At the GE Minds and Machines event in San Francisco in October, I got to sit down with Gil Quiniones, the very affable CEO of the New York Power Authority. Gil was chosen by GE to kick off the entire event (even before John Flannery the new GE CEO) so he’s obviously a big deal for GE and reinforces their stance of being customer-first.
NYPA is an interesting entity in that it has generation and transmission, but no distribution except for New York State buildings and services like the NY subway. NYPA is doubly interesting in that its charter is not just to deliver power but to act as an engine of economic development for the state. If you think about New York as the crucible of the electric power industry (Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla) then I suppose this makes sense and even today, no industry can exist without a robust power infrastructure.
Gil told me he sees three major trends driving the power utility landscape today:
- Decentralization (a grid less dependent upon hub and spoke large-scale generation)
- Electrification (toward EVs and the decarbonization of energy production)
- Digitization (the intelligent grid and the opening up of the data it creates)
For NYPA these are fundamental changes in the way it serves the state, and let’s not forget that NYPA owns the Niagara Falls hydro system that has been a clean and renewable source of power for over a century. I asked Gil what he thinks all of this change will do to his transmission assets and what it means for the future of our industry. First he told me that the topology of the grid will have to change as new renewable sources come online and they tend to be remote (offshore wind, grid scale solar and storage). That means new and upgraded transmission projects. One real example of this is NYPA’s investment in upgrading the 345 kV Marcy transmission line in Southeast New York (which we covered at tdworld.com last year) that will allow more renewable energy to flow south to New York City.
On the electrification front, NYPA is installing 3000 charging stations around the New York metro area to seed growth in EV use. It is using New York State Department of Motor Vehicles data to chart where people are buying EVs and then locating the stations in and around some of the 10,000 buildings owned by the state and near the 600 miles of subway it operates.
For those of us in T&D and utility analytics though, the most interesting innovation that Gil told me about was his “digital foundry” concept where NYPA is gathering all the data it ingests from the grid into its New York Energy Manager center. It’s here they monitor their network and run their “digital twin” models for their assets using GE’s Predix platform. The foundry idea is that NYPA will open up this data for anyone who wants to build apps on top of the data for efficiency, mobility or any number of yet-to-be-conceived ideas.
It’s these three trends coming together under Gil’s leadership that led to him coining the term "digital utility."
Gil told me that his vision of the digital utility is that by instrumenting NYPA with GE’s Predix, they can create not just a better-run utility but a digital foundry for third-party app developers. If all NYPA’s energy production, transmission, distribution and consumption data is available to anyone, then it could create some new business opportunities, which is in keeping with NYPA’s charter of economic development. Now whether the data will be free and totally open is another question but as a government entity in a world of open and accessible data, then it’s likely to go down that path. Exactly how this data can and will be used is a fascinating question. Our own Utility Analytics Institute members have shown many use cases for data (see Exelon’s top 5 here) but once a dataset of this size is openly available, then energy startups may find new correlations and business models to build on top of the data. New York in the form of the Brooklyn Navy Yards incubator has several startups in the energy field (Enerknol for example) that may be able to use the data to launch new business.
If Gil’s vision of a truly “digital utility” becomes a reality, then it’s going to be fun to watch NYPA deliver innovation for the state of New York and that can’t be a bad thing. Please feel free to comment below and stay in touch with me on LinkedIn if you would like to connect.