Itron Drives the Utilities and Cities of the Future


Mark de Vere White
President, Electricity,

Do you know Itron? The Eastern Washington company (based in Liberty Lake) is creating a more resourceful world through innovative technology and services that create more insightful utilities and smarter cities.

Mark de Vere White outlined Itron’s global electricity business at the March 8 CleanTech Alliance Breakfast Series event sponsored by Perkins Coie. De Vere White was named President of Itron's electricity business line in 2013 after serving as Senior Vice President for Energy, North America. A full audience was on hand for the presentation, as well as more than a dozen hosted webinar connections across the Northwest (U.S. and Canada).

Here are seven key takeaways:

1. Itron is big. The company employs more than 8,000 across the globe with annual revenue exceeding $2 billion. There are 19 Itron hubs worldwide, servicing more than 8,000 customers in 100 countries. 

2. You depend on Itron…even if you don’t realize it. The company has more than 150 million communication modules installed across the globe. In total, 75 percent of U.S. power touches Itron technology at some point across generation, transmission and distribution. That’s not all:

  • 33 million meters across the globe are managed by Itron software.
  • 500+ North American utilities depend on Itron for managed services.
  • More than 80 percent of electricity in North America is forecasted by Itron software.
  • Itron is the global leader in prepayment systems for electricity and gas. In the United Kingdom, Itron runs 95 percent of pre-payment processes.

3. Being a utility is about more than selling electricity and gas. There’s a false perception that utilities simply want to sell more and more energy. That’s not always a fair assumption. Customers demand always-on / always-available energy delivery. Being a utility is really about balancing reliability, resiliency and safety.

4. Technology innovations are pushing utilities forward whether they like it or not. The “Tesla Effect” is one example. Electric vehicles are impacting peak demand and grid operations. Utilities are rushing to introduce demand response programs to offset fluctuations tied specifically to electric vehicle load. Meeting this demand is possible, but requires a deeper level of smart meter integration and better communication systems.

5. Customer expectations aren’t aligned with grid infrastructure realities…and the iPhone is to blame. Traditional customer engagement with our energy infrastructure stopped at the light switch or outlet. That reality died with the iPhone. Customers now expect real-time data and communication with their energy systems. De Vere White used Uber as an example. We no longer call a taxi and idly wait for it to arrive. Now, we pull up the Uber app, call a car, and get real-time tracking to watch the car come to us.

That iPhone-level of engagement is extending to the utility sector. Customers are buying IoT devices that effectively extend the grid to thermostats inside of their homes. IoT and big data processing expectations are hard for utilities, but Itron is working to innovate. Most modern smart meters have the same computing power as an iPhone, and communication systems are advancing quickly to deliver on customer applications. The problem lies in innovation deployment.

De Vere White summed up the challenge succinctly. How can utilities operate and invest in an electricity infrastructure with a 20-year depreciation schedule when technology is changing every four years if not sooner? Change is needed. Utilities and technology vendors are on board, but regulatory bodies need to be aligned to make true progress.

6. The utility industry is ripe for transformation. The Itron Resourcefulness Index is an annual survey that benchmarks the state of energy and water resource management around the globe. The 2016 report demonstrates the evolving sectors:

  • 80 percent of utility executives surveyed said that the industry needs transformation.
  • Only one in three utility executives believes that the sector is running efficiently.
  • What’s more, 71 percent of water utility executives believe their ability to deliver adequate services will be diminished if industry inefficiency persists.
  • 78 percent of respondents agreed that innovation and technology-based solutions are the #1 unmet need for the industry.

7. The grid of the future is happening now in Spokane. On the bright side, smart city demonstrations and smart grid test beds are showcasing what is possible with technology innovation. Envision America and Envision Charlotte are both examples.

Urbanova is another example closer to home. The Spokane-based smart city project offers a living laboratory where companies and innovators can test smart city solutions before deploying them across the globe. Founding partners include Itron, Avista, McKinstry, Washington State University, the City of Spokane and the University District.

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