Tantalus survey says utilities must show value from smart grid investments

Tantalus, a provider of smart grid communications, announced the results of its annual users conference survey, which asked North America’s top public power utilities to address concerns and investment priorities in 2014.

The company surveyed more than 45 of its utility customers at the annual Tantalus users conference last October, which brought together Tantalus customers and partners to collaborate and share best practices and receive technical training from subject matter experts.

The municipal and cooperative utilities surveyed cited showing return on investment (ROI) and value from smart grid investments (41 percent) as the number one issue they need to address in 2014, with addressing ratepayer concerns (28 percent) ranking second.

These findings mirror trends predicted in early 2013 that as more utilities completed DOE-funded and basic smart grid network deployments, focus would shift to adding niche applications to leverage initial investments and to demonstrate value to customers.

Additional survey questions reflect this trend as well:

·      Add-on Applications was the top utility investment priority for 2014, which is further evidence to support the trend of demonstrating ROI. Continuing or completing existing AMI deployments ranked second above security enhancements and increased customer education.

·      Time of Use Rates and Demand Management — both of which are real-time data-driven advanced applications that manage loads and rates – are the top two smart grid applications surveyed utilities will implement in 2014.

The survey also asked respondents to rank the value of benefits gained from AMI. Utilities surveyed overwhelmingly flagged the top three responses as: the ability to receive outage and restoral notifications, reduction in truck rolls, and improved customer service.

These results indicate that although the quantity and availability of energy management applications is growing, core drivers for municipal and cooperative utilities remain largely unchanged. Public power decision makers demonstrate a continued commitment to work to implement technologies that will help them deliver the highest quality power service to their customers at the lowest cost.

Other key survey findings include:

·      Other areas of investment for 2014 named by utility respondents were MDM, integration into other utility software systems, and furthering deployments of direct load control programs.

·      Zero respondents indicated that they believed that future strain (e.g. electric vehicles and solar) on the grid would be a top concern for their utility in 2014; this shows a further declining trend from just 8 percent of respondents voicing this concern in 2013.

·      Of the utilities that indicated they are planning to hire in 2014, the majority are seeking to fill positions in Meter Support and Technical Engineering, the number of which more than doubled.

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