Mulling Infrastructure Efficiency, Service Management

By Roy Pratt, HP Enterprise Services

The foundations for most of the U.S.’ current urban infrastructures were established in the last two centuries and need significant maintenance and upgrades.

A 2005 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) study that examined 15 categories of infrastructure and utilities across the U.S. estimated it would take a minimum of $1.6 trillion of infrastructure and utilities investment to bring the systems up to then-current standards. In addition, these infrastructure and utility upgrades will take decades, not years. In the meantime, we must optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of existing infrastructure and utilities to ensure their reliability in the face of continued growth in demand.

Many utilities are approaching their current infrastructure challenges in phases. Initially, they focus on adding more sensors and controls to the existing utility system, including a monitoring and control computer, and implementing monitoring and control software to optimize operations. Until recently, many sensors, monitoring devices and control computers were expensive to implement. Using custom software applications, likewise, was costly and complex. During the past five to 10 years, however, there has been a significant standardization of software systems. Commercial off-the-shelf monitoring and control applications can be simple to configure, deploy and maintain. In addition, the cost of digital sensor and control devices has decreased significantly while their ability to sense and monitor nearly anything has expanded. Many infrastructure and utility organizations readily have adopted these new technologies and are applying them.

The next level of efficiency and effectiveness for urban areas is the integration of disparate monitoring and control systems into a higher level of optimization. A high-level, citywide services optimization would involve data from the water, power, transportation, communications and mass transit systems being shared, as appropriate, with one another. For example, by integrating the water and electric systems, water towers could pre-fill to maintain water pressure during the high demands of the morning rather than filling the towers as electric consumption increases.

The infrastructure and utilities that serve future cities will operate in a services model. Future services will combine the what—the product that’s delivered (i.e., water, power, gas, highway access)—with the how—the way it’s delivered (i.e., water for drinking, electrical power during peak demand). Combining what’s delivered with how it’s delivered is not new; it’s called service management, and it’s been common in the cell phone industry for years.

Service management enables cell phone companies to put into customers’ hands devices that provide phone service wherever they go. The phones have basic phone service provisioned to them as in-network, out-of-network, and roaming service. The same is true for additional services provisioned to the phones, including email, text and Web. Now, apply that same concept to electrical power. We understand how power consumed in our homes is billed, but what about when we want to use power to charge our electric vehicles while we are away? How will that work? The new business model for utilities will be one of service or services management in which utilities are regulated, compensated and evaluated based on the product and service level metrics.

What does this mean for cities and city utilities? While waiting for massive repairs and upgrades to city infrastructure and utilities, it is necessary to optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of existing assets. Optimizing all the services provided by the myriad of utility and infrastructure providers supporting a city will require service management.

Roy Pratt is the chief technologist for the energy industry utilities practice for HP Enterprise Services.

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