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Smart grids rely on smart software, something that HP, who pride themselves as the world’s largest technology company, with 30-odd years experience in infrastructure and integration services, are well-equipped to provide. Utilities Middle East caught up with Ian Mitton, director at HP Utilities Industries and spoke to him about the latest technologies, their acceptance by the utilities industry, and the market in the Middle East
How do you define the term smart grids?
Term smart grid is a very broad term; it has become almost synonymous with meaning utilities. This causes a lot of confusion with customers. In the purest sense it is the transmission and distribution part, with the end point being the smart meter, and the front end being the generator.
But you could argue that there is a bit more to that and the term smart grid is used to incorporate the generation side, and not only the smart meter at home, but also the smart home and home automation. To me the smart grid is simply the part in the middle.
What are the challenges utilities are faced with?
The operating pressures that utilities are under are threefold. Firstly, there is the issue of security of supply – making sure the lights stay on. Then there is the environment – reducing greenhouse gas emissions, greener fuels, getting into renewables, and also encouraging consumers to use less energy.
Having said that, electricity demand is going to grow, but if we use less, that growth won’t be as severe. Finally, there is customer management – customers satisfaction. This is extremely important for deregulated markets, like we are seeing in the US, Europe and Australia.
Is deregulation going to become increasingly prominent?
I think deregulation in time will hit more markets. Certainly the European Commission is unbundling the business, they’re saying you have to be electricity generators, transmission companies, distribution companies, or retailers, and have those as separate bundles.
That whole area of deregulated markets, you can see how there is a big pressure on customer management there.
What about the Middle East?
In the Middle East de-regulation won’t happen any time soon. Yet as a utility provider in the region, you still want to make sure from customer management point of view that your customer is satisfied, because even though they have only one place to buy their electricity from, if they are kept happy they don’t phone you, and that means you don’t need a very big call centre, which obviously means lower cost.
What does HP offer utilities companies looking to improve their customer management operations?
From an automation management point of view, we’ve seen a great opportunity to leverage our experience in the Telco sector. HP is pretty pervasive in Telco, 80 percent of text messages in the world are touched somewhere by HP software, and all the big carriers use HP software to manage their networks to manage their data.
So what we’ve done is take the software we use for network management, service activation and data management within the Telco sector and applied it to utilities.
How does the software derived from the Telco sector benefit your clients?
The key differentiator HP has is in an area that utilities haven’t really embraced yet, but to which they are becoming more aware as they are rolling out their projects: the scalability issue of managing the network.
As a utility running a grid, you can manage five to 10 kilometres and you can get by because the head end systems on the meter systems give you the alarms and the alerts. You might have a head end system for every two to three kilometres. As you scale up to 100 or 1000 kilometers, you’ve got a storm of alarms coming form that network.
We’ve heard numbers of maybe five percent of all meters and devices are alarming and alerting at any given point. With a million meters, that means that at any given stage 50,000 meters are sending alarm signals.
When you’ve to a storm like that, how do you differentiate? You need very strong networking tools and correlation engines. That’s were we’re finding we’ve got something very unique.