Thursday, 29 September 2011

Chris Knudsen to leave PG&E

The utility industry is losing one of our best thought leaders in grid modernization - at least for the time being.  Chris came to the utility industry and PG&E with a background in communications, business and venture capital - not your standard utility guy pedigree.  With that background came a unique skill set and view of infrastructure that truly helped the industry foster new ideas on how we need to apply advanced communications, sensing and control technologies to modernize and extract more value from electric power infrastructure.  Chris has been a leader in developing utility technology development laboratories within the utility to ensure that he and his team were in a position to understand all of the technology they are considering for grid modernization and consumer empowerment.  Most other industries do this as a matter of doing business but utilities have been notoriously behind the curve in this regard.  Utilities have often relied upon vendors to tell them what they need rather than utilities developing the necessary requirements and technology understanding to more directly specify what they need.  Several utilities under the leadership of key thought leaders like Chris have managed to turn this trend around in recent years.  Southern California Edison (SCE) was probably the first and Chris the most recent.

As I write this is occurs to me that it is striking that several of our most influential thought leaders have left or about to leave their respective utilities - Paul De Martini (SCE), Wayne Longcore (Consumers Energy), Brent Hodges (Reliant Energy), Scott Blackburn (FPL) and now Chris Knudsen.  I sure hope this is not a trend indicating that that dynamic, bright, and well spoken individuals are not able to accomplish their business and professional objectives in a utility environment - that would be most unfortunate.  We need leaders such as Chris and the others I mentioned to help us transform our industry in all aspects necessary to ensure that we modernize our aging infrastructure.  We need that transformation to occur before it begins to fail more often and in time to support new energy sources before energy prices skyrocket due to neglect and expensive last minute fixes.

I have had the pleasure to work with Chris Knudsen for a couple of years now in several roles - I turned over the reins of the chairmanship of OpenSG group under the UCAIug to Chris and have worked with him closely as secretary to move that organization forward under his leadership.  I have also had the pleasure to work for Chris as a contractor to provide PG&E engineering services developing an enterprise architecture framework and approach to support smart grid application evolution.  I am pleased to learn that Chris will be continuing in his OpenSG chairman role and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.  I hope we see him in another role in our industry where his intellect, experience, and leadership can be best utilized.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Wayne Longcore leaving Consumers Energy for SAP

I serve with Wayne on the DOE GridWise Architecture Council and on the UCA International Users Group board of directors. I work with Wayne closely in his role as member of the SGIP Governing Board and mine as an ex-officio member of the board as the NIST funded administrator for the SGIP. Wayne is also a long time client – having found me several years ago when looking for a consultant to help him in the early days of Consumers Energy's AMI program. Like Paul De Martini at Southern California Edison not long before, Wayne took a chance on a small company called EnerNex to apply the then new fangled discipline of use case based requirements development and systems of systems engineering (the EPRI IntelliGrid Methodology) at Consumers Energy. Wayne is one of the smartest guys I know and it has been a privilege working with him on all of these endeavors. He may be even a little more ADD than I am! Tonight on the eve of Consumers Energy hosting the DOE GridWise Architecture Council meeting in Jackson, Michigan, we are having a party with a who's who of smart grid to celebrate his accomplishments during his time at Consumers Energy and postulating the new challenges ahead of him at SAP. I am sure that he will continue to have a significant impact on our industry since I know he will continue to hold many of these industry volunteer positions after his move to SAP. I am confident that SAP will have the same foresight that Consumer's Energy had to fully support Wayne in these activities due to their intrinsic value to the company and to the industry as a whole. Congratulations to Wayne on his new adventure!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Jackson, MI

Monday, 28 March 2011

Is a wired meter solution feasible for selected PG&E customers?

There has been a lot of discussion in recent days over PG&E's response to a CPUC order to allow consumers to opt out of using wireless metering.  The remaining options involve going back to human based meter reading with all of its historical issues of cost and potential for incorrect or missed reads as well as the worker safety issue.  Another option floated is to use a wired option.  Of course a wired option (low speed Power Line Carrier - PLC) is what PG&E initially proposed prior to their wireless solution but that technology proved to be incapable of meeting the applications requirements necessary to support regulatory policy objectives (e.g. secure firmware update capability,  large payload delivery for pervasive consumer targeted demand response program deployment, distribution management applications, etc.).  PG&E correctly points out that integrating a nearly obsolete PLC based wired option with a modern wireless infrastructure would be costly since it requires equipment at each substation even if only one customer was served.  

Piggy backing on other wired infrastructure is equally problematic.  Plain Old Telephone System (POTS) connections are very difficult to scale.  They work well for low volume commercial and industrial applications, but the software applications that manage those systems are designed for relatively small numbers of meters and difficult to scale.  Also, POTS is a dying technology – being replaced rapidly by cellular wireless phones in dramatically increasing numbers – technology which has far higher RF emissions than a radio connected electric or gas meter.  POTS physical infrastructure is also the delivery mechanism used for DSL Internet access – a much more robust use of POTS infrastructure with high bandwidth.  Using it or other wired broadband connection (cable TV) would require meters that support that technology which presently are not readily available for residential applications.  Even if that hurdle were solved, the cost of those interfaces would be significantly higher than other communications interface technologies.  Even if the cost issue could be addressed, there is a problem with the utility ceding responsibility for managing their meter data collection network to a third party (a broadband internet provider).  Regulations, technical standards,  security and policies would have to be established to allow a third party to take responsibility for that traffic being carried over the Internet rather than over a secure connection.  Some would argue that the utility already uses public infrastructure for backhaul purposes, but these connections have well established Service Level Agreements (SLA's), aggregate data from many meters, and are secured at the aggregating access point interface.

As is usually the case, a simple, one size fits all answer is not feasible.  Systems that must scale to millions of devices such as a metering network must be designed using a disciplined, systems engineering based process that takes into account numerous interactions.  Unfortunately most people – even many very good engineers – are not systems thinkers and tend to promote siloed solutions without thinking through all of the ripple effects of other system interactions let alone the business, security, and policy implications – let alone analyzing all of that across the additional dimension of time for complete system lifecycle management.  Large systems work best when they use homogeneous, standards based technologies that can be readily duplicated with few if any special cases or human interactions.  Special cases of course will always exist – but they have a cost.  And that cost can't be compared to how things may have been done in the past since the systems that allowed the old technology to scale are no longer available.

For all of these reasons, I think PG&E has made a reasonable response – at least technically.  I don't have enough information to comment on the details of the cost of managing the exceptions but based on my experience in managing other projects involving data gathering and special exception handling, the cost multipliers seem to be at least in the ballpark.  Special handling is always expensive.  Think about the multiplier associated with making an operator assisted or collect call – it is much more expensive to handle than the fully automated approach using the best available technology.