DistribuTECH 2014 sets records in San Antonio

With more than 10,000 attendees, DistribuTECH kept traffic flowing throughout the exhibit floor.

from staff reports

DistribuTECH Conference & Exhibition set records again Jan. 28-30 in San Antonio. More than 10,000 attendees from 328 utilities and 66 countries gathered at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center for the No. 1 smart grid show in North America.

“Seeing the industry’s best and brightest leaders and innovators converge this week here at DistribuTECH gives us a great sense of validation as the power delivery’s premier conference and exhibition,” said MaryBeth DeWitt, vice president of PennWell’s transmission and distribution events. “We are thrilled with the industry’s support and extend a huge thank you to the utilities, sponsors and exhibitors whose participation is so integral to the success of these events.”

POWERGRID International Editor in Chief and DistribuTECH Program Director Teresa Hansen opened the show Tuesday morning with a standing-room only keynote session in the Lila Cockrell Theatre.

Keynote speaker Randi Zuckerberg shares what it was like to have a front-row seat at the beginnings of Facebook.

Nearly 3,000 people came to see Randi Zuckerberg, founder and creative director of Zuckerberg Media. She told of how her Harvard dropout brother, Mark, called her a few years back. He said he needed digital marketing help for “this thing called The Facebook.”

“Translation: I need someone who will work for free,” she said.

Zuckerberg said that for six and a half years, she had a front-row seat to how social media changed the world.

She told stories of how Facebook reached enormous success by taking a demand-led approach. She also shared her list of top 10 tech trends for business:

  1. The Loyalty Program of Today. Zuckerberg said two types of customer loyalty programs work well: emotional and celebrity. An emotional loyalty perk gives customers special access. Celebrity loyalty perks could be something like featuring a customer of the week or a customer’s tweet, she said.
  2. The New Customer Service. Customers love current events—information about outages, storms, anything human interest, and what a utility is doing to give back to the community, Zuckerberg said. “If I could advise you to do one thing in social media? Post more images,” she said.
  3. Think Like a Media Company. Zuckerberg cited BC Hydro and Opower as industry leaders that operate like media companies.
  4. Crowd Sourcing for a Change. ComEd, Zuckerberg said, revamped its bills online and in the mail. She said utilities and companies within the industry could benefit from hosting “hackathons” similar to those at Facebook, where every employee from intern to CEO works hours on something he or she is passionate about. It’s like brainstorming, and some of Facebook’s best ideas have sprung from the sessions, she said.
  5. Control With Mobile. “Consumers today don’t ever want to talk to anyone anymore,” Zuckerberg said.
  6. The Maker Movement. This is the era of custom-made creation, Zuckerberg said. She gave 3-D printing as an example.
  7. Gamification for Motivation. Zuckerberg listed several phone apps that operate similarly to a game, including an alarm clock app that donates to charity each time the user hits the snooze button.
  8. Community Giving. Zuckerberg said businesses are giving back to their communities in many creative ways, and customers appreciate it.
  9. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). A proven way to encourage action is to let customers know what they’ll be missing.
  10. Now, it’s Cool to Unplug. With all the social media and work available 24/7, it’s OK to take a day away from gadgets. Zuckerberg said some hotels are even marketing their services to lock away customers’ computers and phones during their stays.
More than 3,000 people await the 2014 DistribuTECH keynote in the Lila Cockrell Theatre.

Before Zuckerberg spoke of utilities’ social challenges, NV Energy President and CEO Michael Yackira spoke of others. He said the two main ones are cybersecurity and mutual assistance.

NV Energy President and CEO Michael Yackira shares with the audience what he considers the utility industry’s biggest challenges: cybersecurity and mutual assistance.

“Now we’re faced with a lot of challenges, some of which are our own doing, some outside forces,” he said.

Yackira, also the chairman of the Edison Electric Institute, called cybersecurity a top priority and advised utilities to focus on risk management instead of risk elimination.

“I don’t think any of us believe we can be bulletproof from cyberattack,” Yackira said.

“We’re getting attacked thousands of times a day.”

He said the utility industry does something other industries don’t.

“We talk to each other,” Yackira said.

“We help each other when we have a problem.”

And that professional camaraderie works extremely well when applied to cybersecurity and mutual assistance.

After a major storm, customers expect to have power restored in a matter of hours, not a matter of days, Yackira said. He shared how NV Energy implemented a new way to approach storm restoration by working with the federal government.

After Hurricane Sandy in October 2013, NV Energy loaded bucket trucks into C-17 and C-5 aircraft transports and sent them to help Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) restore power, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, he said.

In all, some 67,000 employees from outside northeastern utilities restored power to the region in record time, he said.

CPS Energy President and CEO Doyle N. Beneby also spoke during the keynote and welcomed guests to his unusually cold San Antonio. Tuesday’s high of 40 degrees was 24 degrees lower than the historical average high of 64.

CPS Energy President and CEO Doyle N. Beneby promises that San Antonio usually is a lot warmer in January.

Beneby said CPS leads Texas in distributed rooftop solar and has 125 MW of hard demand response.

He also touched on stranded assets and said municipals can take more risks than investor-owned utilities until the stranded assets issue is solved.

Attendees came from 66 countries, including Turkey.

Electric Light & Power and POWERGRID INTERNATIONAL Awards Dinner

For the first time, Hansen announced the annual POWERGRID International Projects of the Year live the evening before the keynote during the Electric Light & Power and POWERGRID International Awards Dinner.

PPL Corp. employees celebrate winning the Electric Light & Power Utility of the Year award. They are, from left, Audrey Gleissl, AMI operations technical lead; Don Vinciguerra, senior engineer; Mike Dicks, support engineer; Bill Hennegan, advanced metering system operations manager; Bill Spence, chairman, president and CEO; and Howard Slugocki, supervising engineer.

The banquet in the Lonesome Dove Room on the banks of the River Walk drew more than 200 guests, including: Projects of the Year finalists; Electric Light & Power Small Utility CEO of the Year Thomas H. Husted, CEO of Valley Electric Association in Pahrump, Nev.; Electric Light & Power Large Utility CEO of the Year John Di Stasio, general manager and CEO of Sacramento Municipal Utility District; and PPL Corp. Chairman, President and CEO William H. Spence, who accepted the Electric Light & Power Utility of the Year award.

Pepco Holdings Inc. celebrates its Energy Efficiency and Demand Response Project of the Year award. Pictured, from left, are Marty Andzulis, supervisor business applications, and Joe LoPorto, manager, both of Pepco Holdings Inc.; Craig Snedeker, executive director and general manager, eastern division, of Comverge; Karen Lefkowitz, vice president of business transformation, of Pepco Holdings Inc.; and Pravin Bhagat, vice president of marketing, of Comverge.

Pepco Holdings Inc. won the Demand Response/Energy Efficiency Project of the Year for its Energy Wise Rewards Program.

Consolidated Edison celebrates its Customer Engagement Project of the Year award. Pictured, from left, are Matthew Tolliver, of ThinkEco; Rebecca Craft and Margaret Jolly, both of Consolidated Edison; and Amanda Lurie and Carmen Iao, both of ThinkEco.

Consolidated Edison won the Customer Engagement Project of the Year for its coolNYC Program.

Florida Power & Light Co. employees celebrate two Projects of the Year: the Renewable Energy Integration Project of the Year for its Smart Islanding Program; and the Smart Grid Project of the Year for its Reaping the Benefits of the Smart Grid Project. Employees are, from left, Sunita Hawaldar, Jeff Richman, Dennis Reynolds, Bryan Olnick, Jeff Boykin, Joe Schaefer, Gary Moncrief, Rick Tiegland, Tom Moseley, Kristi Baldwin, David Herlong, JoAnne Jackson, Andrew Kirby and Craig Stepien.

And Florida Power & Light Co. won two awards: the Renewable Energy Integration Project of the Year for its Smart Islanding Program; and the Smart Grid Project of the Year for its Reaping the Benefits of the Smart Grid Project.

The winning projects and runners-up will be featured in more detail in the April issue of Powergrid International magazine.


Opower webcast
Panelists of the live Opower webcast work out last-minute details with PennWell Video Production Manager Alex Bradley, left, and moderator Teresa Hansen, at podium, before the final countdown. Panelists are, from left, Kevin Hamilton, of Opower; Heather Anderson, of Baltimore Gas & Electric; and Adam Miller, of Direct Energy.

DistribuTECH offered four live webcasts throughout the week, hosted by Intergraph, Alstom Grid, Schneider Electric and Opower. (All four one-hour panel discussions are archived and available on demand for free at www.power-grid.com.)

The Opower webcast, “Transforming Connected Thermostats Into an Energy Resource,” examined successful demand response programs.

In 2012, 108 million people in the U.S. spent $20 billion on weight loss, according to ABC News. If motivated people can’t modify their behavior enough to lose weight, do energy providers stand a chance with demand response? If you ask Kevin Hamilton, Adam Miller and Heather Anderson, the answer is “yes.”

Hamilton, Opower senior director of devices and real-time services, asked the audience how many had checked their bank or credit card balances online in the past week. Most raised their hands. When asked how many had checked their energy use, three raised their hands. Hamilton said only 5 percent of U.S. homes participate in demand response programs.

Anderson, Baltimore Gas & Electric’s (BG&E’s) residential demand response manager, used to work in the banking industry. She said that 10 to 15 years ago, she and her colleagues had similar conversations about what was then called Internet banking.

“Its future was questioned by many,” Anderson said. “That shows where this can go. Just look at online banking today.”

Opower, a software as a service platform provider, works with 93 utilities in eight countries to process energy usage data from 50 million customers to help utilities meet customer engagement, energy efficiency and demand response goals. Direct Energy, the largest competitive retail energy provider in the U.S., and BG&E are two of its partners, Hamilton said.

“Our goal is to try to motivate customers to use less energy,” Hamilton said.

Behavior change is an abundant energy resource, he said. Through its own and others’ research, Opower has discovered five universal truths about customers and their energy providers:

1. Utilities are not meeting customer expectations.
2. Everyone wants lower energy bills.
3. People look to their utilities first for energy information.
4. Customers value personalized energy insight.
5. Everyone wants to know how they measure up.

Direct Energy, which holds 25 percent of the competitive retail energy market share with 1.9 million power and 1.5 million gas customers worldwide, has done some of its own market research, Miller said. He’s the company’s senior director of innovation.

“Customer complacency is going by the wayside,” he said. “Customers want to interact with their providers.”

One prepay program Direct Energy offers to 70,000 customers in Texas texts them daily how much their electricity costs that day, Miller said.

“These customers understand that a low-use day costs about $2, and a high-use day costs about $7,” he said. “The text message is an early form of personalization, and it really works.”

Direct Energy sends some 2 million texts each month. A customer who gets a high-use day message usually makes changes immediately to lower consumption, Miller said.

The company is rolling out the program to its post-pay customers and beginning a thermostat pilot in Houston and Dallas that it plans to scale across its entire customer footprint, a move Miller said could save 3.5 terawatt-hours of electricity.

And BG&E has grown its Peak Time Rebate Program after a four-year, 1,000-customer pilot. More than 315,000 people participated during summer 2013, Anderson said.


DistribuTECH also set a new record by hosting five mega sessions, including one with chief information officers (CIOs) from Xcel Energy, NV Energy, Southern California Edison (SCE) and Pepco Holdings Inc.

Participants in “IOU CIOs: Developing Solutions to Support Customer Engagement” discussed their programs. PayGo Chief Marketing Officer Dave Elve moderated.

“The reality is, our customers are comparing us to all of their other service providers,” said Dave Harkness, vice president and CIO of Xcel Energy.

He also said that cities and communities are expecting to receive customer data. The question is how do utilities give them that data and still protect customers’ information?

Kevin Judice, vice president and CIO of NV Energy, said his utility had been using an outage map, but only internally. Now customers have access to their own outage map, which helps with customer satisfaction—something that has been lacking.

“If you’ve been to Vegas in the summer and it’s 119 degrees outside, we’re not raising your rates; you’re using more,” Judice said.

NV Energy will roll out bill prepay in 2015, he said. The move is expected to be welcomed by customers, 31 percent of whom in the south have no bank accounts, he said.

Todd Inlander, vice president and CIO of SCE, said his utility’s service territory is a not a high-consumption area, but the rates can be high. SCE scored in the top quartile of the J.D. Power 2013 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, Inlander said, but that’s not something to celebrate about.

“We find out about a lot of our issues through social media,” he said.

Inlander said SCE uses Facebook as a tool to communicate with customers.

“When they had questions, we actually answered them,” he said.

Doug Myers, CIO at Pepco Holdings Inc., said his utility is addressing a few issues, including keeping customers informed about outages, helping customers manager their energy and making it easier for customers to do business with Pepco.

Part of that includes updating the utility’s website.

“It’s 9 years old and looks it,” Myers said.


DistribuTECH was one of only 26 trade events in the U.S. chosen to participate in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s (DOC’s) 2014 International Buyer Program. The program is designed to bring together international buyers with U.S. companies.

This is the first year DistribuTECH has partnered with the DOC on the program.

“We’re thrilled to have 11 country delegations with more than 175 international participants and visitors,” Hansen said.

Educational sessions

DistribuTECH 2014 featured 74 sessions in 15 tracks—way too many to summarize. Instead, here are some highlights from one of Thursday’s Enterprise Information and Asset Management sessions.

“The Case for Condition-based Maintenance” featured panelists who discussed advanced strategies leading up to reliability-based asset management and utility changes needed. Siri Varadan of UISOL Inc. moderated.

Tony McGrail, solutions director for asset management and monitoring technology at Doble Engineering Co., said utilities need a model to make sense of disparate data.

“Make sure we know how everything fits together,” he said.

He also advised any engineer who finds it difficult to discuss a business case or to tell a story with a dollar amount to find someone who can.

“Show me the money,” McGrail said.

Marko Kruithof of Dutch Energy explained why “performance is very good in the Netherlands.”

The size of the Netherlands is only 7 percent of Texas, and the whole grid is underground cable, Kruithof said.

Panelist Serge Vanasse, product line executive at Clevest Solutions Inc., said that if a utility must react to emergency situations, it must know immediately which projects it can defer.

McGrail wrapped up the session with more advice.

“You can have a good investment and still have a bad outcome,” he said.


  • Workshops in the Utility Products Presentation Theatre: Darin Hinnergardt of Altec, Aleksandar Vukojevic of BG&E, Kevin Mays of IUS Technologies, Matt Dell of Hi-Line, and Steve Gordon of Hubbell Power Systems Inc. hosted.
  • Product demos in the Utility Products Presentation Theatre: Automated Solutions International Inc., Smooth-On Inc., Mackay Communications, GRIDRx, GPS Insight, Bednet Cargo Control Solutions, Thayer Power & Communication Line Construction Co. LLC, Midwest Energy Association, SUSI Adapters Inc. and Twistarp performed demos.
  • Siemens introduced a new distribution management system.
  • Oracle announced the availability of Oracle Utilities Network Management System 1.12, designed to help utilities achieve greater operational and process efficiencies in the control room and the field.
  • Tollgrade Communications Inc. announced that Manitoba Hydro is piloting the award-winning http://www.tollgrade.com/smartgrid/smart-grid-solutions/overview/LightHouse platform in a hosted configuration that includes integrated MV Cellular Sensors and Sensor Management System software with Predictive Grid Analytics.
  • ABB announced the release of its Relion REF615R feeder IED.
  • Telogis introduced Fleet 11, the latest major upgrade to its comprehensive cloud-based software platform that transforms the way business is done outside the four walls.
  • Proximetry announced its partnership with Mumbai company L&T Technology Services to enable smart grid applications for the Internet of Things.
  • IUS Technologies unveiled distribution transformer monitors: the TM1000 and TM2000.
  • Varentec released results from its Grid Edge Control technology.
  • XetaWave released two new products: XIO and XX.
  • Trayer Engineering Corp. announced the ALTA Series of storm-hardened overhead vacuum switches for medium-voltage distribution systems.
  • Michael Thomas, an electrical engineer at CoServ in Corinth, Texas, won a 2014 Toyota Tundra during the DistribuTECH annual floor giveaway.
Michael Thomas
Michael Thomas, an electrical engineer at CoServ in Corinth, Texas, leans against the 2014 Toyota Tundra he won in the DistribuTECH annual floor giveaway.


Be sure to mark Feb. 3-5, 2015, on your calendars. DistribuTECH Conference will be back in San Diego!

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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