CS Week in Review

More than 1,100 people attended CS Week Conference 33 from May 18-22 at the Gaylord National Harbor Resort in Washington, D.C. A main theme of the week centered on connecting and communicating with customers. Many speakers talked about changing customers’ views of their electricity providers while changing customers’ usage behavior.

“Bringing the available technology to bear will require smarter customers,” Ivo Steklac, Elster’s global vice president, said in the opening general session. “We must change the way we support and train consumers.”

Spencer Abraham, U.S. energy secretary from 2001 to 2005, mentioned the “broad landscape of energy policy.” He said that in many cases energy is the most daunting challenge the world faces. Abraham listed what he thinks the nation must do to meet its energy challenges, including: expand the domestic nuclear power sector; continue to work on clean-coal technologies; and be much more aggressive with energy efficiency programs and technologies.

Richard Sergel, National Electric Reliability Corp.’s (NERC’s) president and CEO, gave the final day”s keynote address. He emphasized utilities must reach out to customers and “change the customer experience.” He said that already the shell–the wires, meter and customer service connection–needed to create that experience exists, but creating a new energy conscience will require more. Utilities must find ways to change the customer experience, and they must do it within five years, Sergel said. He said new smart appliances, thermostats and in-home displays will be required to create the new energy conscience.

Electric Light & Power Associate Editor Kristen Wright, at left, and Video Production Manager Alex Bradley interview Maureen Coveney, industry principal, utilities, at SAP America Inc. on the CS Week Exhibit Floor in Washington, D.C. Copyright Greg Weatherly
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“The areas with the greatest potential to improve utility performance are those that are most hidden and foreign to customers,” Sergel said. “Those (utilities) who understand this concept will be the most successful.”

He also told the audience to move forward with confidence regarding cybersecurity.

NERC is addressing this issue and “has it under control,” he said.

CS Week attendees had many conference workshop choices covering 11 topics each day. Several covered the smart grid and metering. Ramona Brown with the city of San Marcos, Texas, and Dale Pennington of Utiliworks Consulting discussed the city’s $6.65 million metering project. Brown said the city expects to pay for the project in five to seven years. San Marcos should save 80 percent on costs related to disconnect calls, she said. The city is home to a large college population with a high rate of disconnect calls, mostly at apartments. The new system allows the municipality to remotely read meters and disconnect service–two areas where large savings are expected. Brown said the city also expects to reduce calls to customer premises by 80 percent.

In another smart metering-related session, Martin Bartel and Jessica Brahaney of Northeast Utilities discussed the utility’s automated metering infrastructure-smart grid pilot projects that are designed to test customer behavior. Rate pilots are a critical ingredient to the overall pilot projects, Brahaney said, but the jury is still out on whether customers can save money with smart grid pilots. They can, however, become more empowered if they are provided with their energy usage information, she said.

Bartel said it”s undecided which pilot technology is best. The utility has learned that customer demand response behavior varies significantly by region, rate and use of enabling technologies.

New to CS Week this year was the Electric Light & Power video crew, who shot promotional videos in exhibitors” booths. It was a great way to reach clients and potential ones.

The third annual Expanding Excellence Awards recognized utility projects in the United States and Canada. They ranged from an internally managed project that used off-the shelf products and no consultants to massive CIS projects and cooperative efforts, which sets a new standard for mutual support in disasters. This is also the first time that two utilities have shared an award.

Congratulations to National Grid for Project ONE–Excellence in Implementation; Garland Power & Light for Customer Suite 4.0 Implementation; EPCOR Utilities Inc. for Saving Over $3 Million a Year in CIS Operating Expenses; Artesian Water for Meter Shop Gains Efficiency through GIS; Pepco Holdings Inc. and Tampa Electric for Virtual Customer Care, Virtual Assistance System; and Vermont Gas for its 2008 Customer Initiative.

This year was also the third year for the Women in Utilities meeting; the fourth year for CS Week Synergy Groups; and the fifth year for CS Week College. Platinum sponsors were Oracle and Harris.

CS Week CEO Jerry Duvall closed the week summing up the current utility environment.

“I”ve never seen more chaos and opportunity in my life,” he said.

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