What can Internet Providers Learn From Utilities?

On November 6th, huge swaths of the Internet went dark for about 90 minutes. The cause turned out to be human error traced to something referred to as a “route leak”. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use Autonomous Systems (ASes) to track data that travels through different networks. On the 6th, the route leak occurred when the ASes relayed bad information about their IP addresses.

Net-net: about half of the United States’ vital information infrastructure went down thanks to several ASes and their route leaks (Google it if the Internet’s working—I’m not making this up).

Utilities have taken a rap at times for being slow-moving traditional energy players, though many of them are eager to transition to a digital “Internet of energy.” But the instant, interconnected nature of the Internet creates challenges when downtime is on a massive scale. If half the country lost its power for 90 minutes there would be chaos, followed by Congressional Inquiries. It seems to me that utilities could teach ISPs a thing or two about reliability.

The digitization of energy has much to offer. Greater efficiency. Data access. Lower costs. The list of benefits is long, and the rallying cry of change will surely not abate. But you need to have a clear-eyed view of the risks that digitization brings. While utilities are skilled at balancing risk/reward, how can others—in areas like distributed energy and IoT—move forward while being cognizant of what’s at stake?

Successful transformation will come to those who consider three things: possibilities, priorities, and pace. First, understand the entire landscape—how are your customers changing, and what possible unique solutions can you provide in a digital energy economy? Second, what are the priorities of your stakeholders, shareholders and customers? Lastly, set an appropriate pace for moving forward. Change doesn’t have to happen overnight.

Did you notice last week’s Internet outages? What’s the number one thing DER and IoT players could learn from utilities? Let me know in the comments below. I’m excited to hear what you think.



Michele Tihami

Country Manager – North America
DNV GL Energy

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