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Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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Energy Central Power Perspectives: Energy Central Power Perspectives™: Getting to Know Bill Meehan, Expert in the Digital Utility Community

Posted to Energy Central in the Digital Utility Group

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This week in our ‘Getting to Know Your Expert’ Interview series from Energy Central, a part of Power Perspectives™, we arrive at a quite active and always insightful expert from our Digital Utility Community. Bill Meehan has been sharing his insights with the Energy Central community for many years, and as a Director of Utility Solutions at Esri, he’s long been at the forefront of the coming technological and digital advances that shape the energy industry.

As you read through the conversation I had with Bill, take note of the extensive career he’s had and the continued passion he still has for the industry. That way when you come across Bill as he submits content, answers community questions, or shares his thoughts in the comments section, you’ll know the full weight of experience behind his words.

All the members of Energy Central’s network of experts, Bill included, are here to provide their knowledge and bolster the overall value of the community. So next time you see a post or a comment from Bill, take the time to say hi and ask him any questions you may have!

MC: Can you start by telling us a brief overview of your background and what led to you being a leader in the digital utility field? What draws you to continue to work in this fast-evolving area?

Bill Meehan: It’s been a long journey for me. That trek could be titled: How I used digital technology in the electric utility business. I worked for an electric utility, an engineering firm, and now in GIS company. I developed design and operational applications for power plant design.  I built one of the early GIS’s for electric utilities. I taught computer methods in power system analysis on the side. Oh, and I’ve written a lot: three books on GIS and the utility business and a ton of articles and blogs. My mission is now and has been: how can I make things work better. How to automate tasks, how to improve safety, customer experience, and compliance.

What draws me to continue? I am a utility person through and through. I see digital technology transforming the business. That will make the world a better place. I want to continue to be a part of that.

 

MC: An area of interest for you at Esri is utilizing GIS in utility operations. What has it been like to be heavily involved in this field as it went from concept to implementation in reality? Is there anything you would do differently over the past 15 years knowing what you know now about GIS?

BM: It has been extremely rewarding. When you have an idea to, for example, improve someone’s work with technology, that’s great. But witnessing it happen and getting positive feedback is a true reward. 

What would I do differently? Maybe swing for the fences a little more. As an engineer, I was just a bit cautious in rolling out the GIS project. It stretched over five years. That was too long. I would have pushed harder. I also tried to accommodate legacy work practices. Instead, I should have battled for more transformation.  Recently, I coined the term digital transition. This means creating a digital version of an existing process. It tends to keep old practices but uses new technology. This contrasts with digital transformation, which breaks down old patterns.  I could have pushed for more transformation vs. transition.

MC: As you look back at projects with which you’ve been involved as the digital revolution has taken over the utility sector, what has been the most challenge aspect of this revolution from your perspective?

Culture.

 

MC: Looking forward, do you have any educated guesses on what might be the next big thing in the world of digital utilities that maybe people aren’t talking about too much right now?

BM: Yes. I’ve written about the notion that the electric utility business is following the same pattern as the IT industry, only a few decades behind. Remember when? Timeshare services were buried by mainframe computers. PC’s nearly killed mainframes. Then PC got connected. Today we have the cloud where nothing is entirely centralized or decentralized. This will happen in the power business. There will be a cloud-like energy supply along with DER’s and microgrids all working together, managed by digital technology. It’s already happening now in a limited way.  Coming soon there will be a fully developed digital utility marketplace: trading, buying, selling, sharing. There will be commercial platforms like Airbnb that facilitate all this happening in real-time. It will drive innovation and lower costs.

 

MC: As you’ve gotten involved and engaged with the Energy Central community, what has been the value to you of this platform, to becoming an expert, and in engaging with the industry at large in this way?

BM: GIS has been used at utilities for years – 30 maybe? Engaging in the Energy Central community has provided me with a forum to look at new and exciting ways to transform the business using GIS.  It gets utility people to think: I never thought about GIS in that way.  Or to borrow an Esri tag line, GIS is about discovery – seeing what others can’t.  This notion becomes more and more important as the industry evolves.

MC: Is there anything else you’d like the community to know about you that didn’t fit into any of the above questions?

BM: I’d like to thank those readers and commenters of my blogs.  Writing is rewarding unto itself. But when people view the content it is doubly rewarding.  Thanks Energy Central Community!


 

I’d like to thanks Bill for sharing his insights in this interview, as well as the insights he continually provides to the community as an expert. I hope you were inspired by some of Bill’s answers and will be eager to engage with him next time you see a post or comment of his. Energy Central’s core value comes from our community and our network of utility professionals, so be sure to tap into it whenever you can!

 

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interesting in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

Discussions

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Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Oct 1, 2019

I share Bill's correlation of the centralized to decentralized IT world to what is hapening today in the energy transition from centralized to decentralized and the need for changes to "command and control" akin to the way central IT departmnets had to establish LAN and PC support groups in order to perform command and control functions. Today, I would say we are in the "Novell Netware" LAN phase of the energy transition where new devices are showing up everywhere, but command, control, and collaboration are lacking between controlling grid entities.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 1, 2019

It's indeed fun to see how history tends to repeat itself, especially in the world of tech, and the Energy Central community is lucky to have both you and Bill to point out and understand these correlations

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Oct 2, 2019

Bill thanks for all your contributions and insights shared with the Energy Central Community.  We are glad to have you as a part of the community and your shared expertise!  I would love to get a link to your books.  

Linda Stevens's picture
Linda Stevens on Oct 31, 2019

Great interview. Bill is a true visionary in the utility industry. I agree that decentralization is going to happen and technology will be key to making is work seamlessly! 

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