The Microsoft Worldwide Utility Industry Survey 2011, released at CERAWeek 2011 in Houston, shows only a modest increase (8%) in the number of utilities moving past smart grid planning and into implementation. The survey also shows a general industry expectation (73%) that budgets to support these efforts are on the rise.
The survey, which polled more than 210 professionals within electric, gas and related companies around the world, also highlights the challenges utilities face — from financial and regulatory to technology and return on investment — as they move from planning to actual smart grid implementation. One of the survey's key findings is that utilities need architectural and implementation guidance to be certain that future smart grid technology advances will integrate with and help protect their existing technology investments.
"Our study clearly indicates the hype cycle is over, and more utilities today are planning smart grid implementations," said Jon C. Arnold, managing director for the Worldwide Power & Utilities Industry at Microsoft Corp. and a member of Smart Grid Advisory Committee to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. "Our discussions with clients indicate an increased emphasis on architecture in the planning process as they transform their existing information systems and business operations and implement the smart grid. As a result, they continue to see great value in the Microsoft Smart Energy Reference Architecture's ability to harness new technologies while protecting today's investments."
Responses to a new survey question show that, despite their confidence in today's smart grid technologies, 64 percent of respondents said they don't have a clear view of the enterprise wide information and technology infrastructure they will use to structure current and future smart grid deployments. An equal number (64%) said the flexibility to adapt new or future technologies is paramount to achieving the grid of the future.
"We're seeing a normal phenomenon occur in terms of the evolution of thinking about these projects," Arnold said. "Utilities are finding out what they don't know, and they are, naturally, exerting some caution before making big investments, even though the willingness to spend is there."
Distribution Management Maintains Status as Critical Concern
In similar ratios to the 2010 survey, utilities professionals and executives (72%) perceive distribution management as the most important solution needed for successful smart grid implementations. Many (60%) see their budgets for distribution and energy management technologies increasing this year.
Challenges Seen for Customer Information Management
More than 50 percent of respondents see their customer information systems changing dramatically as a result of the smart grid, with many utilities looking at replacements or working to find ways to adapt their systems to interval billing, electric vehicles, and other demand-side management and new energy programs. Bills will become more complex, according to 56 percent of respondents, and significant business operation restructuring must occur to achieve the vision of a fully integrated smart grid.