Oncor CIO: ‘Disruptive technologies’ leading to business transformation

“Smart” technology is playing a key role in transmission, particularly in new transmission lines, according to Joel Austin, vice president and CIO, of Oncor.

“At Oncor, we’re investing almost $1bn a year on transmission as a part of Texas’ CREZ program and not only are [we] building new technology into the lines themselves, [we are] building fiber along with those lines,” he told TransmissionHub after speaking on a panel on analytics at the 4th Annual EnergyBiz Leadership Forum March 20. “When those things become operational, they’ll already have a platform for analytics that is part of the base build so then it’s how quickly can we then expand that into the existing transmission plan that we have.”

Oncor operates the largest distribution and transmission system in Texas, delivering power to about three million homes and businesses and operating about 117,000 miles of distribution and transmission lines in the state, according to its website.

Southern is based in Atlanta and has 4.4 million customers and more than 42,000 MW of generating capacity, according to its website.

During the panel, Austin noted that a business transformation is occurring thanks to disruptive technologies.

“With the advent of smart meters, particularly in our service territory, we have mountains of data that we did not have before,” he said, adding, “The business imperative is how do I collect this information, this data, and turn it into information that helps me be more efficient because…we’re in business to keep the lights on.”

Kenneth Coleman, senior vice president and CIO at Southern Company, said one of the concepts Southern continues to work through, in addition to having an enterprise view of the data, involves the company’s business unit collecting the pieces of information it needs to run various queries and sort the data as needed to provide more innovation.

“We are looking at the enterprise view, but we also think the business units, generation, transmission [and] distribution, all play a very viable role in helping further that integration and innovation,” he said.

After the panel, Coleman told TransmissionHub that analytics allows the company to capture previous storm information, for instance, to get a sense for what some of the damage levels were at various wind speeds.

As storms are approaching, the company is able to use analytics to “ensure that we have the equipment that’s needed, try to get some sense of predictive maintenance [and get] a sense for what may fail, what could fail and be better prepared,” he said.

During the panel, the speakers also discussed how new tools are being used to understand customers.

Oncor has a role in interacting with the customer, Austin said. One of the ways to do that, he said, is through social media and “speaking through different mediums with customers, trying to get a fresh view of what that expectation is for us so that we can provide platforms to provide the information and all this data through analytics” to customers so they can control their demand, for instance.

“One of the promises of smart meter technology is providing that data to customers like myself such that I can make decisions that may impact my usage and therefore my bill,” he said.

Austin said it is also important to think of future customers, or today’s younger generation, which may rely more on technology – getting power outage information through text messaging, for instance.

Similarly, Coleman said Southern communicates with its customers through such social media outlets as Facebook and Twitter.

“We think our customers want more granular energy uses so they can make smart energy choices,” he said. “In addition to providing more integral information on how they use energy, some of the things that we’re [doing] now include allowing customers to set their own bill date [and] allowing them to come on the website to estimate what their monthly bills might be.”

He continued, “We’re trying to give our customers a number of ways to help them utilize some of the data from our meters…and they get to set a little bit how that interaction flows between us.”

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3205 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 15 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at clinares@endeavorb2b.com.