CIO Straight Talk - Issue 3 - 22
What is a “Smart Grid”?
A smart grid uses controls, computers, automation,
and new technologies and equipment to monitor
what’s happening throughout the power grid,
diagnose and respond quickly to problems, and
accommodate changing demand. It does all this
through sensing capability along transmission lines;
high-speed two-way communication between
utilities and consumers; analytics to solve problems
and maximize efﬁciency; and smart meters and
CIO Straight Talk
In 2008, Xcel Energy launched SmartGridCity, a
technology pilot in Boulder, Colorado, to explore the
use of fully integrated smart-grid tools. We’ve already
learned a lot from this experiment about customer
engagement, in-house devices, different rate options,
and other things that you just can’t know without
making them real. For example, not all customers want
or need a device inside their homes to monitor energy
use, while others will spend hours each week studying
the data. We also learned a considerable amount about
the security needs for such a connected grid. The results
are going to have value throughout our service territory
in eight states.
Integrating IT into the technology that runs the utility
both allows us and requires us to do things differently.
For example, we used to put a capacitor bank up on a
pole and then not think much about it for 30 years. Now
that capacitor bank is a computing device, and so we
have to figure out how to load security patches, get
remote access, and pull the analytics. These things are
easy when you’re talking about a data center, where all
the equipment is in the same location, but we’ve got
these devices out on poles across our grid. So we need
to put more thought into that infrastructure in order to
keep the network secure.
We also need to have a different kind of conversation
with customers and regulators. You can’t necessarily
see the value of one of these new capacitor banks or the
data that you can pull off of a transformer – things that
help with outage management and power restoration.
Prior to the smart grid, in order to determine the
boundaries of an area affected by an outage, many
utilities relied on customers calling in. It was like
playing pin the tail on the donkey.
Now intelligent devices in the network provide that
information, and it’s very precise. We can restore power
more quickly because we have better information about
what equipment actually failed. We also prevent a lot of
outages by using real-time monitoring to predict equipment failure and make repairs before an outage even
occurs. This also helps us anticipate when equipment is
about to reach the end of its life, which lets us do a
better job with inventory planning and warehouse
management. But demonstrating the value of these
capabilities can be a challenge. All that consumers
really see is the new meter on their houses or their new
The Disruptive Force of IT/OT Convergence
As IT and OT converge, utilities are wrestling with the
question of who owns what. It’s pretty clear that an
e-mail server is IT’s, but a capacitor bank on a pole has
always belonged to distribution. Who owns it now? Is it
an IT device? IT doesn’t necessarily understand all the
analytics that are being extracted from it. That’s still got
to be part of the operating group. Regardless of who
owns the device, there has to be closer collaboration.
Whatever industry you’re in, as OT and IT converge
you’ve got to break down the walls between IT and the
operating groups. Currently IT is saying to the operating
group, “You tell me what devices you’re going to have,
tell me what data you’re going to pull off those devices,
and I’ll make the data accessible in this manner so that
you can monitor the performance of those particular
assets.” But IT has to be pulled in early enough so that
we can plan storage and connectivity requirements. It’s
the same in the rest of the business. As we move to more
mobility and to deeper customer engagement, IT and
the customer care groups have to be closer together.
David Harkness on. . .
IT groups can get lost in their own world – ‘Look at
this awesome data center. I’m the king of this
domain.’ But it’s good to remember what you’re there
for. Don’t lose sight of what your company does for a
living. Your IT organization needs to do things that
help the company do that better. You also need to
develop the relationships and transparency with the
business that get you out of the order-taker mode.
And not just the CIO — it’s something your directors
and individual contributors need to be good at, too.