Back in May, I had the opportunity to catch a presentation by Paul De Martini of the Newport Consulting Group and the California Institute of Technology, at a CleanTech OC smart grid event in Irvine, California. De Martini previously served as chief technology officer for Cisco’s Global Energy Networks Group, and also as vice president of Advanced Technology at Southern California Edison, where he led their $2 billion smart grid strategy, policy, and research and deployment activity. Given that background, he clearly is an expert in this area and knows what he's talking about.
A few weeks after the conference, I caught up with De Martini by phone for a brief Q&A (see below) on his perspective about the smart grid market in the U.S., as well as his vision for marrying Web 2.0 with the smart grid/smart meters.
MS: As you've pointed out, we've only scratched the surface of what "social business" will look like for utilities and other energy providers operating as part of a smart grid, How do you see this playing out over the next few years, and how much of it depends on effectively making the business case for smart grid?
PD: The smart grid encompasses many different elements, including a wide range of technologies, grid modernization, etc. There's no single business case, but there are individual components that make a lot of sense to move forward on.
It's clear that being customer-facing is increasingly part of the equation of how we achieve sustainable objectives. This includes working towards a deeper level of engagement with customers, as well as tying into social business as a way to approach that engagement. This will involve much more sophisticated communications than even in the recent past, when billing inserts and web portals were seen as cutting edge.
The reality is that the concept of engaging in a regular dialogue with customers is relatively new for the utility industry. Today, however, the customer wants and expects communications anytime and anywhere. This means we have to engage on social media, and increasingly on mobile devices, which customers have shifted to fairly significantly over the past few years. Given this shift by their customers, utilities have to follow suit. Today, we're really starting to see some collaboration between utilities and their customers. A few fairly recent examples in terms of collaboration include:
One question is how all this ties into social business. Most of the interaction with customers, aside from technical needs, will be done through social media. It will probably be a combination of a controlled system layer (machine to machine) and the piece on top, social media.
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