DistribuTECH 2005 Burns Bright in San Diego

If you had the desire, the means and the opportunity, you could have sailed smoothly into DistribuTECH 2005. The San Diego Convention Center, where the show was located, sits adjacent to the bay, with a marina right out its back door and a cool ocean breeze gliding along its rolling glass architecture.

Inside the convention center, however, the air was more energized. January 25, 26 and 27 were filled with discussions and exhibits exploring distribution operations management, substation integration and automation, AMR, demand response, business issues and other various industry topics.

With more than 4,300 in attendance this year, DistribuTECH 2005 brought a whole lot of power to a city, and a state, which was once solely consumed with keeping the juice flowing and the lights ablaze.

Keynote Kicks Off

Edwin Guiles, chairman and CEO of San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and Southern California Gas, discussed the previous California power crisis and its enduring legacy during his keynote address on Tuesday morning. Guiles labeled his outlook for both SDG&E and the state as a “road map for California’s energy future.”

Guiles was quick to point out that the crisis in California should not simply be seen as impacting only the Golden State. “What’s happening in California is not all that unique,” he said. “Some of what we’ve experienced in our state is happening elsewhere across the country.”

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Guiles laid out three steps in his road map: ensuring adequate electric infrastructure, fixing the market structure and getting the rates right. To ensure the first step, SDG&E is attempting to reduce demand, increase renewables, add more transmission lines and build more power plants in the San Diego region.

Guiles admitted that, despite everything that is being done to keep those lights on, the state could face supply shortages again in the summer as demand for electricity continues to grow.

“To help make sure there’s electricity available where and when it’s needed, the state must fix the broken process for siting energy infrastructures, especially new transmission lines,” he added. SDG&E has proposed what they call “utility corridors” to help in this process: land that would be earmarked and set aside before development.

Guiles wrapped up his speech with a look at what will be required to get SDG&E, along with the rest of the industry, to a balanced and stable power future: leadership and courage, a focus on customers, a commitment to work together, and an open mind to new technology and how it can transform this business.

The topic of industry transformation was the center of Jean Reaves Rollins’ speech. As managing partner of The C Three Group, Rollins focused on details and numbers: what has and hasn’t changed in the energy business this year in the area of capital expenditures.

“As everyone in this room is well aware, the past three years have been tough,” she began, adding that, in just the investor-owned utility subset, more than 120,000 jobs have disappeared since peak employment in 2001. But, she did have good news.

“The hemorrhaging appears to be over,” she said. “Using capital expenditures as a proxy for overall industry health, the energy utility industry is actually growing, albeit at a modest pace.” Rollins pointed out that more than half the companies The C Three Group tracks (52 percent) will be increasing their capital budgets this year.

DistribuTECH 2005 attendees were able to get an up-close look at the products of more than 220 suppliers in the exhibit hall. Click here to enlarge image

But, that spending is highly concentrated, with 12 investor-owned utilities accounting for over half of all capital dollars from 1998 to 2003. Additionally, Rollins stated, there is a lot of competition for that money: environmental compliance, an aging infrastructure, security, management of cash flow, the clean-up of balance sheets, growth, stock buy-back, rate cases, sorting tools and even Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. However, paralleling Guiles speech, Rollins stated that there is one area above all others on a utility executive’s mind these days when it comes to money: transmission.

Overall, however, Rollins sees a positive swing in the industry, with financial health improving, capital budgets increasing, companies hiring again and venture capital coming back.

DistribuTECH’s third keynote speaker had plenty of ideas about just where you should spend that venture capital. T.J. Glauthier recently moved on from his job as president and CEO of the Electricity Innovation Institute (E2I), an affiliate of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). E2I sponsors strategic research and development programs through public/private partnerships.

Glauthier began his speech by addressing the audience. “You are architects of the future,” he said. “You at this conference-the representatives of the transmission and distribution utilities, the vendors, service providers and others-are charting the course for the future in the actions you’re taking every day.”

Glauthier encouraged industry members to look beyond the short-term to where they see the industry in 20, 40, 50 years or more. He spoke about creatively preparing for the future today and stressed that the infrastructure being put in place right now is the foundation on which that future will be built. Unfortunately, he also pointed out that we mistakenly think of progress as linear without taking into account new innovations and trends that are bound to pop up.

“As you are planning and investing in T&D system expansions and upgrades, how you view the future has crucial implications for all of us,” Glauthier commented. “I urge you to be cautious about future growth projections. When you are making or using projections, look carefully at the underlying details and assumptions and consider developing alternative scenarios.”

Glauthier also discussed the need to computerize the grid, to create a digitally run, fully computerized power grid that is “on-line and intelligent, self-diagnosing and self-healing.”

“Through all of this, recognize that technological change is not a spectator sport,” he concluded. “We’ll all be affected by it. The choice for us is whether we’re on the bus or off of it. Are we willing to embrace the changes and develop strategies and business models to take advantage of them for growth and strength in the new industries of the future?”

From the Exhibit Floor

One place you might have been able to glimpse that technological future is DistribuTECH’s exhibit floor. With more than 220 exhibitors, the floor was overflowing with new and innovative software and hardware. Additionally, a number of companies took the opportunity to make product and industry announcements during DistribuTECH.

Comverge and Landis+Gyr unveiled an automatic meter reading product aimed at bridging the gap from cellular networks to digital ones. Emerson Climate Technologies revealed that they were forming a strategic partnership with Comverge as well.

Opto 22 and POWER Engineers announced the co-development of a low-cost remote telemetry unit alternative for use with DNP3-based SCADA systems.

MiniMax Corp. and Powel ASA confirmed that they have merged and formed a North American-based organization to provide software platforms for utilities.

Thales unveiled its new security improvement module for the protection of legacy SCADA networks, and Videx touted their growing family of access control products, CyberLock.

Itron brought along their brand new software to streamline workflows for distribution system and line design, Distribution Staker, and Siemens announced that Arizona Public Service Co. has snapped up its Spectrum Power energy management system. Siemens has also recently acquired the business activities of Shaw Power Technologies and Shaw Power Technologies International.

Sensus Metering Systems formalized a marketing and sales agreement with AMDS during the show, and Sensus also announced the availability of a new meter data warehouse product.

Cellnet Technology released its UtiliNet Series II radio, and Landis+Gyr unveiled the company’s newest meter reading system, ForeRunner.

Getac Inc. took the opportunity to introduce their rugged laptop computer, and ABB was on hand to discuss its news integrated system for power distribution companies, Network Manager DMS, as well as its contract for static VaR compensator (SVC) technology recently commissioned for the Potrero substation in San Francisco.

Motorola made a number of announcements, including the news that Archstone-Smith Operating Trust has purchased its wireless remote IMR transmitter to read residents’ water meters. Additionally, Motorola demonstrated how Networkfleet can help utility fleet managers with remote diagnostic and vehicle location.

Everyone here at Utility Automation & Engineering T&D would like to thank all of you for making DistribuTECH such a success this year, and we look forward to seeing all of you again in sunny Tampa, Fla., next year. Mark your calendars that you’ll be attending the next DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition from Feb. 7-9, 2006. More information will soon be available 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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