I am writing as the EUTC’s (European Utilities Telecom Council) annual meeting winds down in Lisbon, Portugal. It is my first time in this beautiful city, and it has not disappointed in terms of the weather and food. While the pace of the conference has kept me from truly enjoying the sites, we have had some fabulous evening events at interesting places around the city. Last night, our host utility, EDP Distribucao, provided us with an amazing show after dinner, a traditional Portuguese music called Fado representing a highly emotional style. For the performance last night, there were three different types of guitars (including a classical Portuguese-style) and Raquel Tavares, a very strong-voiced singer. The vocals reminded me of lower-keyed opera (mezzo soprano type) with a bit of a twist. Clearly, a lot of work and practice goes into producing such an amazing sound. The experience was incredible.
EDP Distribucao’s CEO, João Torres, spent the evening with us and, in his welcoming remarks, emphasized the critical role that telecommunications networks play in enabling the digitization of the grid that in turn enables better relationships with customers. We very much appreciate João’s support and the support of Aurélio Blanquet also of EDP Distribucao, and Vice Chairman of EUTC, for their efforts and hospitality.
In opening the conference this year, Dr. Andreas Breuer of Innogy, and Chairman of EUTC, Kathy Nelson of Great River Energy, and Chairwoman of UTC, and I reminded the audience in various ways of the commonality between utilities world-wide. The recent hurricanes in the U.S. and the Caribbean have yet again demonstrated that utilities provide essential services and that utilities of all types can come together in times of need. The response by utility workers in the U.S. and Canada has been an incredible demonstration of the collaboration and coordination we can provide, but my mind now goes to the fact that these various utility personnel can’t communicate with each other seamlessly because of the lack of emphasis – globally – on utility spectrum needs.
While this issue is absurd (why should critical infrastructures like utilities not be recognized as such when we underpin the very lifeblood of most of the world?), and our ongoing efforts seem akin to beating our collective heads against the wall, I see a confluence of events putting the spotlight on the issue – and we are not going to be the ones wincing from the scrutiny. The events that are converging in our favor are: 1) a heightened focus by policy makers on resiliency in the aftermath of natural disasters, and potential cyber or physical attacks; 2) the convergence of the need for spectrum to enable “smarter grids” that underpin policy priorities in many countries; and 3) the heightened sense of collaboration between utilities worldwide. On the latter point, we are considering greater participation in The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and must identify the best way to do that from a strategic standpoint in collaboration with our international groups.
These are just a few examples that show how much we do have in common as utilities, even on a global basis. The areas where we differ are mainly related to regulatory policy, policy drivers, and geography. For the five global units that comprise UTC, think of a Venn diagram that looks like the Olympic symbol, but with a bit more overlap among the rings. The intersection of those rings has been amply displayed this week – as utilities discuss not only spectrum issues, but also big data analytics, the transition to packet networks, cybersecurity strategies, migration to “utility 2.0” (also known here as new utility business models), and improving our relationship with the carriers, among others. All areas that are incredibly similar no matter where you live.
The bottom line is, only with strong collaboration can we optimize our utilities’ ICT networks and, in turn, provide cost-effective, reliable, and safe service to our customers. Until we meet again…