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Adapting to market changes in the utilities sector



by Koen Bas — The emergence of new technologies in smart energy, coupled with customer behavioural changes and demands, is reshaping the utility industry. The energy and utilities landscape is undergoing a rapid, major transformation as a result of global and political market changes. Sustainability, competition, compliance, operational excellence and cost-efficiency are major business drivers in the utilities industry.

In order to maintain pace and keep up with these changes, utilities must assess and anticipate the changing market conditions, whilst being in a position to accept and benefit from new technology opportunities. The collection and handling of large data volumes, real-time data processing, and utilising digital channels to connect with customers are quickly becoming top priorities for utilities, whether they are integrated utilities, or separate grid companies, generators, retailers and traders in liberalized markets. However, in such an emerging environment, utility companies run the risk of being left behind. They face pressures in many areas, environmental concerns are forcing them to rely upon more eco-friendly, sustainable power generation, whilst they implement programs designed to make customers aware to cut power consumption even further.

Elster works with global organisations across the energy value chain, combining industry, technology and business expertise to help utility companies adapt to shifting market drivers. Its unique offering helps utilities to adopt and integrate meter data collection and meter data management through Connexo™, a unified utility intelligence solution, which embraces new metering and communication technologies and continues to manage legacy asset bases on the same single platform.

The issue with separate and multiple systems that need to be integrated often results in missing or redundant data, with a ‘single unified view’ of all smart grid data missing. Older technologies make it difficult to make this data available across other applications.  Many systems are hard to implement, have a high learning curve and can be frustrating to operate. Once they are implemented it is nearly impossible to adapt them to changing business needs. So, what is the solution? What should utilities consider to ensure they adopt new platforms that are easy to deploy and future-proof, whilst giving them a fully holistic view?

Elster designed Connexo, its unified utility intelligence solution, to enable utilities to meet these challenges head-on, to support industry best practice and compliance and provide a platform to deliver continuous innovation into the future. The solution helps utilities to keep pace and become flexible, reliable and innovative by using their key asset – information – more efficiently. Elster’s next-generation software portfolio looks after a utility’s entire smart data flow: from device management and multi-vendor/multi-network data collection to scalable data management and comprehensive, built-in analytics. This can help utilities to further manage the escalating volumes, types and complexity of smart grid data needed to meet evolving business, regulatory and customer expectations.

As utilities face continuously evolving business models and technologies, there is a need for modular design for smart grid software solutions. These software platforms must be able to rapidly adapt to continuous technology and regulatory changes as well as market challenges. With the help of next-generation software solutions such as Connexo, utilities can now face these challenges confidently by being able to incrementally grow the solution to their changing needs. Connexo supports more than 200 communication protocols, which enables seamless collection and processing of data from many different meter and sensor vendors in the smart grid ecosystem. Its modular architecture provides the flexibility to easily add new devices, protocols and applications such as prepayment, security key management and analytics, to support present and future use cases as the industry and utility needs change.

Climate change, rising energy prices and technology advances are all forces that have beenreshaping the collective mind-set of consumers, turning many from "passive ratepayers" to highly informed, environmentally conscious customers who want a role in using power. And now, with the emergence of the technologies that make smart grids possible, companies can provide their customers with the information and control they need to actually change their behaviour patterns and reduce usage and costs that show up on the utility bill. Furthermore, implementing a prepayment model for their customers will enhance customer satisfaction. Online account access provides immediate credit and consumption information to customers that helps to improve energy efficiency and avoid surprises due to high energy bills.

The power industry is a highly regulated industry, regardless of global location and can be regulated at multiple levels. Unfortunately, some of the current market designs won’t support the shift from a capacity-oriented system to a disaggregated, flexible power system without significant adaptations. This is one more reason why utilities should look to implement a software solution they can rely upon – one that allows them to integrate key operational workflows, business processes and smart grid data from multiple devices and vendors. Utilities benefit most from a unified and simple approach via a single interoperable solution. Connexo eliminates the challenges that arise for those utilities operating separate data collection and management systems. Its built-in workflow automation and guided decision-making are designed to enhance operator productivity, therefore reducing the cost and complexity of utility operations.

Koen Bas is head of product management software & services EMEA/APAC at Elster Electricity, now part of Honeywell. Koen has 30 years of experience in the software industry in a variety of industries and a number of roles in product development, product management, marketing, sales and business development. Koen has been active in the utility industry for the last eight years and joined Elster in 2010, where he is currently running the product management organisation that manages the Connexo and Enacto product platforms.

Full details on Connexo can be found at www connexo.com.



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