Embracing the new Frontier

Week after week, as I read the news, blogs and articles that hit my inbox or are posted on my go-to websites, I continue to see the same message: The electric power industry is on the edge of a new era and utilities must embrace the new frontier that lies before them or they will become extinct. This message is not new, but it still holds true.

Charting a new course is often scary and met with resistance, but it’s the only way to make it to the new frontier. In this issue, you’ll read about some utilities that have set out to conquer theis new frontier by adopting new, innovative technologies and making the most of them.

A case study about California’s Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is a notable example. The article details how the utility’s substation group embraced innovative technology to help it improve the process it uses to design, specify and retrofit brownfield substations. New image capturing techniques coupled with 3-D modeling technology have greatly improved the utility’s efficiency when retrofitting substations to keep up with the changing grid. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a presentation given by one of PG&E’s substation engineers who helped implement the technology and new processes. The improvements are notable, and I think you’ll be impressed when you read the article.

While we often think of large investor-owned utilities, like PG&E, as the leading adopters of technology and innovation, in this issue, you’ll discover that smaller utilities also are embracing new frontiers.

One of those utilities is Clarksville (Arkansas) Light and Water Co., which is the state’s first municipal to build a solar plant and integrate it into its distribution grid. This small utility, which was founded in 1913, serves a population of just under 10,000 in an area of Arkansas known as the Arkansas River Valley. I’m familiar with this area because I grew up there and several of my family members, including my parents, still live there.

I’d seen the solar plant, which is located next to the Interstate, several times on my trips “home,” but I didn’t know the story until I picked up ABOUT the River Valley magazine, the local community magazine. I enjoyed reading about why the city decided to invest in a solar power plant and how it made its vision a reality. I thought you might enjoy the article, too, so I contacted the magazine’s managing editor and asked if he would share it with me. I’m happy that he did. And, because I have a personal connection to the area, I’m proud to share the story with you.

It’s important to remember that many small municipalities and cooperatives are managed by smart, hardworking visionaries from Small Town, U.S.A. These people represent the best of the best, not just in their communities, but in our industry and nation. They often go unnoticed outside their local communities. The Clarksville Light & Water Co. project shows, however, that many people managing small utilities are capable and resourceful and understand well that they too must embrace the new frontier.

We’ve also included an article that highlights BrightRidge, the public utility that serves Johnson City, Tennessee, and surrounding areas. The article explains how BrightRidge uses AMI data to streamline operations and add value for its customers. And, as you’ll see in the two articles that focus on smart streetlighting, there are plenty of opportunities for utilities of all sizes to extend their streetlight capabilities to improve themselves and the communities and cities they serve.

I hope you enjoy reading not only these articles I mentioned, but all the articles in this issue. And, I hope there is something in them that encourages you embrace the new frontier.

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