How Does a Utility Get the Most Bang for Buck from its innovation Budget?

Sentient EnergyBlog

utility workers reviewing documents

By Brett Stein

Introducing new, advanced technologies in a 100+ year electric utility industry is a tricky proposition.  For the most part, electricity has been reliably distributed to customers in relatively the same way for decades. Therefore, asking a utility to change that process can be challenging.  Not only are utilities coping with improving an antiquated infrastructure, they are also adjusting to the realities of Distributed Generation. Even their customers are power sellers now, and that adds a unique toll on the distribution system. Even when the stars align for an innovative new technology, it requires hard evidence of better performance, improved reliability, and in many cases, a reduction in operations and maintenance (O&M) expense.

A primary mechanism for utilities to combat this ever-evolving landscape is their Technology Innovation Budget.  This is an allotment of annual capital to not only test new products for functionality, but also to evaluate their specific potential impact if fully deployed.  These innovation capital dollars have become more valuable than ever, as decisions on how they are spent are crucial to the long-term health of the utility, the appeasement of State Utility Commissions, and ultimately the satisfaction of their customers.

Examining how you currently evaluate prospective “Innovation Budget” trial programs becomes the first step in maximizing your project value. Keep in mind that these technologies are quite new and often few personnel within the utility walls possess the experience to best perform trials on these innovations.    Simply performing lab tests or field trials are no longer the only steps needed. With the new, advanced technologies being introduced today, utility teams need an experienced Trial Advisor. The Trial Advisor can help build a project model that not only handles installation and operation basics, but can also direct correlation of performance to use cases and pre-determined success metrics.  A utility going into an innovation trial without a Trial Advisor’s direct experience in that specific technology dramatically reduces the chances of achieving the most productive results.

Sentient Energy’s Trial Management Team works with utilities on innovation projects leveraging a full package of best practices, metrics, and experiential knowledge.  This has proven to be massively important in assuring that our utility clients are investing their critical capital in projects that are expedient, productive, and provide a clear post-trial path forward.  Whether you are testing intelligent line sensors or some other form of distribution automation equipment, redefining how you plan to evaluate technology will make sure you get the best bang for your Innovation buck.