Q&A with Chris Hickman, President and CEO, Innovari
Innovari, Chris Hickman provides the utility-centric vision for the company’s unique value proposition and strategy. Chris has over two decades of utility industry experience – including 13 years of diverse experience within a utility — ranging from power generation to regulation to end-use customer services and technologies.
Q: What’s your interest in the India Smart Grid market?
A: I believe with the incredible growth the Indian grid will experience over the next decade, there is a very unique opportunity to truly change the way the grid is designed, constructed, maintained and operated.
Q: What do you see as biggest opportunity and reason for modernizing India’s grid?
A: I think the concept of “Grid Modernization” may be a term constrained by assumptions in the United States. The Indian grid is expanding so rapidly that “new” infrastructure may very well outpace existing over the next decade. India has the opportunity to demonstrate a Smart Grid deployment to a scale not available anywhere else, and during the construction of the infrastructure, not just retrofit applications. While the effort to more effectively manage what is there will be ongoing, the biggest opportunity is to make sure this new infrastructure is deployed with a future-looking paradigm, not one that looks backward.
Q: It’s been said that India has the opportunity to build its “Smart Grid” from scratch. How might this be an advantage/disadvantage when compared to the U.S., Europe, and other nations that are “smartening up” existing electrical infrastructure?
A: Having the opportunity to leapfrog generations of technology is an incredible advantage and I’ll give two examples.
- First, across the world, the concept of smart metering is quickly growing. Yet some very simple concepts are being ignored because many believe we have to basically match what is there or match the way it has always been done. In India, with all of the new infrastructure, has the opportunity to improve even the basic processes of your core business. You have the freedom to test old assumptions such as the meter being on the house – meters could be moved to the transformer with a brand new form factor. This would allow the optimization of the communication down to one radio for many meters, access to meter data over the cloud rather than a display on each device, and the use of normal form factor motorized breakers for remote disconnect, versus using a custom form factor in a collar. Energy diversion becomes dramatically more difficult because the metering point is more secure. Second, infrastructure is normally planned and built for a peak load that occurs less than 100 hours each year. India has the opportunity to use new technology to dynamically manage the loads rather than just reacting to them. . Even balancing the phases and the hourly load profile on the feeder by utilizing sophisticated demand-side techniques that do not require businesses to shut down. The new Smart Grid can actually improve the workforce productivity and the economy with dramatic improvements in reliability and system utilization..
In my opinion, breaking the bounds of “this is how we have always done it” with the new infrastructure being deployed is the real opportunity.
Q: What are the most critical elements and requirements for Smart Grid success in India, in your opinion (i.e standards, collaboration, international partnerships, consumer engagement), and why?
A: No one can pretend to understand the intricacies of their own country’s current situation and politics, so this answer must be clearly caveated by the understanding I am no expert regarding India. However, there seems to be one universal truth: clear direction is always better than uncertainty.
The United States is actually an example of what can go wrong: environmental issues coupled with the lack of clarity from federal and state policy are causing investments in our grid to languish. Severe electrical shortages are already being forecasted, yet there is no unified goal or objectives to which the end-use consumers can support.
India is a great democracy and one that seems to be able to act in a much more unified manner than many other democracies. However, India’s economy is being choked every single day because businesses stop when the power has to go out. There is no perfect standard and no perfect path forward, but I believe it should be a national imperative that businesses have to be able to produce in a manner that is unimpeded by electric supply is critical for the country’s success. The new Smart Grid will be part of that success.
Regardless of how you design and build your grid of the future, put it down in writing, share it with everyone in India, and then do it. Connecting your purpose with the base economy and communicating to your customers the intent to support their needs will allow for a new collaborative vision which can be supported and delivered.
Q: Can Indian IT companies become system integrators and solution providers partnering with national and international vendors in offering smart grid solutions?
A: They already are! Many significant integrators already partner with companies in India. Better partnerships could create major opportunities for these companies to help India move forward.
Q: What do you see as the most significant obstacle to doing business in India?
A: History. Everyone I speak with tells of the challenges they have had to do business within India. This “history” or perception has prevented many companies from proactively engaging in the opportunities which India offers. We need to create and deliver some successful business models that can be advertised and replicated: converting the old perceptions into the understanding of new opportunities.