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A utility user group for the new energy future

Electric poles

In March 2024, we held the first-ever meeting of the European Nokia Utility User Group (NUUG), which brought together representatives of nine of our power utility customers across Europe. The Dutch utility Stedin hosted the event at its office in the city of Utrecht. 

The concept of a utility user group was inspired by discussions with customers, who would often ask me, “How do other operators deal with this challenge?” or “What best practice do other utilities follow for managing legacy services?” We decided to create a user group as a way to foster greater sharing of information among European utilities. With Stedin lending its facilities and Dannie van Seters, the company’s OT DataCenter Manager, offering to act as host, we began to invite customers to join.

We saw the user group as an opportunity for our customers to share their experiences and challenges and learn from one another in an informal environment. We also wanted to give them opportunities to engage with our experts and learn about the latest developments in our mission-critical operational technology (OT) networking solutions and the work we are doing with industry partners.

For weeks before the event, I asked myself whether we would realize our goal of fostering open and honest discussion among our customers and whether the format of the event would work for a varied audience.

My questions were answered within an hour of the start of the event. As Peter Landon, Product Line Manager for the Nokia Network Services Platform (NSP), presented and demonstrated the new NSP for Enterprise solution, two customers volunteered to be part of a pre-test group for the solution in their labs. This showed us that we are on the right path to meeting our customers’ needs.

Members watch a presentation at the first meeting of the European Nokia Utility User Group.

Figure 1: The first Nokia Utility User Group meeting attracted 35 attendees from nine European utilities

The next session gave our customers a chance to introduce themselves and their companies and tell the group about the solutions they are working on. This session triggered so many exchanges and lively discussions that I knew that we would have a great event. One of our lessons learned for the next event is to put specific slots in the agenda for coffee breaks so that we can keep conversations going and keep to the schedule!

One of my highlights was hearing ABB and Grid to Great explain how they are using Nokia solutions to develop next-generation virtualized protection, automation and control solutions for IEC 61850-enabled digital substations. This certainly showed the audience how our solutions can enable them to transform their operations by moving from large, vendor-attached, hardwired substations to compact, multivendor digital installations.

A special presentation by Amadou Louh, Telecom Strategist, focused on the extensive testing that Stedin has conducted to deliver critical differential protection services over its IP/MPLS network. These tests and their results are described in a CIGRE paper entitled “Implementing IP/MPLS network-based synchronization for line differential protection and control.

This topic stimulated lots of discussion within the group. It was clear that the utilities are at different stages of this journey and wanting and willing to share their experiences and plans for the future. It was great to see the technical exchanges with Nokia experts such as Keenan Royle. We could probably have filled the rest of the day with this topic.

The first day ended with dinner in the Stadskasteel Oudaen, a historic townhouse on the banks of the Oudegracht canal, where 35 of us enjoyed an excellent meal and a chance to get to know each other better. Given the volume in the banquet hall, it was clear that new acquaintances and friendships were being made.

Day two started with coffee and pastries courtesy of our hosts. Dannie van Seters took a group photo and some nice aerial shots outside the Stedin office using his “flying camera.” We then heard about Nokia optical networks and a new OTN teleprotection (C.37.94) card and got an introduction to Nokia FastMile, a Fixed Wireless Access gateway that can provide high-speed mobile connectivity to the remotest of locations.

Group photo of the attendees of the first meeting of the Nokia Utility User Group in Utrecht, Netherlands.

Figure 2: Attendees of the first meeting of the European Nokia Utility User Group

At the end of the event, we asked our guests to complete an online feedback survey. The results were overwhelmingly positive. The average satisfaction score for the overall event was more than 4.5 out of 5, and almost a half of respondents said the event had exceeded their expectations!

The survey also asked participants to share what they liked most about the event. By far the most popular response was having the opportunity to network and engage with others who are facing similar challenges.

At this point, I knew that we had hit the right note with this event. With a couple of candidates already looking to host next year’s event, the future of the Nokia Utility User Group’s European chapter is looking bright. We hope more European utilities will join the group and share their insights and expertise. We’re also working to create new user groups to bring utilities together in more parts of the world.

Find out more

Interested in joining the Nokia Utility User Group or learning more about our activities? Get in touch with me today!

Chris T. Jones

About Chris T. Jones

Chris leads the Energy segment for Europe at Nokia supporting utilities to develop secure next generation communication solutions to address the challenges of meeting the carbon neutral aims being set within Europe though digitalization and automation.  Having previously led the development of private wireless solutions to the off-shore wind industry, he is passionate about the renewable energy sector and the future advancements in storage and carbon capture.  With a background in cyber-security and operational support systems in sales and delivery he is able to help customers address the challenges of deploying and running mission critical networks.

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