Ed Hammersla is the new CEO at Utilidata Inc., a global software company that works with electric utilities to enhance energy efficiency and grid security. He talks with Providence Business News about his new position.
PBN: What interested you in the position at Utilidata? How do you think your background will help you in this position?
HAMMERSLA: The three things that attracted me to Utilidata are the technology, the people and the location. I have spent my career working in the software industry and know what it takes for technology solutions to be successful. The team at Utilidata has built a solution that consistently delivers proven results for its customers and helps those customers save money. That economic value is important in the software business. This is also a team that approaches solutions in an innovative way and understands the cyber aspect of the technology. While most companies focus either on operational technology solutions (the physical equipment out in the field) or information technology solutions (the computer systems), the Utilidata team has developed a product that does both. But the bottom line, and the most important reason I wanted to join Utilidata, is because the problem our company solves – saving and securing energy – is something that is good for all peoples and all nations.
PBN: Can you explain how this is a period of transformation in the utility industry in terms of connected devices?
HAMMERSLA: There are two trends that are happening simultaneously in the utility industry. The first is that solar farms, wind energy and new distributed energy sources are coming online in increasing numbers. For example, over 1 million homes now have rooftop solar and all of those solar panels have to be connected to the grid and integrated into the utility company’s planning process in new ways. At the same time, more and more devices, both in major industries and in our homes, are getting smarter and being connected via the internet. These smart devices are changing the way we consume power and creating cyber vulnerabilities for the electric grid. The need for grid efficiency and security has never been more challenging or necessary than it is right now.
PBN: How do you think the recently announced strategic alliance with Raytheon will enable Utilidata to help utilities and respond to cyberthreats?
HAMMERSLA: Utilidata has been working to expand its cybersecurity offerings, leveraging its patented technology and real-time data from the electric grid to detect and respond to cyberattacks. We have a tremendous depth of experience with the utility sector, and Raytheon is a world leader in cybersecurity in both government and commercial markets. They bring a very talented and deep bench of cyber expertise to our alliance, as well as a global footprint. By working together, we’ll be able to provide a broader range of services and insights to our customers.
PBN: Are utilities being targeted by cyberthreats? What can utilities do to protect themselves?
HAMMERSLA: The threat of cyberattacks is increasing for utility companies. In 2015, a cyberattack shut down a large section of the power grid in the Ukraine, leaving 230,000 residents in the dark. Here in the U.S., a report from the Department of Energy released earlier this year warned that the electric system “faces imminent danger” from cyberattacks and that those attacks are growing more frequent and sophisticated. These are stark reminders of the risks and potentially catastrophic consequences of not securing our power sources and the transmission network we depend upon for daily life.
The issue of cybersecurity is top-of-mind for utility executives, and something the industry is working to protect itself against. In the same way that we protect the system against natural disasters, we’re also working to protect it from cyberattacks. That requires better integration of the operational technology and information technology – and that’s a big part of what we do at Utilidata. Our team takes the data and insights from equipment in the field and uses that to secure the grid.
PBN: Can you talk a bit about the Demand Reduction Project with National Grid?
HAMMERSLA: National Grid is one of several utilities across the country that’s utilizing our technology as a way to deliver greater energy savings to customers. Our technology essentially makes it easier for utilities to deliver the exact amount of power that is needed by customers at a given time. We use real-time information to optimize voltage, reducing the amount of energy that is lost as electricity travels from generating plants, through the transmission network, into substations and ultimately to homes and businesses. One additional benefit that National Grid and other utilities receive with our products is that they can deliver energy savings without requiring any action from consumers.
In Rhode Island, that energy efficiency is important because the state has taken a leadership role as one of the most energy-efficient states in the country. In New York, we’ve partnered with National Grid as part of the Reforming the Energy Vision initiative, which is all about exploring innovative technologies that can make the energy system cleaner, more resilient and more affordable. Other states have similar goals, and are finding our solution can help them achieve multiple objectives at the same time. For example, in California’s Silicon Valley, rooftop solar is much more prevalent, and through our work with Pacific Gas & Electric, we’re not only helping the utility save money, we’re also providing key insights that make it easier to manage the voltage levels from solar panels while also bringing powerful cybersecurity technology to protect this important region.