Oracle nets 11m smart meter deal in France with GRDF

Oracle has announced a big win for its Utilities division, this week announcing an 11m unit deal with French energy supplier GRDF – the largest such deployment in the world, it says. The contract will see Oracle support GRDF as it upgrades 11m mechanical meters to new smart meters, and follows an 18-month trial. The deployment is scheduled to be completed in 5-years, has the blessing of the French government, and promises efficiency improvements.

Oracle might be more accustomed to digital transformation in its core enterprise customers, who are collectively in the process of digitizing legacy processes to take advantage of shiny IT buzzwords – which include ‘analytics,’ ‘AI,’ ‘machine-learning,’ and ‘actionable insight.’ However, its utility customers are also in the process of transforming their operations, to brace themselves for a rapidly changing energy supply.

Instead of converting paper forms or isolated business software, the utilities are replacing their legacy metering infrastructure with new smart meters. These meters, which can report back their usage history and current load levels, are the basis of the Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI) that is needed to begin adding serious amounts of renewable energy and battery storage to an energy grid – which are on track to begin undercutting conventional fuel sources on price in the near future (with some projects already doing so).

However, the big trade-off in renewables is their variable generation capacity (clouds blocking the sun, winds dying off, etc.), and so a utility needs a much more dynamic view of their grid, so that it can dial up reserve capacity when needed, or divert surplus renewable energy into storage (whether that’s pumped hydro, home batteries, or electric vehicles).

AMI is fundamental to this smart grid evolution, and Oracle saw an opportunity to jump into the sector. It acquired Opower for $532m in May 2016, in what looked like a bargain buy of around half Opower’s IPO price. While a startup might have struggled to attract the larger customers need to make it to the big leagues, Oracle can trade on its reputation and strong market position (even if Big Red does have some detractors, it still prints money and has a $214bn market cap).

With the GRDF deal, solar and wind renewables are not a direct concern. The company is a distribution system operator (DSO), and will be replacing those 11m mechanical meters with new connected units – and managing them using Oracle’s Meter Data Management (MDM) platform.

GRDF is the main gas DSO in France, and is a subsidiary of Engie – another French firm, previously called GDF Suez (descended from the company behind the namesake canal), which runs electricity, gas, renewable, and nuclear energy plants and infrastructure. GRDF could be a lucrative route into the larger Engie parent, for Oracle.

As part of the upgrade, ‘to make it an effective tool for the energy transition,’ GRDF’s grid will be adding four major features. These include integrations for locally-produced renewable gas, improved safety and performance for the gas supply, the providing of data to customers and cities, and creating bridges to other networks so that they can take advantage of the storage capacity of the gas network.

GRDF CEO Edouard Sauvage said “replacing 11m mechanical meters with smart devices takes more than just a new IT infrastructure. This is a major transformation for GRDF and for France, and we needed a technology partner that could help us to continue delivering the highest standard of service to our customers.”

“The French gas market has a clear roadmap for the transition to digital service delivery and the move to smart metering is an integral part of this evolution. The configurability and strength of Oracle Meter Data Management make it ideally suited to that end. With this roll-out, and its investment in Oracle, GRDF is setting a new tone for the relationship between French utilities, their customers, and the network,” said Rodger Smith, GM and SVP of Oracle Utilities.

At DistribuTech (one of the largest energy tradeshows), Oracle Utilities announced new low voltage features for its Network Management System, which it says provide DSOs with increased visibility and management tools for low voltage and secondary mesh underground electricity networks.

Oracle also netted a smaller deal in May 2016 with Avista Utilities, which has now said it has completed an electricity and gas smart meter deployment in its footprint in the US – which covers 370,000 electricity and 343,000 gas customers in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. The goal is to reduce site visits (a costly expense in remote locations), and build a platform for smart grid adoption.

The Avista deal also included Oracle Utilities’ Service Order Management and Customer Care and Billing systems. Avista’s manager of enterprise systems, Mary Silkworth, sang the praises of the go-live event, which saw the transition made without any outages – calling it an “amazingly effective weekend,” which was carried out in partnership with Triniti Consulting.