Landis+Gyr, the global smart meter vendor owned by Toshiba, has been landing a lot of big utility customers recently, including Tokyo Electric Power Co., Illinois utility Ameren, and a big chunk of the U.K.’s smart meter market.
But like the rest of its competitors, it’s also hunting for smaller game, such as the thousands of municipal utilities and electric cooperatives expected to be the next big U.S. smart meter market -- and that means bringing more of its smart grid offerings to the cloud.
Unlike many of its competitors, Landis+Gyr hasn’t been making a lot of announcements about its cloud computing ambitions. Nevertheless, it’s been putting together an interesting set of cloud services for the small-utility market, based around that workhorse software platform for merging smart meters with utility business operations -- the meter data management system (MDMS).
Consider the news from Newport, Ore. this week, where Central Lincoln People’s Utility District announced a five-year contract to use the cloud-hosted Landis+Gyr’s Gridstream MDMS to manage the data from its 38,000 smart meters. It’s a small utility contract, but it represents a behind-the-scenes integration of some interesting potentials for cloud-hosted services, ranging from minding the meter data, to more advanced grid operations like outage detection, conservation voltage reduction (CVR) and data analytics.
That’s according to Dan Hokanson, director of MDM product strategy at Landis+Gyr, which he joined via its 2012 acquisition of Ecologic Analytics, the MDMS provider for such giant U.S. utilities as Pacific Gas & Electric and Oncor. Now rebranded under Landis+Gyr’s Gridstream product line, the Minnesota-based company has become the core MDMS provider for Landis+Gyr’s big smart meter customers -- as well as a growing piece of its small-utility cloud offering.
“It’s all being customer-driven right now,” he said. “As the market is maturing in North America, there are fewer IOUs looking for MDMS, and more smaller-scale utilities” looking to rent, rather than buy, their back-office IT. At the same time, since the 2012 acquisition, Ecologic’s MDMS “is a heavily integrated component into the Landis+Gyr suite of products,” including distribution automation, direct load control, and of course, meter data analytics.
Central Lincoln PUD isn’t leaping into all these products at once. Instead, it’s being folded into the broader MDM cloud offering via its longstanding relationship with another hosted service that’s been in place since 2002 -- the managed service from Cellnet Technologies, one of the many vendors acquired and consolidated into the Landis+Gyr umbrella during its years under ownership by private equity firm Bayard Group.
From its start managing systems for twenty-three utilities a decade ago, that hosted service now counts 210 customers from a facility in Kansas, according to Lisa Fennell, director of sales and engineering for Gridstream MDMS. From there, Landis+Gyr provides all the server hardware and software and database licenses for the head-end MDMS system, manages the installations and upgrades to the system, and keeps up with integrating to common utility platforms for those utilities, such as customer information systems, geographic information systems, outage management systems and the like.
Landis+Gyr, for its part, sees a lot of opportunity in using its cloud-based MDMS to fill in many of the gaps between utility operations platforms, Hokanson said. “We’ve seen integrators go out to some of our customers and fill these gaps with customization within a service bus, or something of that nature. But how much better [it would be] if we could just provide a lot of those capabilities within the MDMS.”
Central Lincoln is looking at a typical set of grid-related opportunities, like using smart meters to better detect outage locations, said Hokanson. “When you look at how these utilities are deploying MDMS, they typically start with meter-to-cash, and then move to more distribution operations -- outage management, or optimizing distribution grid assets, things of that nature,” he said. On the back-office side, “The MDMS is becoming a kind of hub for many of our customers, and we’re building in a lot more business process information, so the MDMS can very easily be linked in.”
In the case of Central Lincoln PUD, Fennell said, “they were looking for additional reporting and analytics ways to use the data. Probably the biggest factor for them was having a database where they could store that data, and where they could readily report from.” One example is the utility’s ongoing conservation voltage reduction (CVR) project with Landis+Gyr and Dominion Voltage, which uses smart meter data to help identify which distribution circuits can have voltage lowered to save energy. While it’s not running that CVR program from its cloud-hosted MDM, it is storing the 5-minute interval data from the meters involved, which will supply at-hand data for analytics undertakings in the future.
Big project wins like Tokyo Electric Power are pushing increased investment in Landis+Gyr’s MDMS capabilities, Hokanson said, and “one of them is absolutely analytics. We’re building out a set of analytic extensions to the MDMS. We’re not just going to deliver a platform and say, 'Figure out what to do.' We’re going to offer modules built off the MDM,” for functions like revenue protection, outage detection, demand response optimization and voltage management, “and deliver them as part of the MDMS package.”
Smaller utilities lack the big budgets and IT integration expertise available to their giant investor-owned brethren, which makes them a natural fit for software-as-a-service offerings, as well as fully managed services, both of which Landis+Gyr offers. We’ve been covering the rush of software providers into this space over the past few years, which can include everything from a la carte data analytics services to full-on “smart-grid-as-a-service” platforms.
On the MDMS front, we’ve seen a number of expanded offerings for cloud-based analytics, which requires a lot more computing power than day-to-day operations. “There are going to be utilities that go off and spin up a $3 million, $5 million, or even $10 million analytics project with one of the vendors out there,” Hokanson said. “But we’re seeing a huge, huge need in the industry for analytics based off the data that’s already in the MDMS, or closely related to the MDMS.”
This, of course, is an insight far from unique to Landis+Gyr. Just about every MDMS provider is tackling meter data analytics, from traditional muni and co-op vendors like Harris Utilities SmartWorks and NISC, to big new entrants like General Electric, via its smart grid services offering, Oracle, via its acquisition of DataRaker, and Siemens, via its acquisitions of eMeter.
As for the market potential for cloud-based services that can deliver what smaller utilities need, there’s certainly plenty of opportunity. GTM Research has pegged U.S. rural cooperative smart grid spending at a cumulative $4.1 billion from 2013 to 2017, and municipal utility smart grid spending at $4.5 billion to $9 billion from now until 2017.