Industry Expert Interview Series: “A key challenge for Europe is to accelerate the investment requirements for grid infrastructure modernization”
Exclusive interview with Mark de Vere White, President Electricity for Itron, that returns to European Utility Week in Amsterdam as a gold sponsor.
What are you most excited about currently in terms of Itron’s products and solutions?
This is a pretty exciting time for Itron as we are launching our proven smart grid solution, OpenWay®, for the European market at European Utility Week. With nearly 15 million devices deployed under the OpenWay architecture in North America, Latin America and Asia, Itron will leverage the same proven technology to help European utilities efficiently and effectively manage electricity and gas for many years to come.
The OpenWay solution offers a highly secure, flexible and open IPv6 network architecture, developed by Itron and designed in collaboration with Cisco, the global leader in networking technology. Given the diversity of needs and use cases in the market, this architecture offers key advantages to utilities by providing a multi-service, multi-application network architecture in which multiple smart grid applications (metering, demand response, distribution automation, asset monitoring, grid sensing, etc.) can all reside on the same network. We believe this truly open IPv6 architecture is ideally suited for utilities in many parts of Europe.
What is on the calendar for Itron in 2013-2014?
In addition to offering OpenWay to global markets, we’re continuously evaluating new opportunities to provide comprehensive solutions to our customers, enabling them to streamline operations, protect revenue and provide reliable service. Itron has a couple of initiatives underway that will give utilities the tools they need to maximize their investments in multi-application networks and to extract more value out of big data.
Itron built the OpenWay smart grid architecture with the vision of delivering true multi-service capabilities to support a broad ecosystem of technologies. In collaboration with Cisco, we’re developing a Distribution Automation (DA) gateway that enables new or legacy DA products to plug into the IPv6 network. Products like this clearly extend the value of smart grid networks and deliver on the promise of flexibility and interoperability.
As utilities deploy more interconnected smart devices, including meters, sensors, distribution automation devices, and the like, they will collect information about energy delivery and energy consumption like never before. In doing so, they’ll have to contend with massive amounts of data that their systems and business processes are not yet well suited for. Itron will be highly focused on helping our customers turn this data into actionable business intelligence—enabling faster, smarter decisions.
To that end, we’re offering a full suite of data analytics that aggregates data -- including electricity, gas and water data – and will enable utilities and smart cities of the future to more effectively deliver services to citizens, while driving greater energy efficiency and water resource conservation. This is where the true value lies.
What opportunities do you see in Europe?
We see tremendous opportunity and diversity in Europe. The European market is a bit of a tapestry in terms of technology needs and market drivers. For example, on one hand, there are strong regulatory and investment drivers pushing low-carbon generation and renewable energy, and on the other, there is a strong and vocal consumer lobby advocating for privacy and consumer empowerment. Each country and region require solutions that address their specific business challenges, and I think Itron is uniquely positioned to support these diverse market needs by offering flexible and expandable solutions, ranging from metering renewables integration, supporting network operations to securing network and consumer information through state-of-the art technology.
One way in which we’re able to address markets needs is by offering common network platforms and multiple communication options. This level of choice is key because geography, use case, budget, etc. dictate whether a utility deploys PLC, GPRS, RF mesh or a combination. Only Itron can offer this degree of flexibility both in architecture and communications.
What do you think makes Itron competitive in this market?
Itron’s presence in the European market is long-standing and dates back to the 1800s. Our competiveness stems from this heritage of close market knowledge and of our customers, combined with the ability to provide a wide variety of comprehensive solutions— metering and communication technologies, software, prepayment and services— that address specific business problems. Our solutions deliver the insights to improve operations, and maximize returns and benefits for utilities, their customers and the environment.
Itron’s approach to addressing business challenges is holistic. Our end-to-end solutions support the capability to measure, manage and analyze information from water, gas, heat and electricity endpoints through a common, secure network and management architecture. And they enable our partners to implement complementary solutions on the same highly scalable backbone – this capability is unrivalled.
What do you think are the biggest challenges to the European/global energy market?
A key challenge for Europe is to accelerate the investment requirements for grid infrastructure modernization and to enable the transition of markets to support the EU roadmap for creating a sustainable, low-carbon energy market. According to a recent EU report, investment in the general energy sector is at a historic low. On the upside, resolving this macro challenge will facilitate new markets in energy services and broad demand response solutions, as well as consumer and grid management solutions.
Globally, the biggest challenge is to either ensure or to put into effect—depending on where you are in the world—more intelligent, secure, and reliable energy management solutions to react to demand and supply-side variability. To meet this challenge, Itron will continue its collaboration with an ecosystem of solutions providers. That is the only way we’re going to meet European mandates and build a more modern and sustainable energy landscape.
What surprises you about this industry?
You know, I think it surprises me when people lose sight of the fact that our industry can be one of the most impactful industries on the global stage. We have a saying at Itron, “the way we manage energy and water will shape this century,” and we truly believe and live this every day. It’s very exciting to be at the forefront of this when you consider that access to reliable energy and clean water drives so many vital aspects of the world’s communities and economies.
With rapid urbanization of the world’s cities, energy demand on the rise, and climate change, the time to act and invest in infrastructure is now. The work we do every day to create a more resourceful world is important work that will have a positive impact for generations to come. In this context, I think it is important we paint the long-term investment picture. Ours is an industry that increasingly has to adjust to accelerating macro changes; inadequate infrastructure decisions today will have ripple effects tomorrow.
Why does Itron keep returning to European Utility Week?
We look forward to participating each year because it’s the best way to connect and reconnect with customers, colleagues and partners to discuss and help shape technology trends in our dynamic industry. Another important benefit is that we learn a ton from showcasing our latest and greatest products and services to many of the world’s leading customers and industry experts—all in one place.
Anything you would like to add?
Itron provides the intelligent metering products, systems, communications and services to help utilities worldwide manage resources, generate and protect revenue, and empower consumers. While Itron has been historically known as the world leader in metering, the Itron of today provides complete solutions that are critical for upgrading infrastructure to meet ever-changing demands on the world's power distribution grid.
At Itron, we believe it’s time to address pressing energy challenges, including modernizing infrastructure, meeting growing demand, and supporting renewable energy sources. Collectively as an industry and a planet we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We are 100% committed to working with our customers, industry, government bodies and our partners to meet this end.