As winter descended on the lovely Madrid, members of the EUTC (European Utilities Telecom Council) assembled once again for the group’s annual conference. The key topic was the smart grid – its definition, services and challenges. Although it's been the key topic for several years, it was interesting to see the shift to a more mature stage and, as a result, the deeper questions and dilemmas that come along with that progress.
The smart grid is viewed as the path that utility companies must take in the coming years. This path will evolve as the needs and services of the energy market evolve. What is clear is that there is a real need for a smart grid and a spirit of cooperation among the utilities. What’s also clear is that communications will play the role of key enabler in the smart grid. Still, there are several questions that remain unanswered: Who will pay for the smart grid? And how?
The business case for the smart grid isn’t clear. People are still asking how the investment will be justified and how the vendors are going to ensure the energy companies that the solution will last 20 years or so. One thing’s for sure: we need to look to the total economic system to support the utilities in an optimized way. This is why ECI decided to join the Spanish association enerTIC
as a founding member. The goal of the association is to help Spain use power more efficiently and become more sustainable.
Yet another issue is customer participation and loyalty. There's an understanding that added value is required in order to create customer loyalty. Incentives will be needed to encourage consumers to actively enroll in the smart grid in order to make it lucrative and efficient.
No conversation would be complete without a discussion on security. The key issue here is the handling of public networks and cyberspace risks. There are different opinions as to whether IP/Ethernet is the sole solution. Not everyone is convinced there will be a full migration to an all-packet network (and if it does happen, when?). There does seem to be consensus, however, that less sensitive information like voice and video can and should migrate – but folks are still undecided about mission-critical data such as teleprotection.
Then there’s regulation. This is a concern for utilities that plan to offer wholesale services to telecoms service providers. Some might get a license and some may not. They cannot factor it in as future income in the business case until regulators agree to open up the market. In Germany, RWE has some very impressive case studies of FTTH/C deployments.
And last but not least, we can’t talk about energy without mentioning the electric car or private energy that’s generated via distributed mini solar/wind power plants. These unpredictable elements will impact the power network and will require command and control.
As the participants from the conference headed back to their homes in Europe, the Middle East, South America and Africa, they agreed that while they might know how to migrate the power grid, which is their core business, they need partners that can help them with communication migration and information management, as communication is a key enabler of the smart grid and its management and service control. It looks like the preferred path – and therefore partner – is one that supports the conservative approach of a gradual migration and the need for the coexistence and preservation of the existing SDH network and installed base alongside deployment of new networks and services.
Head of Solution & Product Marketing