The Next 10 Years: Silver Spring exec insists we need to go faster


By Eric Dresselhuys

Silver Spring Networks


Like Smart Grid News, we at Silver Spring Networks are celebrating our 10th anniversary.  We’ve grown up together.  In the beginning the ideas we both espoused were considered radical - but now proven right.


The industry has unequivocally crossed a tipping point and the next 10 years will bring more change, faster than the last.   


So, looking at the learnings from our first decade and ahead to our next, I decided to have a bit of fun and pulled together my 10-for-10 list:


1) The plug-and-play grid

After considerable pushing and prodding, standards are, well, the standard.  A truly interoperable standards-based platform unlocks the full value of the smart grid. Standards enable interoperability, which in turn ensures that the broadest possible set of products reliably and securely work together. This de-risks deployments, lowers costs through competition and speeds time-to-value.  The number one question for the next 10 years should be ‘how do we go faster?’  The answer is plug-and-play technology.


2) The smart grid is a global phenomenon

Just a few years ago, the smart grid was largely focused on North America and the conversation was mostly about metering. Now, the rest of the world is embracing smart grid and we are seeing tremendous activity across Asia, Europe, Latin America and Australia. Although each region and each country has its own challenges and needs, the transformation of smart grid technologies is making this a global grid, with unprecedented knowledge transfer and common technologies.  IP networking is global. Balkanized technologies and protectionism get run over. Similar to the transformations in IT and Telecom, the market is served by global players and everyone can use the best-of-breed.


3) "Co-opetition" is a good thing for the industry

As the industry matures and embraces open standards, competition is growing and more solutions and technologies are entering the marketplace. It also means that these fierce competitors must collaborate to ensure interoperable solutions. This is a good thing. Broad ecosystems of partners committed to interoperability and innovation - who also compete vigorously on specific technology implementations - only ensure more value for utilities and consumers alike.

6) Everything will get smarter and it will all be social
Everything on the grid is going to get smarter.  Moore’s Law isn’t just for consumer electronics. Devices on the grid will do more and cost less, but they will be lonely.  Their value will only be realized if they are connected to a network that allows them to share. Metcalf’s Law says that the value of a network is the square of number of users (in this case ‘things’). Every time you connect a new thing, you’ll realize disproportional value.  That will encourage more new, smart things to be developed, creating a cycle of value for those who know how to exploit it.

7) Invest in educating consumers...
Silver Spring has clients winning awards for customer satisfaction and other clients battling a barrage of bad press and calls for smart grid opt-out.  Since they are using the same technology, we know that isn’t the problem, so what is?  Consumers are changing and want to engage differently with utilities.  They want to be in control.  Some want to save the planet, some just want to save a buck. Although engineering may build the smart grid, you’d better invite the Chief Customer Officer to the meeting.

8) ...As well as utility employees
The importance of customer education is a universally recognized lesson learned, but utility employees also comprise a key stakeholder group that has a powerful ability to communicate the benefits delivered by smart grid projects and the importance of energy efficiency. From an internal perspective, it is important that the program results and deployment strategies are shared with utility employees to demonstrate their role in implementing and improving operating practices and how to manage consumer education and communications.  They are rightfully proud of the work being done and should be encouraged to communicate the benefits and value of these modernization efforts.

9) Data, data, data...did I say data?
With over 13 million homes and businesses now connected, I can confidently say that no utility has reduced the amount of data they are collecting.  Hourly data has a habit of becoming 15 minute data and 15 minute data has a habit of becoming 5 minute data. The smart grid is already harnessing this data explosion across the entire utility enterprise by improving grid reliability, reducing operational cost and enhancing customer communications. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The insights consumers and utilities will gain from a more intelligent and aware grid will be one of the defining factors in the evolution of the smart grid. 

10) Continue elevating the conversation
The energy industry is in the midst of the greatest transformation since Samuel Insull created the modern utility business model.  So as we move forward, we need to elevate the smart grid conversation to be about the billions of dollars of value being generated, the megatons of carbon being removed and the empowerment enabled by the smart grid. Mass deployment of distributed generation, increasingly volatile weather patterns and chronic underinvestment in an aging infrastructure threaten not only the greatest invention of the 20th century, but the economic engine that fuels modern society.  All of us - utilities, regulators, consumers, policy makers and vendors need to talk about that more urgently - otherwise we will be forced to talk about it when it is already too late.


Eric Dresselhuys, EVP Global Development, has been with Silver Spring Networks since it was founded in 2002 and has more than 14 years of experience in developing smart grid solutions.


More from SGN's The Next 10 Years series...

Where we've come from (and how it shapes where we'll go next)