Nearly 100 VIPs within the electric utilities industry traveled to San Antonio for the third annual Electric Light & Power Executive Conference held Jan. 22 and 23—despite Sunday’s NFL conference championship games.
Football, being top of mind for many attendees, found its way into the first session on how to select and finance smart grid distribution technology. In anticipation of Super Bowl 2014 at the New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey, Public Service Electric & Gas is performing updates to ensure all the lights will stay on during the game, said David Daly, the utility’s vice president of asset management centralized services. In other words, the pressure’s on. The $1.7 billion stadium seats 82,500 people, and if Nielsen’s Super Bowl 2012 numbers are any clue, the game could draw another 111.3 million television viewers at any time during the game.
Rob Stewart, PHI Power Delivery manager of technology, evaluation and implementation for the asset management group, presented on the same panel. He described the next steps for PHI: AMI deployment; engaging customers; supporting the development of a secure grid; and encouraging innovation in the smart grid, such as with renewables and electric vehicles.
Bill Menge, the smart grid director at Kansas City Power & Light Co., explained that each layer of technology can be a foundation for the next and that pilot projects are important, but moving quickly after a pilot is equally important.
At Duke Energy Corp., customers hear from the utility at least six times during smart meter deployments, said Mark Wyatt, vice president of smart grid and energy systems at the utility. Part of that stems from where the meters are located.
“Eighty percent of our meters today are in customers’ premises,” Wyatt said.
During the second session, Bill Briggs, director, deputy chief technology officer at Deloitte Consulting LLP, predicted the technology trends that will change the future for utilities. He mentioned data volumes, regulations, operational excellence and gamification, which he explained is skill-based learning using leader boards and competition.
U.S. economist and best-selling author Todd Buchholz gave the opening keynote address. Basically, the Federal Reserve has been holding up the U.S. economy, he said.
“We live in the age of anxiety,” he said.
He attributed the global economic crisis to three things:
- The Federal Reserve hiked rates too much,
- OPEC tightened the noose, and
- The Euro fell too far.
“Thank God for natural gas prices,” Buchholz said.
The U.S. economy is improving because manufacturing is up and consumers are buying more, he said. He expects a 3 percent growth in the economy this year, but that’s not much, he said.
“I’m not telling you to pop the champagne corks,” Buchholz said.
The annual Electric Light & Power awards dinner followed at Boudro’s. Editor in Chief Teresa Hansen and Senior Editor Kristen Wright presented three awards:
- Small Utility CEO of the Year to Dawson Public Power District General Manager Robert A. Heinz,
- Large Utility CEO of the Year to Wisconsin Energy Corp. Chairman, President and CEO Gale E. Klappa, and
- Utility of the Year to OG&E Chairman and CEO Peter B. Delaney.
The next morning attendees learned how to bring renewables to the grid. Lawrence Jones, vice president for North American regulatory affairs, policy and industry relations at Alstom Grid, presented his study of 33 grid operators in 18 countries.
“There’s a lot to learn from small grid operators,” Jones said.
Joining him on the panel was Clair Moeller, vice president of transmission asset management with the Midwest Independent System Operator.
“It’s bigger than just wind,” Moeller said.
The last panel included execs who’ve installed smart meters. Ken Devore, director of Edison SmartConnect at Southern California Edison, said his utility is installing more than 8,000 smart meters a day using 334 installers.
“The voices are few, with the activists, but powerful,” Devore said.
The solution, he said, is to go anywhere and talk about the customer benefits.
“Any group, any number of people, any time,” he said.
Craig Johnston, the former vice president of corporate strategy and marketing at OGE Energy Corp., mentioned the utility’s peak pricing pilot.
“Almost all of our customers doing this are saving money,” he said.
“Communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s all about the customers.”
Michael Boone, director of CenterPoint Energy’s Advanced Metering System/Intelligent Grid Project Management Office, said the utility just installed its 2 millionth smart meter, and accuracy was validated by Navigant Consulting.
“Place as much responsibility on the vendors as you can, and they’ll perform for you,” Boone said.
Panelist Brewster McCracken is the executive director of the Pecan Street Project in Austin, Texas, which has the densest residential penetration of electric vehicles—102 Chevy Volts in a square mile, he said. McCracken explained that the only way to cut peak demand is through air conditioning, and consumers want to do it with better software technology rather than less comfort.
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson closed the executive conference. He reminded everyone that he ran for president.
“I like to tell Vice President Biden, “ËœYou know, I beat you in Iowa and New Hampshire.’ He doesn’t like that,” Richardson said.
Richardson gave his prediction for the next presidential election.
“I think Romney wins Florida, and I think Romney wins the nomination.”
Richardson said Ron Paul could get as much as 20 percent of the Republican vote in the primaries.
“I say Obama is re-elected very narrowly,” Richardson said. “Five electoral votes.”
Richardson served as U.S. ambassador to the U.N., and while a congressman, he won the release of hostages, U.S. servicemen and prisoners in North Korea, Iraq, Cuba and Sudan.
“President Clinton used to say, “ËœBad people like Richardson,'” he said.
Richardson said our best ally in the Middle East right now is Pakistan.
“Whether we’re friends or not is like a weekly debate,” Richardson said.
He called China “sort of the sexy country.”
“Are they a friend? Are they a foe? Are they a strategic competitor?”
Energy price volatility, he said, can be attributed to the Arab Spring, the Eurozone crisis and what’s happening in U.S. unemployment, health care and national debt.
“We need to have a diverse energy mix,” he said.
And that mix must include nuclear, he said.
Executive conference attendees were invited to stay for the DistribuTECH Conference & Exhibition keynote the next morning with Reliant Energy’s Bill Harmon, CPS Energy President and CEO Doyle N. Beneby and actor and economist Ben Stein.
Harmon, Reliant’s vice president of residential marketing and product development, shared how utilities can win customers over on smart energy technologies. He compared the task utilities have of attracting people to new and sometimes misunderstood technologies to the rollout of another world-changing advancement from the past decade.
“Imagine if Apple pitched the iPhone as a polycarbonate-screened, oleophobic, gesture-based interface instead of just showing us that this was the coolest thing around,” Harmon said.
If utilities and energy companies insist on reciting a list of technical specifications and engineering jargon to customers, then the public will struggle to understand what a smarter grid and smart devices can do for them, he said.
“We need to share the value propositions of these technologies by showing customers what they can do with them in a way that they can understand,” he said.
An in-home energy display, for example, should show the user how many pennies and dollars he or she is saving or spending on electricity instead of requiring the user to know what a kilowatt is.
Smart meters might be one of the most powerful drivers for changing the way energy is distributed and consumed, he said, but it can be difficult to sell a customer on a change that they never thought they needed and did not ask for.
“Remember New Coke? Or the changes Facebook is always making for a more recent example?” he said. “Customers don’t understand smart grid yet. All they can see is a change they didn’t ask for that delivers benefits they didn’t know they needed, available for a surcharge that they’ll be paying for the next 10 years.”
Alexander Graham Bell, Harmon said, would not recognize the modern telecommunications industry at all. Thomas Edison, who invented the technologies behind the power grid, could still pretty easily recognize the power grid we have today, he said.
“Power is still produced centrally and consumed far away. Power still generally travels along overhead wire owned by a regulated public utility. Most of our meters are mechanical and not smart or automated,” he said.
If utility customers are going to be brought to the changes that the industry has in store for them, the industry must explain their intentions first, he said.
“People aren’t going to choose a time-of-use plan because you tell them it’ll reduce the demand for peaking power. They’ll change because the plan fits their lifestyle,” he said.
CPS Energy’s Beneby took the stage to thank the crowd for coming to San Antonio, the city his utility serves.
Beneby said local lawmakers and his utility have worked well together over the years and spelled out a few of CPS Energy’s goals, which include more use of clean and renewable energy, energy efficient city infrastructure, and a smarter grid that uses advanced meters.
“In this new energy economy, economic development and R&D can work together to boost clean and renewable technology,” Beneby said.
The city utility recently signed a 30-MW power purchase agreement to buy solar energy from Sun Edison and is involved in an integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) generation project that can capture up to 90 percent of carbon dioxide produced and use it for advanced oilfield extraction.
“These projects help reduce our carbon footprint but also provide a hedge against the regulatory uncertainty we’ve been seeing lately,” he said.
Stein offered his trademark dry humor and teased that he had some jokes about sex. He offered some encouragement to the delegates. Without electricity, Stein said, the world we know and love today would be an impossibility.
“I am here to thank you because without electricity, we’d all be miserable,” Stein said. “With electricity, we are supermen and superwomen. Electricity makes us into gods, and the grid is the god machine.”
There are rules of physics at play in the electricity industry, and Stein said he was thankful that there are people hard at work who understand how those laws work.
“Electricity must be consumed as fast as it’s produced, it can’t be interrupted. If reliability slips, there will be blood in the streets — so your work is not only essential, it’s also cool,” he said.
Also announced during the keynote session were the winners of POWERGRID International and Electric Light & Power magazines’ Project of the Year Awards.
This year, Duke Energy was presented with the Energy Efficiency/Demand Response Project of the Year Award. California ISO took the Renewables Project of the Year Award. AEP Ohio won the Smart Grid Project of the Year Award. Going home with the Best Smart Metering Project Award was Toronto Hydro.