High Level Business Cases Can Help Municipal Utilities Vet Smart Grid Options

Several of us from the Energy & Utilities team are here at the Municipal Smart Grid Summit (MSGS) taking place in San Diego. MSGS is an interactive gathering in which executives from municipal utilities from across the country are introduced or reacquainted with AMI/smart grid vendors and their products & services. The event, which is sponsored by the Smart Grid Summit Group, has provided an opportunity to discuss the many issues that are currently top of mind for municipal utilities, including customer acceptance, the volume of data that is now available, cloud computing, cyber security, and uncertainty about a project’s return on investment.

For me, it’s been most interesting to see the spectrum of municipal utilities that are in attendance, not only in terms of size and location, but also in terms of the stage at which AMI / smart grid deployment is occurring among the municipal utilities represented.

Some of the utilities, many of which have less than 20,000 meters, have not taken any steps toward AMI deployment or created an AMI business case. These utilities are finding that the enormous amount of AMI technologies & solutions that is now available can be overwhelming and lead to either inaction or making selections that are not cost-effective for the long term.  A common reaction among these smaller utilities after discovering the enormous amount of AMI and smart grid technologies / solutions available in the marketplace has been how do we even get started or how do we determine what solution is best for our needs? Other municipal utilities at the MSGS are nearly complete with their AMI deployment and have been asking what comes after AMI? Does distribution automation or substation automation need to come next?

Regardless of where a utility may be in their journey, we’ve been suggesting that a business case and technology roadmap remain critically important. In fact, for those utilities that are just taking their first steps toward AMI and need to socialize a plan before their city council or governing board, we’ve found that doing a very high level business case and technology roadmap (one that can be accomplished in as few as three weeks) is a great way to start. This business case, while still outlining incremental capital costs and benefits can be the deciding factor in a small or mid-size municipal utility determining how and if they want to proceed with AMI. The deliverable can be a PowerPoint presentation that can be socialized with their board and key stakeholders. The high-level business case should be accompanied by a technology roadmap document, where the business objectives and technology roadmap are captured.  This information can also enable a utility to socialize its smart grid plan and help determine subsequent technology selections.

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