What Aclara's new buyer will get (and why utilities should care)

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By Jesse Berst

 

I constantly reinforce the need for utilities to find the right long-term vendor partners. And, therefore, to pay attention to vendors' long-term roadmaps.

 

Parent company Esco announced in August 2013 that it was putting its Aclara subsidiary up for sale. It expected to close within 90 days, so the final sale is overdue and should be announced soon.

 

But that may leave many utilities wondering about Aclara's long-term vision. I checked in with the firm, and found them firmly focused on several important themes. Now let’s hope that Aclara's new owner will be a company that will not just allow these initiatives to continue, but have the wherewithal to reinforce them.

 

Where is Aclara heading next? In my conversations, I heard these themes:

 

One size doesn't fit all. No single communications technology is right for every meter. All utilities have certain meters that need to use a different communications mechanism because of topology, remoteness or some other complication. Therefore, utilities need a unified platform for managing hybrid communications networks.

 

Big Data needs a big database. There's much debate about the right way to store, process and share all the data pouring in from smart meters and sensors. Aclara thinks a common database makes sense.

 

Munis and coops first need help with the data. Aclara does the bulk of its business with small to mid-size rural electric and municipal utilities. Unlike large investor-owned utilities, this group is relatively unconcerned about integrating renewables at scale, distributed generation, fuel-switching and other topics that are preoccupying the big boys. But they do need help creating value from the data.

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