Next Step for Municipal Utilities: Smart Grids and Smarter Government
Municipal utilities across the United States—both large and small—have concluded that the comprehensive vision
called ‘smart grid’ represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to usher in a new, IT-advantaged energy consumption model—while simultaneously delivering agile, more interactive government to citizen consumers. One pioneering example of this can be seen in the City of Fort Collins, Colorado.
The City of Fort Collins smart grid initiative includes the municipal utilities for the cities of Fort Collins and Fountain, Colorado. This forward-thinking initiative is driving the citywide deployment of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), i.e. approximately 99,000 ‘smart meters’ and their associated management systems. But that’s only the beginning. The Fort Collins smart grid initiative is also driving the expansion of energy distribution automation capabilities including real-time integration with outage management systems, new innovative customer rate programs that leverage the power of smart meters, as well as the next generation of customer-facing services accessible through the city’s web portal.
For example, as one aspect of the smart grid build-out, business customers and consumers will be able to access and proactively manage their ongoing energy consumption through either the City’s portal or via new in-home or in-business displays. Additionally, Fort Collins utility services leadership can leverage the new two-way smart grid communications infrastructure to measure, verify and manage demand reduction during peak periods of energy use—thereby improving its ability to deliver the right services to the right customers at the right time.
The Fort Collins smart grid project has set for itself the goal of delivering a comprehensive set of customer benefits by providing customers and the utility with information in order to make informed decisions. Benefits include:
Energy Cost Reduction: Reducing electricity costs for consumers through smarter consumption—while incorporating consumer-generated energy, e.g. solar panels, into the overall grid.
Operating Expense Reduction: Reducing operating and maintenance costs, including the reduction in expense associated with physical reading of meters and service truck-rolls.
Service Reliability Improvement: Increasing the overall service reliability and power quality required to attract and retain tech businesses—an engine of economic growth in the Fort Collins area.
Equipment Downtime Reduction: Reducing equipment failure costs and distribution line losses, while creatively leveraging new smart grid capabilities.
A Greener Fort Collins: Creating an environmentally-friendly grid that reduces overall greenhouse gas emissions, while laying the foundation for new intelligent home services.
The Fort Collins smart grid initiative is among 100 projects currently supported and co-funded in 49 states under the U.S. government’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Smart Grid Investment Grants.
Solar energy farm aerial view, Fort Collins, Colorado. Photographer: Marek Uliasz
As a result of this program, innovators like the City of Fort Collins receive 50% of the up-front investment in advanced metering infrastructure and related information technology from the U.S. Department of Energy. As reported by SmartGrid.Gov, a U.S. government information portal, the Fort Collins initiative is currently in the deployment phase, and smart meters will be installed on an ongoing basis through mid- 2013.
Next Frontier for Municipal Utilities: Smart Care & Continuous Service Automation
If smart meter deployment represents the next step for innovative municipal utilities like the City of Fort Collins, then integrated customer care and intelligent automation of new smart grid services represent the next frontier.
In the words of Matt Scheetz, Senior Database Analyst for the City of Fort Collins IT/Utilities, “We want to automate as much back-end and customer-facing smart grid service functionality as possible. For example, Fort Collins has a large population of university students that move in and move out on a regular basis. This generates big spikes in activation and termination support calls for our customer care organization. By enabling students to leverage our self-service web portal and handle their own service activation and termination—which we will seamlessly integrated with our smart meter infrastructure and customer billing system—we will be able to automate a large volume of those big service spikes while providing an even higher quality of service to our customers. In other words, smart grid is not just about new metering infrastructure—it’s about IT enabling a unified ‘business layer’ to support and optimize smart grid services for our customers.”
This visionary ‘unified business layer’ approach to service automation also provides a strong IT foundation for the next wave of enhanced smart grid service delivery, including:
- New customer-side-of-the-meter equipment, e.g. next generation ‘smart appliances’ that can be optimized for intelligent energy consumption of grid resources.
- Innovative home area networks that enable customers to be smarter energy consumers.
- Time-based rate programs that empower customers to leverage different pricing options for energy consumption (e.g. overnight vehicle charging) and resale of their own renewable energy resources (home-based solar panels) back into the grid.
In order to lay the enterprise services foundation for their overall smart grid integration initiative—in particular, the enabling of a new smart grid business automation layer—the City of Fort Collins selected the NextAxiom hyperService Platform, the proven leader in cross-application intelligent information flow.
NextAxiom hyperService Platform: Smart Glue for the Smart Grid ‘Business Layer’
A generation beyond conventional approaches to service-oriented architecture, NextAxiom hyperServices are universal building blocks that can represent any application or system function, regardless of the underlying architecture. This capability of the NextAxiom platform enables hyperServices to transform functions from heterogeneous systems (e.g. within the overall Fort Collins smart grid architecture) into universal, homogeneous building blocks— thereby enabling cross-application intelligent information flows that incrementally unify application silos.
Virtualize on top of the IT software stack results in a homogeneous environment that radically simplifies solution development
hyperService Studio, a core developer component of the NextAxiom Platform, provides avisual, semantic authoring environment for the creation of high-performance, reusable intelligent information flows that have been dynamically repurposed from an organization’s existing application functionality, system assets and data sources. NextAxiom’s hyperService Studio supports many patented, breakthrough capabilities for creating new mission-critical apps and cross-silo integrations without coding, scripting or code generation. Any user experience development framework can then call NextAxiom’s atomic or composite hyperServices out of-the-box as standards-based Web Services. NextAxiom hyperService Studio was leveraged to develop many new unified business layer services supporting the smart grid initiative at the City of Fort Collins.
hyperService Platform Components
In the words of Matt Scheetz of the City of Fort Collins, “Lots of IT vendors talk the talk about ‘development without coding’. But I’ve never seen anything as rich and easy-to-use as NextAxiom hyperService Studio relative to empowering an IT team to build complex composite services. This level of abstraction and encapsulation doesn’t exist anywhere else in any service creation environment I’m familiar with. The NextAxiom platform enabled us to deliver cross- application intelligent information flow from a host of smart grid and business systems. And it did it fast, meaning in days vs. weeks, and weeks vs. months. It’s the ultimate business layer tool.”
NextAxiom’s simplified Point-Click-Flow approach to the challenge of cross-application composite development dramatically reduces design complexity and is helping to enable a new wave of information agility for the City of Fort Collins smart grid initiative. Within the smart grid initiative, the utility IT group leveraged NextAxiom to create hyperService-based intelligent information flows across the following smart grid-critical applications and systems of record:
- Ventyx Customer Suite: Used by the City of Fort Collins for many utility management capabilities, including billing
- Elster AMI Head End Management System: Used by the City of Fort Collins to connect and enable two-way communications and management of customer ‘smart meters’
- Siemens Meter Data Management System (MDMS): Provides point-in-time meter information to utility business processes;
- Kroll Identity Management System: Supports customer verification requirements
- Fort Collins Web Portal: Enables smart grid customer self-service around service activation and termination, billing and more, including other business-critical installed systems and operating environments, e.g. HP/UX, Microsoft Windows and more.
Summary: Next Step, Next Frontier, NextAxiom
The ‘smart grid’ vision—embraced by electric utilities in the U.S. and around the world—promises a cleaner, more reliable, more cost-effective and more customer-friendly approach to meeting the challenge of 21st century energy markets.
The City of Fort Collins and the IT organization of its innovative municipal utility leveraged the power of the NextAxiom hyperService Platform to create a unified business layer seamlessly integrating smart grid and customer-facing systems—a must-have for smart government and smart services.
The City of Fort Collins smart grid initiative enabled intelligent information flow and new functionality across leading smart grid-critical systems from Ventyx, Elster, Siemens, Kroll, HP and other leading IT vendors, and provides ‘automatic SOA’ capability out of the box for innovative municipal utilities seeking to rapidly and cost-effectively roll out smart grid projects.
To find out more about the NextAxiom hyperService Platform, and NextAxiom’s commitment to enabling the smart grid and the silo-free enterprise, go to www.nextaxiom.com.
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