DistribuTECH 2003: Highlights (and Bright Lights) from Las Vegas

DistribuTECH bypassed its traditional coastal setting this past Feb. 4-6, and for the first time in its history convened in Las Vegas. Far from being a distraction, the bright lights of the Vegas Strip provided the perfect mood lighting for the power industry’s leading technology conference.

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Losses incurred at the blackjack table hopefully were offset by knowledge gained at the Las Vegas Convention Center, as attendees enjoyed two days of pre-conference Utility University courses, two and a half days of conference sessions, and hands-on meetings with more than 200 technology providers in the DistribuTECH exhibit hall. The show opened with three impressive keynote speakers the morning of Feb 4.

Keynote Eyes Future

“What would you do in advance—along the lines of technology—if you knew that the future would be very different from today?” asked Walter Higgins, chairman of the board, president and CEO of Sierra Pacific Resources, in his keynote address to DistribuTECH attendees.

All three of DistribuTECH’s keynote speakers shared the common theme of learning from the past and applying those lessons to the power industry’s future.

“If we forgot something, it was the rates,” Higgins said. “We became too comfortable in a seemingly non-volatile energy market.”

Higgins laid out a simple outline to keep history from repeating: He told attendees that they must start their thinking with the customer, not with the utility and what would make life easier for them. This means asking three simple questions about future technology, Higgins said. First, what can the industry do to make the products cost less? How can those products be made more reliable? And, finally, how can vendors and utilities give customers what they really want?

Wanda Reder, vice president of engineering and planning with Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd), illustrated Higgins’ plea for customer focus by detailing the problems that ComEd has had in the last few years related to power outages—mostly in the areas of community reaction and public relations.

To pull themselves out of the negative arena of the 1999 outage, ComEd implemented storm response drills, created new switching policies, utilized planning support, expanded their SCADA system, among other technology and planning upgrades.

“There was a lot of improvement in not much time,” Reder said, pointing out that, in 1999, customer satisfaction was at an all-time low for the company. By 2002, however, it was at an all-time high.

Reder told the DistribuTECH audience that ComEd had learned a number of lessons from their recent crisis. Among them, the most important was the need to learn how to break away from assumptions about how the process should work. For Reder, those days are gone.

“We need to learn how to do change faster. That’s a cultural and leadership challenge,” she added.

Kurt Yeager, president and CEO of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), agreed. In the final speech of Tuesday morning’s keynote, he made it clear to attendees that the future for this industry cannot be assumed. It is, indeed, unknown, and today’s technologies just aren’t going to be enough.

“We are trying to run an increasingly digital world with an analog power system,” he said. “This community has to stand up and raise the awareness.”

Yeager also looked to the history of the power industry to glean his lessons, discussing how “innovation and transformation tend to be very disruptive.” He urged the audience not to be too afraid of that chaos, of that disruption—certainly not too afraid to participate, even lead.

Wrapping up the morning’s keynote, Yeager cut to the bone about the importance of seeing power from the consumer’s point of view.

“If you don’t believe this, you will become a dinosaur,” he warned. “Every other industry has already learned this.”

News from the Exhibit Hall

After the keynote session, attention turned to the DistribuTECH exhibit hall, which, as always, was a hotbed of activity. More than 200 exhibitors were on hand, with nearly 70 of those being first-time DistribuTECH exhibitors. New products were displayed, mergers and alliances forged, technology implementations announced. To follow are just a few of the many news items from the exhibit hall:

KEMA Inc. announced the introduction of its new Cyber Security Practice (see News, Page 8), which is designed to help utilities and energy companies secure their electronic control and protection systems. The emphasis for the new practice will be on electronic security of such systems and technologies as electronic protective relays, substation automation and control systems, power plant distributed control systems, energy management systems, SCADA systems and programmable logic controllers.

PECO Energy Co. and Invensys announced that they, in cooperation with Comcast Corp., are testing an energy management system called GoodWatts. The system allows utilities to remotely control air conditioning systems and other high load appliances over a secure IP network. The GoodWatts trial includes more than 100 PECO and Comcast residential customers in the Philadelphia metro area. PECO is actively planning to extend the GoodWatts trial to more homes and small commercial customers in its service territory.

CES International introduced its Energy Delivery Management (EDM) software suite to help utilities manage power distribution reliably and economically. Features of the EDM suite include: real-time network simulation, voltage management, load management, distributed generation management, loss minimization and operational risk management. CES also announced during the show that Cincinnati-based Cinergy Corp. would be deploying EDM as a pilot project.

Meteorlogix gave DistribuTECH attendees a look at its new MxInsight Energy Watch tool, which uses real-time, GIS-enabled weather data to help utilities manage weather-related emergencies. With the system, utilities can display weather events on their own maps to see which transformers and power lines have been or are likely to be affected. The product can also help utilities plan for seasonal energy demands with long-range heating-degree-day and cooling-degree-day forecasts.

Walter Higgins, president and CEO of Sierra Pacific Resources, opened the DistribuTECH keynote with a welcome to Las Vegas and a message about technology’s future in the power industry.Click here to enlarge image


Of course, weather-related outages can be predicted to some degree, but they can’t often be avoided. With that in mind, LeT Systems announced its emPower disaster management software solution, which was developed as a result of round-table meetings between several utility companies and EPRI (see News, Page 7). emPower is designed to interface with a user’s embedded OMS to provide additional disaster mitigation functionality, such as mutual aid management. The company plans to deploy emPower as part of its eRespond OMS package.

GE Power Systems made several announcements from Booth 711 (which seems appropriate, given the Las Vegas setting), including one from its Network Solutions division detailing a contract to supply engineering and network management software and services to Manitoba Hydro, one of Canada’s largest utilities. GE’s Substation Automation Solutions business also announced a UCA protocol upgrade to its Substation Communications System, and the introduction of the iBox Serial Substation Controller.

Attendees were able to get a close-up look at the technology on display in the DistribuTECH exhibit hall.Click here to enlarge image


NxtPhase Corp. unveiled its TESLA Portable Disturbance Fault Recorder during the show in Las Vegas. As a diagnostic tool for power system engineers, the TESLA Portable recorder is designed to be employed at critical points in the system to analyze power flow and improve overall system performance (see New Products, Page 47).

Automatic meter reading (AMR) technology is always a focal point of DistribuTECH, and this year was no different. New AMR product offerings were announced by Datamatic (with its Firefly Two meter interface unit), Itron (with its Mobile Collection System), Elster Electricity (with its new A1200 Alpha meter) and MTC (with several new offerings: the mStar-AR meter, the mVision in-home display, and the mView software system that works in conjunction with the mStar and mVision).

DistribuTECH attendees were also able to get their hands on the new Hammerhead XRT Tablet PC from WalkAbout Computers. The new tablet computer runs the Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system, allowing users to run Windows applications using a pen or speech, annotate documents, and create handwritten documents using “digital ink.”

DistribuTECH Heads to Orlando

DistribuTECH 2004 is scheduled for Jan. 20-22—with pre-conference Utility University courses on Jan. 18 and 19—at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

More than 200 exhibitors gave attendees a look at the future of power delivery at DistribuTECH 2003.Click here to enlarge image


Although the show is still several months away, conference organizers have already planned several additions to next year’s conference program. The focus of DistribuTECH 2004 will continue to be on power distribution automation, control and IT, just as it always has been. In addition, the 2004 show will also feature conference sessions discussing the use of these technologies in the water utility industry.

Also added to next year’s conference will be content dealing with technology’s use on the transmission side of the power business, as well as general T&D engineering topics. The goal is to provide a more complete overview of the various technologies driving the utility business.

More information, including information on submitting a paper or panel presentation for next year’s show, is available on the DistribuTECH website 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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