Exclusive interview with Kevin O’Donovan, Director, Worldwide Energy Sector Sales, Intel Corporation. Intel is a platinum sponsor at this year’s Metering, Billing/CRM Europe.

Why is Intel at this industry event?
We provide compute and communications building blocks that bridge traditional IT and operations, transforming data into knowledge and enabling utilities to advance the intelligence and integration of their grid at the speed of value. With McAfee and Wind River, both wholly owned Intel subsidiaries, our ability to deliver solutions to this industry has been greatly enhanced.

We are proud to be a Platinum sponsor of this year’s event as it provides us with an excellent platform to create awareness for our current offerings, to share our future plans and ideas and most importantly to gain insight and feedback from the industry.

What surprises you about the industry?
Personally, the two most surprising things I see are first the level of complexity that the industry operates in, and second that the industry doesn't get the credit it deserves from the rest of the world for what it actually does.

On the first one, complexity. There is no doubt that the industry is going through transformational change the world over. But it's not just this industry that is changing, so is government policy, regulation and all the other industries and stakeholders this industry interacts with. Thus the goalposts are continuously moving. For the past number of years I had the opportunity to represent Intel and DIGITALEUROPE in a number of EU smart grid expert groups and I’m a current member of the EU’s M/490 reference group.  From the outside looking in, what can be seen as a simple issue with an easy solution can lead to all sorts of unintended consequences in other areas of the economy and/or society. The complexities are immense.

On the second one, today’s electric grid is one of the most complex systems on the planet and it's the ultimate just-in-time manufacturing system. Is today's grid perfect? No, but the amount of innovation and effort it requires to keep the system functioning as it does is vast. However, most consumers take electricity for granted, so the industry does not get the credit it deserves for keeping the lights on.

What do you think are the main challenges in the industry?
While the challenges faced by the industry in different countries vary, fundamentally I see two main challenges. It’s a fact that human innovation is not slowing down. The pace of technological change is ever increasing driven mainly by Moore's Law. New distributed renewable and storage technologies are constantly appearing leading to potential issues while striving to maintain grid reliability and resilience. More compute and communications building blocks are required in order to manage this distributed system of systems, and most importantly to manage it securely.

Thus the first main challenge is ensuring grid security, specifically cybersecurity. Second, it's about the business model. Let's face it. One could today with an unlimited budget build out a smarter grid that would meet almost all the different drivers one could possibly be faced with. The 'feature' being, it would never be economically viable. Linking back to my complexity point above, given potential changes in government policy, regulation, compliance and with new technologies appearing overnight, then defining the ideal sustainable business model for the next 20 years is a challenge.

What is your vision for the industry?
As today’s grid transforms to meet the needs of the future, we believe the promise of a modernized grid hinges on ensuring the requisite connectivity, reliability and cybersecurity from generation and transmission to distribution and consumption.

At Intel, along with McAfee and Wind River, we are helping lead the way by delivering building blocks needed for this future. We believe that the right technology can enable a smarter, modernized grid, one founded on connectivity, reliability and security. We also envisage a future where there will be a number of technological breakthroughs in one or more areas of energy generation, energy transportation, energy storage/usage. Imagine if affordable, safe and sustainable energy storage technology becomes available for the masses... the game changes completely. The business models change, issues change, problems we have today are no longer problems. Industry transformation has begun, and it’s only going to continue at pace. The grid of the future will have to continuously adapt.

What projects are you particularly excited about?
Given the scope of what we do, we’re engaged in multiple projects across the globe with our partners and customers. These range from implementing big data/analytics projects today to 10+ year R&D projects.

The area of substation automation for distributed intelligence/distributed analytics is an area we are particularly excited about. This is opening up a whole new set of opportunities and challenges for the industry. In partnership with McAfee and Wind River,  we have some very interesting solutions both today and for the future, especially in security. In relation to home energy management and analytics,  the work we are engaged in with the Pecan Street Project in Texas, USA is delivering some great insights. And in terms of R&D, the work Intel Labs is leading with initiatives such as the Personal Office Energy Manager, electric vehicle research and our participation in the Friends of the Supergrid initiative hold great promise.

What will be your specific message at the event this year?
“Intel in the Grid: Intelligence. Connectivity. Security.” As I’ve outlined above, we’ve been a very active participant in this industry over the years. At this year’s event we wish to demonstrate the ‘end-to-end’ breadth of our technologies and solutions that exist today and share some of our plans and ideas for the future. Thus we would like to invite visitors to come join us at the event, to learn more about ‘Intel in the Grid’ and to discuss with us and our partners the multitude of business opportunities out there as this industry transformation accelerates across the globe.

What’s next?
As we head towards 2050, we see ICT technology playing an ever more critical part in the grid transformation. The need for more connectivity, more intelligence and more security will not diminish. As a result we believe new technological breakthroughs will appear in one or more areas of energy generation, energy transportation, energy storage/usage and this will completely change the game.