Our Energy and Utilities team headed to San Diego to attend the 2023 Oracle Utilities Users Group (OUUG) conference. Here are some of our favorite takeaways from the event.
Our Energy and Utilities leads Mike Murphy and Laura Gousha recently attended the 14th annual OUUG conference, a grassroots “for users, by users” customer event. The event agenda was jam-packed with excellent topics, ranging from cloud technology and analytics to network management systems.
We recapped a few highlights if you missed this year’s event or would like to revisit some main topics.
Utility Cloud Migration Journey
Several presentations focused on the cloud migration journey – the opportunities, challenges, and lessons learned. It was interesting to hear from utility companies at each stage of their journey. Some companies have completed the migration, some are in the midst, and some are planning a few years out. These presentations outlined numerous benefits of transitioning to the cloud, including the following:
Many utility companies support a large on-prem infrastructure that has grown over time. With a cloud solution, you can streamline operations, pay for only what you need and use, and you will not need a large in-house team to support the infrastructure required to support a data center.
Some unique challenges specific to the utility industry led to a slower adoption than other industries. Regulators have traditionally favored long-term, upfront capital investments through capitalization. Instead of the capital expense of owning and maintaining an on-prem data center(s), the ongoing spend with the cloud becomes an operational expenditure.
However, regulators have pushed to allow utilities to earn a rate of return on these costs, eliminating any existing bias for capital investment. We also heard utilities are successfully working with their solution providers, like Oracle, to help solve the “CapEx vs. OpEx” dilemma.
Reliability and Performance
By moving to a trusted cloud provider, such as the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI), you reduce the risks associated with an on-premises environment, including the threat of weather, ransomware attacks, and other forms of disaster. With a cloud-based solution, the risk of downtime is much lower, with built-in redundancies and fail-overs (including backup and enhanced disaster recovery capabilities).
Cloud providers also invest significantly in ensuring their offerings are highly attack resistant. As a result, they are, by and large, less vulnerable than on-prem solutions.
Flexibility and Scalability
You have less flexibility with a traditional on-premise model. While you can add capacity, it can be expensive and require a long project timeline. With cloud services, you can increase or decrease capacity on demand, which means you can quickly adjust to evolving customer and energy grid requirements.
The move to the cloud frees up traditional IT teams, leaving them with greater resources, both in terms of people and budget, to focus on new projects. It drives efficiency, which fuels innovation. Many cloud platforms also feature pre-built tools to support complex data and functional needs related to machine learning and AI, accelerating utility development. The move to the cloud can also help companies reach sustainability goals, reducing the energy usage associated with on-prem data centers.
Tools to Assist the Migration Journey
The conference highlighted several methods to reduce the operational burden of the migration process. Utilities shared various strategies, including using new data conversions and migration tools like Cloud Service Foundation (CSF) tools, Oracle-supported training, and phased approaches to data migration.
Despite these benefits, the industry will need to continue to address ongoing concerns over data control and security about the reliance on third-party providers, as well as the regulatory financial constraints that may disincentivize cloud migration.
Time of Use Rates: EVs Will Drive Adoption
In the customer rates and billing area, people had time-of-use (TOU) rates at the top of mind. Many utility companies have had TOU rates in place for their customers for many years. These rates offer some combination of on-peak, off-peak, mid-peak, or other peak-based timeframes where the cost per kilowatt hour (KwH) changes to drive customer behavior.
The classic example is heating/cooling and laundry – you encourage customers to lower their heating/cooling temperatures and defer running large energy-consuming appliances (like washers and dryers) during on-peak times. Companies have generally seen limited success using TOU programs. One utility mentioned only having two customers on their TOU rate after having it in place for several years. Two!
With the move to electric vehicles (EV), utility companies are seeing a new opportunity for significant TOU rate adoption and creating new TOU rate structures specifically for EV customers or premises. The significant charging load for EVs can impact and potentially defer major grid modifications by shifting the customer charging behavior.
The great news for utilities using modern Customer Information Systems (CIS) like Oracle CC&B/C2M/CCS and advanced metering solutions is that TOU rate capabilities already exist. You can implement these capabilities quickly as new TOU tariffs are created. We could see the dawn of a new day for TOU and other creative rate-making techniques used as an additional tool to keep our electric grid safe and secure.
The Future of Utility Customer Engagement
Increasingly, the customer is an active participant in the grid. Systems such as Oracle C2M (Customer 2 Meter) bring customer billing and meter data together, enabling these personalized engagement touchpoints.
Examples of personalized digital experiences include:
Real-time, actionable energy consumption information
There are many exciting opportunities for customers to use consumption information from advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) meters, including high usage alerts, leak detection, real-time consumption and budget monitoring, personalized tips to reduce consumption, and more.
Personalized digital interfaces
Presenters highlighted portals, mobile applications, text messaging and even custom video content as ideal channels to deliver real-time information to customers. Next-level, digital approaches allow the customer to fully personalize their experience. Flexible user interface options allow them to customize their dashboard and set personal consumption goals. Utilities are making a significant investment in perfecting these tools to meet customer needs and, in turn, increase the use of self-service channels.
Proactive utility infrastructure support
Customers expect a high level of service delivery. By using these tools, the utility company can perform proactive actions like high bill investigations or review which areas may be at the highest risk for an outage pre-storm, so they can proactively strengthen infrastructure support.
OUUG offers a wonderful opportunity for utilities and partners to come together to share ideas and lessons learned. We look forward to seeing how these ideas will continue to shape the utility industry in the years to come!