FOUNDED IN 1998 THROUGH THE MERGER OF STATE-OWNED IMATRAN VOIMA and Neste Oyj, Fortum has grown to be one of Northern Europe's largest energy groups. Its distribution arm serves Finland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Russia and the Baltic region. In 2007, the company's power generation unit established two subdivisions - energy efficiency solutions and renewables - to address its strict emissions targets for power and heat generation as part of the organization's overall commitment to sustainability.
At the distribution level, Fortum recently completed a project in Sweden that installed approximately 900,000 smart meters. Based on guidelines outlined in Swedish legislation, these devices currently conduct monthly readings and are integrated into the company's enterprise system for billing, monitoring, and other back office functions. ''It's one of the biggest projects that we have launched over the last year,'' said Stefan Rebner, head of network operation development at Fortum Distribution. ''At last, our customers are paying for what they are consuming.'' He noted that the company is currently making plans for a similar rollout in Norway, as well as Finland. ''It definitely puts more demands on the model.''
The advantages, however, outweigh the challenges associated with rethinking the distribution infrastructure - especially when it comes to monitoring, Rebner pointed out. ''We can now see, down to the individual customer, whether the system is working or not,'' he said, adding that data on failures is sent, real-time, to the distribution centers. ''This allows us to take action when it comes to dealing with repairs. Our vision is to be ahead of our customers. If they call us to tell us that they have an interruption or an outage, we want to say that we have noticed that, and that the field
person is on his way.''
ENTERPRISE DATA HANDLING
One of the most significant challenges that Fortum's network operations department faced is determining how its enterprise system would handle all of the data once it came in. ''The biggest hurdle is to consolidate the modeling. There is a lot of information that needs to be stored and used, so designing the data modeling is a big job,'' Rebner explained. Constructing a solid communications platform is also crucial, he added. A large number of the meters in Sweden are transmitting between directly via GPRS.
The demand for accurate, real-time data will increase as Fortum continues to make headway in its efforts to promote sustainability and energy efficiency. ''From a technical perspective, there is a call for investment in highly automated solutions,'' Rebner said. ''We want more information in advance.'' Late last year, for example, Fortum joined forces with City of Espoo, Finland to enable the wide-scale adoption of electric cars - an initiative that requires thoughtful planning when it comes to infrastructure and, therefore, the ability to effectively monitor data. ''It's one thing for one person to plug in their car, but when the entire city is doing it, it has an impact on the grid,'' he said.
Rebner pointed out that from an organizational perspective, these endeavors call for a collaborative effort business and technical bodies of the company, and a commitment to IT serving as an enabler, rather than having it dictate how things should be done. ''It means that we have to reorganize our business unit,'' he said. ''We have set up a model that puts the process and IT closer together. We really would like to have the process driving IT, rather than the other way around.''