munasinghe
MBusIT BSc BE (Hons) (Melb)

Contributing Editor


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The smart grid is evolving at a rapid pace around the world. From advance metering infrastructure deployments to sub station automation the concept of the “Smart Grid” is becoming a reality. The underline technology behind the smart grid is evolving such as cellular based communication as the industry is learning from early deployments of the technology.  However are the utilities ready for such rapid changes?   This article examines the key change management challenges the utilities face as they enter into the smart grid maze and makes comparison with the challenges building management systems faced as it transformed from analog systems to fully networked, integrated, web-based systems.

Figure 1: Changing paradigm of the utilities industry

                              Figure 1: Changing paradigm of the utilities industry

The utility industry has been a old slow growth industry since Thomas Edison invented the electric bulb. A vertical hierarchy governs the industry, with high resistance to change. The primary aim is to maintain power on the grid and prevent outages. As long as this objective is achieved it is business as usual. This culture has instilled a resistance to change behavior in the industry. “We know power, don’t tell us what to do”.  With such attitude, utilities are facing a major challenge of adapting to the concept of the smart grid due to its dynamic nature and ever shifting environment. The concept of information technology communication (ICT) managing the grid is becoming cultural shock for people who have been in the industry for long period.

Let’s rewind a decade and examine the transformation of the BAS industry from a stand lone proprietary system to fully networked open systems. The prime aim of the BAS was maintain the temperature of a facility at a desired level to prevent complaints from its stakeholders. As long as the users are satisfied with the temperature, the facility manager completed key maintenance activities and it was business as usual.  Enter the world of open systems; integration with networks, IT systems, web base systems and new open protocols. As with the current utilities, for the typical facility, the changes pushed away from their comfort zone.  The resistance to change was evident from the start, “It's too complicated” “Why do we need all this technology, we only want to control temperature” “We don’t want to integrate BAS with corporate IT”. These were common symptoms of resistance to change.

How did BAS overcome these roadblocks?  Time was a critical factor. As the industry evolved continual knowledge empowerment on the technology was instilled on the stakeholders injecting more confidence. Continual means of educating and transferring knowledge became a common agenda with conferences around the world.  The process for screening for staff also changed with BAS employing personel with IT backgrounds rather than just purely on control systems. BAS has now begun to share the benefits of an open and integrated system with its stakeholders by exposing key data of a facility to its stakeholders. Dashboards vendors have sprouted into the market over the last two years with significant impact on the ultimate goal.

Control Solutions, Inc What can utilities learn from BAS to ride the wave of the smart grid and implement a change management process to adjust to the dynamic industry?

The utilities are inundated with various technology choices. It must change the current cultural behaviors to embrace the technology and learn from mistakes to deliver a smart grid that is viable to its investors. 
 

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