Three questions for Ventyx’s Rick Nicholson
Former industry analyst and newly appointed Vice President of Industry Solutions for Transmission & Distribution at Ventyx, Rick Nicholson, talks about smart meters, cyber security and distribution automation.
After spending 15 years as an industry analyst, Rick Nicholson joined Ventyx to lead the company’s solutions for the power transmission and distribution market. Nicholson joins Ventyx from IDC Energy Insights, where as group vice president he was responsible for a team that provided analysis and strategic advice to a broad spectrum of utilities, oil and gas companies, government agencies, financial institutions and technology vendors across more than 110 countries. I recently had the chance to speak with Rick and ask him about some of the major trends impacting the power industry.
Q: Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) has been around now for nearly two decades—where does this technology stand?
A: The first wave of AMI was really just about metering itself. Now we’re beginning to see a variety of new ways to make use of AMI systems, things like outage management where the meter can provide a “last gasp” signal if the power goes out. Meters can also collect voltage data that can be used in voltage optimization applications. On the customer side, though, they will ultimately drive more engagement in terms of providing end users with information on their energy consumption in terms they can understand.
Q: Cyber security—everyone, it seems, is talking about it. Has anything changed with regard to how utilities are approaching it or how it’s regulated?
A: Cyber security is absolutely top-of-mind for transmission and distribution executives, but it’s interesting to note that while there is an ongoing threat level it’s the individual high-profile attacks that drive investment. I think one of the most important things here is the shift among utilities from a compliance approach to more of a risk management approach. It’s more pro-active. Also, while NERC’s Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) requirements currently apply mainly to generation and transmission operations, I would expect that we will see distribution-level CIP in the near future. That, too, will drive investment in cyber security.
We’ve actually got a representative from NERC coming to speak at Ventyx World (San Francisco, June 11-14) about standards and recommendations going forward. That should be an interesting discussion.
Q: You mentioned distribution systems—what do you see as the top challenges for the industry at the distribution level right now?
A: Well, in addition to the cyber security issue, there is always aging infrastructure and that is going to drive investment in things like condition monitoring, smart maintenance and workforce management for some time. We’re also seeing an influx of distributed generation, largely rooftop solar. The integration of those resources is going to be a major challenge as well. We’re working now with E.ON to develop distribution management systems that can help utilities make that transition. There is a greater penetration of small scale renewable in Europe so we’re looking to leverage their experience in optimizing distribution networks.