Spotlight Interview: Camilo Serna of Northeast Utilities Talks Smart Grid

May 08, 2012 05:43 PM EST By: Laura Benold

Camilo Serna, Director Strategic Planning Enterprise Planning & Development at Northeast Utilities, sat down with us for a conversation about the smart grid and why he is participating in the Utility Technology Challenge at TechConnect World.

Q: There are so many definitions of smart grid used in the industry. How do you define it?
A: “Deployment of new information technology and new information systems to make the grid more automated.  The smart grid allows for real-time decisions to provide customers with more choices and to allow for energy to flow two ways. We take a very expansive view of smart grid [at Northeast Utilities].”

Q: What do you feel are the challenges facing the development of smart grid?
A: “At the end of the day, you have to justify the investment,” said Serna. “The cost and benefits have to be there.” He outlined how costs are not only significant for the equipment but also because of security, IP, and other challenges; and the benefits are sometimes not seen for a long period of time. “One of the challenges is justifying the investment given all of the additional changes that have to happen in the system. It is a challenge too for utilities to make a leap-frog in how we do business.”  He discussed how they are still learning how to extract the value. “We have a lot of catching up to do and a lot of legacy systems that need to be upgraded. There is also the issue of security and privacy. Just by a law of numbers, you are exposing yourself more, and you have to think and make sure you’re secure as you make these investments.”

Q: What are the top solutions that, if provided, would have a significant impact on the way you work on the smart grid?
A: “We always go back to any solution that can help with reliability.” Serna spoke about how automation isn’t as great a problem as bringing the communications into the system more quickly and more reliably. This could be with sensors or some other device.
Serna also highlighted the need for systems that allow the utility to centralize information and optimize. “An example is that we are looking at software tools for controlling technologies in the field.”
For a third solution area, “we are looking at ways to leverage usage information to provide insights and comparisons to our customers. We want to engage customers and drive energy production.”

Q: What are your goals in attending TechConnect World, and why have you agreed to participate?
A: “The primary reason I’m involved is because of the Utility Technology Challenge. The event will be a cost effective way for me to meet a lot of companies and, beyond the UTC, there will be companies for me to interact with in the forum. It’s about expanding our horizons as it relates to solutions and companies that are out there. We’ll bring them in and start having discussions to see what solutions we can deploy in the field.”


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