B&V utility survey: infrastructure upgrades yes, data analytics maybe not

Fri, 2015-02-06 06:00 -- Doug Cooley

Why should city leaders pay attention to results from a utility survey? Martin Travers of Black & Veatch hit the nail on the head when he said, as you'll read below, that smart utilities can become driving forces in integrated smart community efforts. When their local utilities start planning infrastructure investments, city leaders should be at the table to explore synergies and maximize opportunities. 

A survey of U.S. utilities has revealed that nearly 60% of them want to replace or upgrade their communications infrastructure in the next five years. The main reason? To support smart grid and smart utility initiatives. 

That’s one of the key findings in the Black & Veatch 2015 Strategic Directions: Smart Utility Report, which was released at the DistribuTECH Conference in San Diego this week.

Black & Veatch, a Council Associate Partner, surveyed 721 utilities last fall -- the bulk of them from electric, water or combined utility operations. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents were public or government-owned utilities.

Greater bandwidth, lower operational costs

Thre report points out that the utilities' interest in infrastructure upgrades is largely focused on moving from legacy telcom systems such as frame relay and POTS to Internet Protocol (IP) deployments. With IP deployments, utilities can establish a single converged network that can host various applications while also reducing capital and operations costs associated with maintaining multiple, separated networks.  IP networks also provide the flexibility and bandwidth necessary to handle large amounts of network data and enable devices and smart city applications to directly communicate with one another. 

“The connection between smarter utilities and smart cities is clear,” Martin Travers, president of Black & Veatch’s telecommunications business, said in a company press release. “We believe smart utilities will extend their focus beyond their own walls. They can become driving forces in integrated smart community efforts.”

Data analytics? Not so much

While the study found that utilities were generally warm to making infrastructure improvements, the idea of investing in data analytics generated less enthusiasm. Budgetary constraints and return on investment uncertainties appeared to undermine support for data analytics solutions. 

Fred Ellermeier, vice president of Black & Veatch’s smart integrated infrastructure business, believes the reluctance to embrace analytics is unfortunate. “The value of technology that produces and uses data for operations and planning will support the case for investment,” Ellermeier said.

Other notable findings contained in the report include: 

  • Roughly 30% of the utilities contacted did not know if they had a long-range plan in place to develop their telecommunications networks and about 12% had no intent to develop one.
  • Electricity, transportation and water were cited as the city services that respondents believe will benefit most from smart initiatives.
  • Nearly 70% of respondents believe smart city models will gain wide adoption over the next 15 years.

You can download the complete report at the Black & Veatch site.

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