A Look Back at DistribuTECHand TransTECH 2008

By John M. Powers, online/associate editor, and Kathleen Davis, associate editor

The smart grid isn’t just the subject of academic discussion anymore; we’re actually seeing it implemented. That was the prevailing sentiment at the 2008 DistribuTECH conference and exhibition held Jan. 22-24, 2008, in Tampa, Fla. Steven Brown, editor in chief of Utility Automation & Engineering T&D magazine and DistribuTECH conference program chair, took the stage for the keynote session and declared as much, while pointing out that the growing interest in a more intelligent T&D system culminated in a record number of attendees at this year’s conference–5,766 attendees, which amounted to about a 25 percent increase over traditional DistribuTECH attendance figures.

Click here to enlarge image

Brown also noted that a new companion conference to DistribuTECH was launched this year in Tampa: TransTECH, which focused on technology, equipment, challenges and solutions found on the transmission side of the electric power business.

Brown then introduced the keynote session’s first speaker, Jeff Sterba, CEO of PNM Resources and chair of the Edison Electric Institute and the Electric Power Research Institute. Sterba outlined some of the major challenges facing the utility industry, among them: rising power demand, the coming build cycle, rising material costs, and the climate change issue.

Demand for electric power has gone up for a variety of reasons, Sterba said, not least among them that the average size of a house has grown 33 percent, and those bigger houses are packed with more devices that need more energy than ever before. These factors combine with others to drive most utilities to exceed their projected demand.

Sterba said the expected investment in new building for the next 15 years is $9 billion–double what it has been in the past. This presents a special challenge, he said, when the cost of the material for those projects–steel, copper, cement and gas–has gone up, causing a 32 percent jump in costs passed on to consumers in 2006.

With regard to climate change, “No one thing will solve all our problems,” Sterba said. However, distributed generation, efficiency, and integrating renewable generation will help the industry reduce carbon dioxide emissions, he said.

Overall, Sterba said the industry will find help with these challenges through the recently passed Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. With smart grid provisions in EISA 2007, new advanced measurement techniques will be created and financial incentives will be offered for qualifying smart grid investments. Through such smart grid development, Sterba said, consumers can save money through efficiency programs, the grid will be stabilized with new distribution technology, and distributed storage and distributed energy resources will come to the fore.

Beyond EISA 2007, Sterba said meeting the challenges that lie ahead for the industry will require innovative regulation and rates, innovative markets, new communication infrastructure and an aggressive national energy investment.

Next, Dan Cortez, CenterPoint Energy’s division vice president of regulated operations technology, took the stage. Cortez said the industry needs to take action now to ensure future generations will have reliable, affordable energy. He said a future of reliable energy is threatened by the coming “brain drain” as utility workers start to retire, and by aging T&D infrastructure. In keeping with sentiments already expressed, Cortez said the smart grid will be the answer to the challenge.

Where automation used to stop at the substation level, Cortez called for automation down to the customer level. Though converting to the smart grid will be expensive and will involve risk, Cortez said it must be done. Conversion to a smarter grid, he said, will offer more benefits than have yet been realized. What’s needed to accomplish this conversion? “Vision and leadership can overcome the naysayers,” said Cortez.

Former U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham then took the stage and proclaimed that energy is the “most daunting” challenge facing the U.S. First, he said, as the demand for oil and natural gas goes up, the supply has become harder to get to, which has caused prices to rise. Abraham said a “growing array of regulation,” especially related to climate change, is hindering the industry’s ability to build new generation to match the increasing demand. Together these factors will take a toll on reliability and new infrastructure investment, while consumers start feeling squeezed.

Former U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham told a packed keynote session that energy is the “most daunting” challenge facing the U.S.Click here to enlarge image

Moving to T&D-related challenges, Abraham said increased power demand, legislation that puts pressure on utilities to include more renewables in their generation mix, and growing communities outside major population centers are combining to require utilities to make a massive transmission investment. He went on to say that the investment utilities need to make will be hampered by environmental regulations and the “not in my backyard” mentality when it comes to siting. To help the industry, Abraham said the National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor provision in The Energy Policy Act of 2005 must be used for “essential siting” and the Federal Electricity Office at the DOE must be fully funded so it can do research. Also, he advocated continued investment in super conductivity and high-voltage lines.

Abraham went on to say that the industry must focus its research on smart grid technologies like smart metering. Such research, he said, is essential for efficiency gains, improved communications, conservation efforts, financial savings and reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

“If we do these things… the transmission and distribution challenges… are not beyond our reach,” he concluded.

From the Exhibit Floor

The keynote session wasn’t the only venue for valuable information at the show. DistribuTECH/TransTECH 2008’s massive exhibit floor featured more than 300 exhibitors with every product or bit of software a T&D utility could need–from comfortable control room seating to overhead cables. Here’s a small sampling of the news and announcements released during DistribuTECH and TransTECH 2008. (For products released during DistribuTECH 2008, see the New Products section of this issue, pages 62-63.)

Xcel Energy showed DistribuTECH attendees its vision of a “Smart Grid City,” under the direction of the Smart Grid Consortium. In December, Xcel established the consortium, bringing together leading technologists, engineering firms, business leaders and IT experts. Consortium members include Accenture, Current Group, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Ventyx. Now they’re looking for a mid-sized community of 100,000 residents to become a “test bed” for technologies and deployment strategies.

The Communications Segment of ESCO Technologies Inc. announced that Aclara is the new brand under which three of its companies–DCSI, Hexagram and Nexus Energy Software–will operate. The announcement is the result of a strategic alignment undertaken by ESCO last fall to merge companies from its utility communications businesses into an integrated brand.

Hundreds of DistribuTECH and TransTECH attendees enjoyed a pirate-themed party on the conference’s second evening.Click here to enlarge image

Aclara was not the only company to announce a re-branding at DistribuTECH 2008. Wireless Applications & Consulting Services (WACS), a provider of meter data management (MDM) software solutions, announced the re-branding of the company to Ecologic Analytics LLC. The company’s meter data management system (MDMS) and related products will be branded with the new name and tag line: “Ecologic Analytics Empowering Energy Efficiency.”

RuggedCom Inc. and Industrial Defender Inc. announced the formation of a strategic partnership to provide the industry a comprehensive cyber security solution. With mandatory NERC-CIP compliance by mid-2008 in mind, the combined technology solutions by RuggedCom and Industrial Defender deliver an integrated solution for compliance. RuggedCom offers rugged communications networking infrastructure products for harsh environments, such as substations, and Industrial Defender provides network security professional services, cyber security technology and managed security services.

Autodesk announced that it has been selected by Arizona Public Service (APS) to provide utility T&D design software and consulting services. As the largest publicly owned utility company in Arizona, APS serves more than 1 million customers–a number expected to grow by more than 3 percent annually. To manage its expanding T&D infrastructure and capacity growth, APS is developing an integrated distribution operations management system (DOMS) that will include an efficient, real-time data management system. As this integrated DOMS is built out, real-time accurate and consistent design information will become critical for APS to operate its T&D system.

“We chose Autodesk because it offers a technology platform that will help us meet the long-term demands of our region’s growth,” said Scott Gudeman, T&D business integration manager for APS. “Autodesk’s full-scale solution is the first step toward creating an integrated system that leverages our engineering design information in the processes to build, operate and maintain our assets. Additionally, Autodesk’s consulting services will provide us with the configuration and training needed to get the system up and running almost immediately.”

Triangle MicroWorks announced that it has entered into a binding letter of intent to acquire all of the assets of Tamarack Consulting Inc. Jim Coats, Triangle MicroWorks president, said: “This represents a strategic move into IEC 61850 for Triangle MicroWorks. It gives us a broad knowledge of IEC 61850 and a strong code base to support it.”

Enersource Hydro Mississauga, one of the largest distributors of electricity in Ontario, Canada, announced that it has signed with Intergraph to integrate and automate the various assets and functions of its power grid.

“Traditionally, we have been forced to work across multiple sources of information, including paper maps, to obtain a complete view of our distribution system,” said Raymond Rauber, Enersource Hydro’s engineering and operations vice president. “By working with Intergraph and Siemens to develop an integrated operating model (IOM) for our power grid, we will be able to work more efficiently under both normal and storm conditions, as well as ensure that we are utilizing the most up-to-date, accurate information.”

CURRENT Group announced the deployment of a high-speed utility home area network (HAN) using programmable communicating thermostats (PCTs) and load control switches communicating over the smart grid deployed for Oncor Electric Delivery Company in Dallas, Texas. The system communicates demand response requests and other critical information from the utility to the customer and verifies the results of the requests, all in real-time.

At DistribuTECH, Comverge took the opportunity to discuss some contracts it made with major utilities during the fall, including the local host for DistribuTECH and TransTECH 2008. The company has entered into a multi-year agreement with Tampa Electric Company to expand the Energy Planner program using Comverge’s Maingate Home system. This program, available to all Tampa Electric residential customers, is expected to produce an estimated 12 MW of demand response capacity over three years. Incorporating two-way communication technology for demand response and automated meter reading capabilities, the Maingate Home system provides electric utilities with an automated solution for demand response by enabling price response. This automated system allows end customers to program, via a programmable thermostat and the Internet, the behavior of their central heating and cooling system, electric water heater and/or pool pump against energy price information that varies during the course of the day and seasonally.

Additionally, Comverge recently entered into an agreement with Southern California Edison (SCE) to implement a virtual peaking capacity (VPC) program of up to 50 MW. The program will target and utilize demand response resources from SCE’s commercial and industrial customers to provide SCE with firm capacity and energy resources for a term of five years. Under the VPC program, Comverge will build, operate and maintain for the benefit of SCE’s service territory a demand response system to help secure electricity reliability during times of peak demand.

On the mobile workforce management front, it was announced that PPL Electric Utilities will implement MapFrame’s FieldSmart View, FieldSmart Route, and Field Flow Manager to meet its mobile mapping and field automation requirements.

“PPL Electric Utilities is committed to providing our mobile workforce with a fully-functional suite of work order management and mapping tools,” said Tina Rauch, information management team lead at PPL Electric Utilities. “We selected MapFrame as part of our mobile solution because MapFrame was able to demonstrate a mapping tool that is fast, easy to use, and designed specifically for the mobile worker.”

Visitors to the DistribuTECH/TransTECH exhibit hall browsed the wares of more than 300 vendors of T&D products.Click here to enlarge image

Oracle Utilities announced that Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is using Oracle’s Customer Care and Billing on an Oracle enterprise grid to power the largest smart meter initiative to date in the U.S. PG&E serves approximately 15 million customers in northern and central California. Each day, the company prints and mails more than 260,000 bills and processes about $40 million in payments. It receives about 15 million calls each year. Launched this year, the PG&E SmartMeter initiative will allow the utility to replace monthly, in-person meter reads with automatic reads to improve customer service, restore power more quickly during outages and help reduce peak electricity demand. During the next five years, PG&E will upgrade more than 10 million customer meters to enable frequent meter reads (daily for gas, hourly or 15-minute intervals for electric). The volume of meter reads will grow from four million to 120 million meter reads per month for gas, and from five million to 3.6 billion meter reads per month for electric.

The company will rely on Oracle Utilities Customer Care and Billing to maintain and manage both the meter inventory and customer information–converting the raw data into billable usage and generating bills based on each customer’s selected rate option/program. The application will allow PG&E to provide its SmartMeter customers with detailed usage information they can use both to better understand and manage their bills, and to participate in future energy efficiency and demand-response programs.

A Glimpse into the Future


By Kathleen Davis, associate editor

While traversing the DistribuTECH and TransTECH exhibit floor space, an editor gets to talk to a lot of people at a lot of different companies. This year, I decided to ask a number of those people their responses to this question: “How do you see T&D technology evolving in the next few years?” Their answers were as varied and interesting as the companies they represent.

“There will be a major drive to cost-effectively introduce modern concepts of substation monitoring and control. While such concepts are easily incorporated into a new substation build, the 80,000-plus existing substations in North America will need a monitoring and control technology upgrade path that does not require the forklift replacement of their functional and serviceable protection and control schemes.”
–Sam Sciacca, CEO, Microsol Inc.

“While incremental measurement and sensing features may evolve in various apparatus, the greatest and continued change will be in the integration of communication technology into T&D equipment. As the grid has more connected devices to provide information, the operational IT applications will grow from reporting and command to predictive analysis and automatic control of equipment.”
–Sharon Allan, president, Elster Integrated Solutions

“2008 will be a key decision and implementation year for large utilities complying with NERC CIP cyber security mandates. It is clear that utilities are not taking a singular approach to NERC CIP mandates, but rather are looking for creative solutions and flexible suppliers that fit their specific situations and objectives. Suppliers need to be able to provide informed guidance, multi-product, multi-function solutions, and expert technical support to help utilities though this transition.”
–John Shaw, executive vice president, GarrettCom

“We’re seeing a growing urgency among utilities toward embracing “Ëœintelligence’ technology for the entire power grid–intelligence being pushed down the grid hierarchy to the device level, predictive in terms of identifying potential power outages before they occur, and moving toward real-time monitoring and self-healing capability. Intelligence will be important in the future of transmission.”
–Greg Scheu, head of power products, ABB North America

“T&D will take advantage of the rapid innovation in consumer technologies such as wireless connectivity and information management–modified to meet industrial requirements. A text message from a faulty transformer, a Google-powered search through performance logs, and secure iPhone access to outage restoration work plans should all be realities soon. Utilities will draw from others’ experience for communicating with their assets and turning the data they collect into intelligence they can use.”
–Henry Jones, chief technology officer, SmartSynch

“T&D technology has always been very “Ëœutility-centric’–for the exclusive use and benefit of internal utility personnel, management and staff. In the next five years the technology will evolve to be much more “Ëœend customer-centric’–usable, and of direct benefit to, commercial and retail customers, empowering them to make intelligent choices regarding their consumption. In the long run, this evolution will result in increased efficiencies and lower costs for both the utility and its customers.”
–Steve Radice, vice president, utility solutions, Ventyx

“We anticipate a major push by utility customers for more tightly integrated solutions, rather than just technologies. It is expensive and complex for utilities to take an erector-set approach to their T&D requirements, taking one part from Company A and matching it to another part from Company B. In addition, the role of meter data management systems (MDMS) and data presentment will become more significant.”
–Bruce Phillips, group president of the Aclara Technologies of ESCO

“T&D technology is going to evolve to integrate the demand side and energy efficiency resources. This evolution is already in place today through AMI and smart grid initiatives; however, the next three to five years will be critical to fully realize the potential of this integration.”
–Bud Vos, vice president, marketing, strategy & regulatory affairs, Comverge

“The power distribution system must evolve, in order to meet consumers’ rising demand for clean energy, while reducing the number and duration of service interruptions, and controlling operating costs. Over the next few years, utilities have a unique opportunity to modernize outdated distribution infrastructures. Forward-thinking utilities that implement new technologies, such as remote grid monitoring systems will see improvements in reliability, efficiency, customer satisfaction and regulatory compliance. These innovative utilities will meet and exceed the expectations of businesses and consumers, and will thrive in the 21st-century marketplace.
–Steven Day, executive director of marketing, LightHouse by Tollgrade Communications Inc.

Previous articleELP Volume 86 Issue 2
Next articleHow your customers will plug in to the “smart grid”
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.

No posts to display