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By Jesse Berst
Like every other smart grid company, SSN is making several announcements at this year's DistribuTECH conference. I thought it would be helpful to pull back the covers to reveal where SSN's thoughts may be leading us next. As I reviewed the four announcements described below, I saw three important themes:
1. Utilities are ready to do more with their communications networks
2. The power of platform partnerships
3. The move from an energy network to an "everything network"
The first theme is well recognized by most utilities. The second is just now reaching the tipping point. And the third has barely begun to penetrate but will β I predict β become increasingly important.
Developed in partnership with Elster, SSN's new transformer monitoring solution gives utilities real-time visibility into the performance of their distribution and substation transformers. Basically, Elster is popping an SSN communications module into its A3 Alpha meter for distribution transformers. Even if the utility does not have AMI, it can now gain transformer-level visibility for applications such as conservation voltage reduction (CVR) and theft detection.
This announcement underlines that utilities are ready to do more with their communications networks than just smart metering. As SSN's EVP of Products Anil Gadre explained to me, "It's now time. Utilities have finally digested their AMI systems and they are ready to find new ways to get value from the network." And thanks to last year's Gen4 update, SSN networks have the headroom to handle multiple apps.
UtilityIQ Demand Optimizer
Working with a Silicon Valley startup called AutoGrid, SSN has bolted a powerful optimization engine onto its demand-side management platform. The marriage creates a much more sophisticated demand management engine, with more dials and levers. Using powerful analytics, utilities can more easily decide which customers to call for which demand response events, with greater confidence they will respond as hoped. And they can get robust measurement and verification, an essential but often neglected piece of the demand response puzzle.
This announcement shows the power of platform partnerships. Although AutoGrid will be selling a standalone version, the SSN flavor offers easier and faster operation, a unified interface and additional features.
Expansion of the SSN Global Partner Program
As further illustration of its commitment to platform partnerships, SSN announced that another 10 companies officially joined. It also introduced new tools for its partners,
There is a quiet war underway in the smart metering space to recruit the best developers and partners. To win that war, meter and communications vendors need to offer tools and certifications. Yet it is even more important to offer go-to-market assistance β to help developers with tangible marketing and sales programs.
SSN has stepped up its go-to-market efforts, but it will have to do even more. It is now battling for mind share not just with its traditional metering foes, but with the Ciscos and Microsofts of the world, who have been running partner programs for decades.
The announcement with the most far-reaching implications actually came the week before DistribuTECH, with the announcement that SSN is teaming with Streetlight.Vision. The partnership will deliver a smart city solution that uses streetlights to create a city-wide communications network. That network will provide remote monitoring and control of the streetlights -- a valuable benefit given that up to 40% of a city's energy budget goes to streetlights. But even more valuable is the fact that the very same network can be used for other applications, including traffic control or even smart grid applications.
Such synergies will be easiest to achieve in cities where the power utility is municipally owned. But even investor-owned utilities that serve multiple cities will want to be on the lookout for partnering opportunities. If you are looking for a way to cost-justify a smart grid initiative, you may have a financial partner in one or more of the cities you serve. A streetlighting department or a water department or a traffic department might share the cost of the network if it could share the use to allow smart city applications.
SSN used to talk about the Energy Network, to imply that it could do far more than just metering. Recently it has trademarked the phrase "Everything Network." Like GE with its Industrial Internet announcement, SSN is signaling that the era of the Internet of Things is now upon us. And that it intends to stake out a major role in that new arena, just as it did a decade ago in smart grid.
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Jesse Berst is the founder and chief analyst of Smart Grid News.com, the industry's oldest and largest smart grid site. A frequent keynoter at industry events in the U.S. and abroad, he also serves on advisory committees for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Institute for Electric Efficiency. He often provides strategic consulting to large corporations and venture-backed startups. He is a member of the advisory boards of GridGlo and Calico Energy Services.
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