How Trilliant Works With Utilities On Their Smart Grid Plans

Posted on August 19th, 2011 by

Jim Hanson, a Channel Sales Director at Trilliant, discusses the value proposition that his company offers utilities when they are investigating and executing different smart grid strategies.

Full Transcript:

Ben Lack: Trilliant has recently announced the partnership with HD Supply to conduct a pilot program with the Victoria Electric Cooperative in Victoria, Texas. The pilot program is the deployment of your SecureMesh® smart grid solution. Can you talk to us a little bit about the deal?
Jim Hanson: Victoria Electric is an electric co-op in Texas that serves approximately 20,000 residential and commercial customers. This pilot is designed to demonstrate that our SecureMesh system meets Victoria’s functional requirements for smart grid communications and AMI deployment.  Victoria is validating that SecureMesh is a high bandwidth, low latency wireless network that will provide the coverage to reach all of their residential and commercial customers. They want the ability to do automatic meter reading, remote connect-disconnect, and future smart grid applications like demand-response programs.  Eventually, Victoria wants home area networking capability as they grow the system, and are even considering leveraging the SecureMesh network to provide wireless broadband services to some of their customers. The intent of the Phase 1 portion of the project is to confirm required system capabilitiesfor advanced metering, network coverage and to demonstrate that the system provides the excess bandwidth required for additional smart grid applications before they move to a full roll-out to their entire customer base of 20,000 customers.
Ben Lack: There are so many other co-ops out there where this is relatively a new venture for them. What types of education did you have to go through with Victoria Electric Coop in order to kind of help them along the process?
Jim Hanson: Many of the co-ops have been moving toward AMI and smart grid applications that require the capabilities of a high speed, low latency RF mesh network.  In the past, they were content with power line carrier that would support more basic AMR applications. The need for high bandwidth, low latency wireless networks for advanced applications is a fairly new development for them.   I believe that this need for increased speed and bandwidth has beendriven by increasing wholesale electricity costs from their G&Ts. Many of the G&Ts have started to implement time of use rates and suddenly, co-ops realize that they need to be able to manage their own demand profiles much more aggressively which could includeimplementing time of use rates and critical peak pricing programsfor their customers. In addition, they’re realizing that there are many other smart grid applications –like distribution automation and video surveillance to protect their substations and remote assets – that require a robust network with much more bandwidth and low latencies not available with the older generation AMI systems. This growing need for more advanced AMI systems occurring in the co-op spaceis something that Trilliantand HD Supply both feel is an area where to two companies can provide a comprehensive end to end solution.
Ben Lack: When you work with co-ops like Victoria Electric or others around the country, what are the hot buttons? It’s obviously, to a certain extent, better customer service to the clients that they serve but also generating revenue and lowering operating costs. Is there a trend on which one of those three is the biggest driver for action?
Jim Hanson: Like investor-owned utilities, I think co-ops see that they’re being affected by the increasing cost of their wholesale energy supply as well as the need to provide more reliable and affordable energy to their members.  So managing costs is always a concern because they don’t want to increase their customers’ rates. I think that customer service is something people are expecting – customers expect their utility to have very robust outage management capabilities so that outages are identified and resolved quickly.  And customers want information about how they are consuming energy so they can make informed choices in order to manage their own costs and energy footprint.  So the same drivers are affecting investor-owned utilities as well as co-op and municipal utilities.   When we talk to co-ops, they also recognize that there are many other Smart Grid projects that they have in mind to increase their performance.  I previously mentioned distribution automation and video surveillance as examples but there are more like Wi-Fi hot spots for their mobile workers, real-time communications for work order dispatch, and even Voice over IP.  They might not be ready to deploy these applications for another two or three years but they want a communications network that can grow with their needs and support multiple applications, not just AMI.
Ben Lack: The role of smart grid solutions has had varying degrees of success around the country. There have been some issues in California and ERCOT in Texas with smart grid deployments and education with the end users. What does Trilliant do to help its clients educate the end user about the advantages of moving to a smart grid?
Jim Hanson: We support them with what they need for their own customer outreach programs. We provide them with information on our system, the reliability, and its capabilities and translate those to the benefits that their customers will see from a smart grid or AMI deployment. We provide collateral support to the customers and they typically will customize their own consumer outreach program to suit their needs..
Ben Lack: I’m sure that working with HD Supply obviously helps to reassure them and the end users that the pilot project is going to be done correctly.
Jim Hanson: Absolutely, that’s one of the big advantages that we see from working with a leader like HD Supply. They have the scalability and reach to all of these co-op and municipal utilities.  They have strong relationships with these utilities that they been servicing for many years. That’s why they are a very important channel partner to us because they provide us with the access to sell and deploy these systems in these markets.  We work closely with HD Supply to provide end-to-end services and solutions for these utilities.  Co-ops want confidence that their technology vendor will be there every step of the way, even after the deployment is completed.  HD Supply does a great job of working with Trilliant in providing excellent service and peace of mind for their customers.
Ben Lack: Why are you in the business? What part of the smart grid industry or the co-op market is so interesting that you’ve chosen to spend time on this?
Jim Hanson: I personally drank the AMI Kool-Aid a long time ago. I’ve been in the utility industry for 25 years.  I’ve always believed in the need for machine-to-machine communications, and making large geographically dispersed networks intelligent so that you can manage a large enterprise’s business more efficiently. For Trilliant, we have been providing intelligent communications systems to  this industry since 1985.  We believe in the benefits of the Smart Grid for utilities, for consumers, and for the environment, and we are committed to providing communications networks to make it all a reality.

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