With oil prices on the rise and green energy on the US presidential agenda, smart grid implementation should be moving fast. But according to the Microsoft Worldwide Utility Industry Survey 2011, it's not. While 70 percent of respondents believe the smart grid will address tomorrow's energy challenges, utilities are still seeking clear implementation guidelines.
The upside, according to the survey, is that utilities are more willing to spend on the smart grid planning process than in previous years. Utilities need architectural and implementation guidance to be certain that future smart grid technology advances will fit with their existing technology investments.
“We're seeing a normal phenomenon occur in terms of the evolution of thinking about these projects,” said Jon C. Arnold, managing director for Microsoft's Worldwide Power & Utilities Industry, and a member of Smart Grid Advisory Committee to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in a press release. “Utilities are finding out what they don't know, and they are, naturally, exerting some caution before making big investments, even though the willingness to spend is there.”
According to the press release:
In similar ratios to the 2010 survey, utilities professionals and executives (72 percent) perceive distribution management as the most important solution needed for successful smart grid implementations. Many (60 percent) see their budgets for distribution and energy management technologies increasing this year.
More than 50 percent of respondents see their customer information systems changing dramatically as a result of the smart grid, with many utilities looking at replacements or working to find ways to adapt their systems to interval billing, electric vehicles, and other demand-side management and new energy programs. Bills will become more complex, according to 56 percent of respondents, and significant business operation restructuring must occur to achieve the vision of a fully integrated smart grid.
The smart grid is a welcome challenge for the electronics supply chain, which has been looking to get in on it for a number of years. As well as IT investments, utilities companies will have to upgrade hardware, and opportunities for the electronics supply chain include components such as sensors, controllers, and other “intelligent” electronics. Communications networks linking the grid to utilities companies and end-users are another plus.
But before any hardware ships, both standards and infrastructure issues need to be addressed. The National Institute of Standards and Technology's smart grid advisory committee is working on that. (See Smart Grid Seeks Sourcing Partners and Smart Appliances Are Coming, But Where’s the Smart Grid? .)