Customer Service, Executive Insight, Smart Grid

DistribuTECH Doesn’t Disappoint

Issue 2 and Volume 23.

Most of you probably already know that POWERGRID International magazine is DistribuTECH’s official publication and its media partner. As such, I’m not only the magazine’s chief editor, but I’m also responsible for guiding DistribuTECH’s conference content and heading up its conference advisory committee. I have a lot of duties while at the event and I’ve often said the week of DistribuTECH is the hardest, but also the best, week of the year for me. Despite the busy schedule, long days and short nights, it’s exciting and rewarding to see the results of the arduous work put in by the PennWell team, as well as the many volunteer committee members. This year’s event didn’t disappoint. We had great attendance, packed conference sessions, a fabulous keynote and a busy exhibition hall. You’ll see a few short DistribuTECH pieces in the Notes section of this issue, but next month’s issue will include a DistribuTECH post show article, providing many details about the event and its hot topics.

I want to also mention, however, that as in year’s past, I moderated webcasts at the event. These webcasts are different than others we host throughout the year because they’re viewed not only by the online audience, but also by a live audience. The first webcast of the week occurred on Tuesday, Jan. 23, and featured a speaker from Excelsior Electric Membership Corp. (EEMC), headquartered in Metter, Georgia. Like many electricity providers located near the east coast, EEMC was hit hard by Hurricane Irma and needed help from borrowed crews and contractors to restore service. In fact, because the company is still rebuilding, the speaker could not travel to San Antonio, so he joined the webcast via Skype. He talked about a mobile app the company used to monitor the real-time GPS locations of over 150 workers, including the borrowed crews and contractors from six states, to complete restorations in 72 hours. It was fascinating to hear how a simple app, which could be downloaded on any Apple or Android device, played a significant role in restoration efforts.

The second webcast, which occurred on Wednesday, Jan. 24, was a panel discussion about utilities, cities and other entities working together to create smart communities. One of the panelists is an engineer with Avista Corp., who is working on Spokane’s (Washington) smart city initiative, Urbanova. Another is the energy and sustainability manager at the city of Charlotte, North Carolina. These two gentlemen revealed valuable information about their experiences and some of the challenges they’ve encountered working on these two smart city initiatives.

I’m not sharing this with you because it’s my duty to promote webcasts, but because I learned a lot from both of these webcasts and want to make sure you know they’re available for you to view for free. You can find links to them on POWERGRID International’s website for the next six months. If either of these topics interest you, you’ll not be disappointed if you view the webcasts.

Most of DistribuTECH’s content focused one way or another on the electricity industry’s rapid transformation. This leads me to another major takeaway from DistribuTECH. Is the term “utility” outdated? Is it now a legacy term that should be replaced? I spoke to a few people about this during the show. We talked about how the business model of simply selling kilowatt hours is no longer sustainable, how most customers will one day be able to choose their electricity provider (of course, some already do), how customers expect better and more services from their electricity provider and how many companies outside the industry are anxious to meet those expectations. The consensus was that utilities must find a way to connect with their customers, offer much more than just electrons and do a better job than the “outsiders” that are entering their space. Will this require a new label or name? We decided the answer is “maybe.” I expect future DistribuTECHs to provide clarity on that.

Editor in chief | Teresa Hansen