A new survey from Microsoft Corp. released at the CERAWeek 2011 conference in Houston, Texas, last week suggests that only 8% of utilities are progressing past smart grid planning into implementation. The survey also suggests that generally, budgets to support smart grid efforts are on the rise.

The survey, which polled more than 210 professionals within electric, gas and related companies around the world, also highlights the challenges utilities face as they move from planning to actual smart grid implementation.. These include “financial and regulatory to technology and return on investment,” Microsoft said. A key finding is that utilities need “architectural and implementation guidance to be certain that future smart grid technology advances will integrate with and help protect their existing technology investments,” the company noted.

“Our study clearly indicates the hype cycle is over, and more utilities today are planning smart grid implementations,” said Jon C. Arnold, managing director for the Worldwide Power & Utilities Industry at Microsoft Corp. and a member of Smart Grid Advisory Committee to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Responses to a new survey question showed that, despite their confidence in today’s smart grid technologies, 64% of respondents said they did not have a clear view of the enterprise-wide information and technology infrastructure they will use to structure current and future smart grid deployments. An equal number (64%) said the flexibility to adapt new or future technologies is paramount to achieving the grid of the future.

“We’re seeing a normal phenomenon occur in terms of the evolution of thinking about these projects,” Arnold said. “Utilities are finding out what they don’t know, and they are, naturally, exerting some caution before making big investments, even though the willingness to spend is there.”

In similar ratios to the 2010 survey, 72% of  utilities professionals and executives perceive distribution management as the most important solution needed for successful smart grid implementations. Many (60%) see their budgets for distribution and energy management technologies increasing this year.

Microsoft said that, according to the survey, more than 50% of respondents see their customer information systems changing dramatically as a result of the smart grid, and many utilities are looking at replacements or working to find ways to adapt their systems to interval billing, electric vehicles, and other demand-side management and new energy programs. “Bills will become more complex, according to 56 percent of respondents, and significant business operation restructuring must occur to achieve the vision of a fully integrated smart grid.”

Sources: POWERnews, Microsoft Corp