DistribuTECH 2001 Goes Head-to-Head with the California Crisis

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For more than a decade, DistribuTECH has billed itself as the energy industry’s leading conference on information technology, distribution automation, competitive business strategies and customer satisfaction. This year, the 11th annual DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition takes place Feb. 5-7 at the San Diego Convention Center, and, at the present, there is probably not a better place on Earth for DistribuTECH to be.

Over the course of the last year or so, events in California-and more specifically, in San Diego-have provided a peek at deregulation’s dark side. San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) was the first utility in the nation to complete its transition to full-scale deregulation, therefore exposing itself, and its customers, to retail electricity prices. Among the results: Customer bills sky-rocketed, tempers flared, fingers pointed, and CEOs at just about every other U.S. utility felt a twinge of trepidation, whether they will admit it or not.

Carl Wood, a member of California’s Public Utilities Commission, was quoted in a recent Albuquerque (N.M.) Journal article as saying, “I would advise other states to take a careful look at experiences chalked up in California and other states. We have been the guinea pig, and guinea pigs don’t fare well.”

While it is true that guinea pigs often find themselves on the losing end of an experiment’s outcome, they do play an important role in refining incomplete theories and hypotheses. The hard lessons learned on the West Coast should serve ultimately to strengthen an industry in flux.

As other states make their transitions to the deregulated market, it’s unlikely that many will experience the same difficulties the IOUs in California are battling. Numerous factors specific to the California market-e.g., limited generation and ultra-high demand-have contributed to what is likely a worst-case scenario for the restructuring electric utility industry. But while the problems in California may not re-manifest themselves in other deregulating states, the Golden State has provided a startling glimpse of what can go wrong in a changing industry.

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DistribuTECH 2001 provides a glimpse of what it takes to make it right again. Briefly, in early February, San Diego’s energy problems will take a backseat to DistribuTECH’s energy solutions.

The Cure is on Display

At the crux of the California crisis is a lack of generation, but the transmission and distribution side of the industry in California is not without its problems. As is the case across most of the nation, California’s neglected T&D infrastructure has shown signs of weakness and instability. The high-tech industries prevalent in Southern California and Silicon Valley place a particularly high demand on electric utilities to provide clean, reliable power. As high-tech industry continues to spread across the land, the entire nation’s T&D infrastructure will be taxed. Each and every utility in the United States will need to take stock of its T&D assets and decide where investments need to be made. The technologies necessary to shore up the grid are available, and it’s incumbent on utility management to investigate and evaluate those technologies. The new economy demands it.

As has been the case for 10 years, the technologies necessary to cure the ills of an aging utility infrastructure and ensure reliable power delivery will be on display at DistribuTECH. More than 200 exhibitors are expected at DistribuTECH 2001. Tried-and-true will share space with cutting-edge in the San Diego Convention Center’s exhibit hall. T&D solutions on display will include the latest in automatic meter reading technology, geographic information systems, customer information systems, electronic bill presentment and payment solutions, supervisory control and data acquisition technology, energy management systems, substation automation technologies, outage management systems, work management systems and more.

The Solutions Exchange, as the DistribuTECH exhibit floor has come to be known, is always among the most popular attractions at the show. Not only will attendees have the opportunity to see established technologies first-hand at the Solutions Exchange, they also will get to see some products and solutions for the first time anywhere. DistribuTECH has established itself as the best place for exhibitors to premiere their new offerings.

Like last year, DistribuTECH’s exhibit floor will feature a Cyber Cafe, sponsored by Compaq Computer Corp., where show attendees will find complimentary Internet-ready computers available for use. Attendees are encouraged to use the Cyber Cafe to check their e-mail via the Web, catch up on industry or world news, or visit exhibitors’ Web sites.

Timely Keynotes

As always, DistribuTECH will feature enlightening keynote addresses, and this year’s offering is particularly timely. At the center of California’s continuing energy saga is the California Independent System Operator (ISO). The California ISO is the not-for-profit corporation set up to manage the flow of electricity along the power lines that make up the bulk of California’s transmission system.

Kellan Fluckiger, chief operations officer at the California ISO, will be among the headlining Keynote Session speakers for DistribuTECH 2001. Fluckiger has more than 20 years of experience in the utility industry and was the first employee hired by the California ISO in May 1997. Before joining the ISO, Fluckiger held positions at Pacific Gas & Electric, Arizona Public Service Co. and Idaho Power Co.

Among Fluckiger’s responsibilities as California ISO chief operations officer are grid operations, transmission scheduling, grid planning, transmission system maintenance and operations engineering functions. He also plays a key role in the design of new ISO policies and frequently represents the California ISO before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and state regulatory agencies.

Fluckiger plans to discuss the current events in California’s energy markets and how they have affected operations at the California ISO. His much-anticipated keynote address will be a highlight of this year’s DistribuTECH conference.

Also presenting as a keynote speaker will be James Rogers, president and chief executive officer of Cinergy Corp. As a General Session speaker at DistribuTECH 2000 in Miami last year, Rogers spoke about the glacially slow movements of companies operating in regulated industries and implored utilities to pick up the pace of change. Last year, Rogers predicted that 2000 would be the first year of phenomenal change in the industry and that for the first time a significant amount of utility revenue would come from unregulated parts of the business.

Through acquisitions, strategic investments and partnerships, Cinergy Corp. has proved that it will do more than simply pay lip service to the concept of utility industry change. Cinergy provides a prime example of what it takes to succeed in the modern power environment. No doubt, Rogers’ keynote speech will be a thought-provoking follow-up to last year’s General Session speech.

Rounding out the list of distinguished keynote speakers at DistribuTECH 2001 is Joseph Welch, president of the newly created International Transmission Company; a wholly owned and newly created subsidiary of the DTE Energy Company. International Transmission Company(ITC) is the first transmission entity in the country to gain regulatory approval to become a completely separate, standalone, financially viable transmission company. Welch will provide an overview of ITC’s direction and success to date. In addition, Welch will speak to the unique considerations that must be given to an independent transmission company, particularly as it operates within or under an RTO structure.

Informative Sessions

Among its primary goals, the DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition aims to bring industry participants together for thoughtful discussion, to make available for those industry participants the cutting-edge technologies and solutions integral to the industry, and, perhaps most importantly, to present the latest, most pertinent information and ideas from power industry thought leaders. Information is key in the modern power industry, and DistribuTECH aims to deliver the best information through its conference sessions.

This year, DistribuTECH provides informative sessions in nine separate tracks: Distribution Automation, Substation Automation, New Technology’s Impact on Distribution Operations, Power Quality/Reliability, Business Strategies, Customer Care, Enterprise Applications/Mobile Computing, Metering, and a new session track titled Class of Their Own. The Class of Their Own track includes papers, case studies and panels that didn’t necessarily fit within the context of the other eight tracks but were too good to leave out of the program. Class of Their Own should include a little something for everyone.

Some of the highlights among this year’s sessions include:

  • Load and Paradigm Shifting: Advanced Distribution Automation Systems at JEA and OG&E. Monday Feb. 5, 1:30 p.m. Actual field implementations of advanced distribution automation systems at Jacksonville Electric Authority and Oklahoma Gas & Electric will be discussed during this panel presentation in the Distribution Automation track. Representatives from JEA and OG&E will address the reliability and accuracy of distribution automation system components, problems faced during implementation, lessons learned and future plans based on the utilities’ experiences.
  • DNP 3.0 and UCA 2.0 MMS-Friends or Foes? Monday, Feb. 5, 1:30 p.m. This session in the Substation Automation track should prove popular among attendees, given the prevalence of these two protocols. The panelists in this session will attempt to answer a number of questions. Among them: What are the differences between DNP and UCA? Will UCA become the dominant protocol that DNP has become in both SCADA and substation automation? Can DNP and UCA co-exist in the industry? John McDonald of KEMA Consulting will moderate this session, which includes panelists from GE Harris Energy Control Systems, SUBNET Solutions Inc., Bitronics Inc. and Tamarack Consulting.
  • Creating Value with AMR. Tuesday, Feb. 6, 9 a.m. This session within the metering track will offer three presentations on the various technologies and trends that are creating valuable new uses for AMR. New functionality within AMR systems provides value beyond the meter read.

  • Integration Bus Projects at Three Utilities-One More Year of Progress. Wednesday, Feb. 7, 9 a.m. This follow-up to a popular panel presentation at DistribuTECH 2000 in Miami, brings together three utilities in the process of implementing an integration framework referred to as an “Integration Bus.” Representatives from Southern California Edison, Florida Power & Light and Kansas City Power & Light-the same three utilities that presented the discussion last year-will update attendees on their ambitious projects. Much progess has been made, and the functionality of the buses is increasing.

In addition to the informative sessions presented in the nine tracks mentioned above, DistribuTECH 2001 is also bringing back its Utility University pre-conference seminars and Power Breakfasts.

Utility University is a two-day series of pre-conference seminars (Feb. 3 and 4) designed to provide in-depth learning experiences on a variety of topics. This year’s Utility University full- and half-day seminars include classes on AMR, substation automation, distribution automation, telecommunications systems, DNP protocol, work management systems and more.

DistribuTECH’s Power Breakfasts, a popular conference activity for several years now, are designed to fill the mind and the stomach. The breakfasts take place Tuesday, Feb. 6, and Wednesday, Feb. 7. They feature moderated round-table discussions on topics of interest to attendees. This year’s scheduled breakfasts include discussions on metering issues, distribution automation, substation automation, new utility business strategies, power quality and reliability, mobile computing, distribution operations management, customer care and more. Power Breakfasts provide excellent networking opportunities and begin at 7:30 on both Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.

Additional Activities

DistribuTECH 2001’s managers have planned a number of activities beyond the conference and exhibition, including two informative technical tours. Both technical tours are scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 7, DistribuTECH’s final day. Conference attendees won’t have to go far for the first technical tour, a guided tour of the San Diego Convention Center. The Convention Center tours will run in 15-minute increments and are highlighted by a chance to see the Center’s SCADA applications in use.

The other technical tour takes place at the U.S. Naval Base at North Island. Tour attendees will see the base’s photovoltaic system and electric vehicle recharging facility.

More information about DistribuTECH 2001 is available online at www.distributech.com.

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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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