DistribuTech 2011 Brightens San Diego

Attendance at the largest smart grid conference in the United States broke last year’s record high by about 2,100 people.

“DistribuTECH has been the leading grid-focused conference in this industry for more than 20 years,” said Teresa Hansen, DistribuTECH Conference & Exhibition conference program chair.

Final-day numbers closed in on 8,500 people visiting the San Diego Convention Center for DistribuTECH 2011. Tampa, Fla., saw more than 6,600 DistribuTECH visitors in 2010.

San Diego’s Feb. 1 kickoff brought 2,500 attendees to the opening keynote. It featured Susan Eisenhower, strategic consultant and president of the Eisenhower Group; Daniel Burrus, author, futurist and technological change guru; Lynda Ziegler, executive vice president of Southern California Edison; and David L. Geier, vice president of electric operations at San Diego Gas & Electric Co (SDG&E).

Geier brought consumers into the conversation.

“We can have all the great ideas in the world, but they need to align with and benefit our customers,” he said.

Ziegler agreed. The utilities industry has not yet incorporated educated consumers into the equation nor looked at areas that concern consumers: cost, safety, accuracy, security and health issues such as EMF, she said.

“If consumers see no benefits to the smart grid, it will be difficult to move forward,” Ziegler said. “We all have a role to play in the public conversation.”

Eisenhower emphasized a greater dialogue about power technologies and modernization.

“We need to discuss the great opportunity of these energy advances,” she said.

Eisenhower advised the industry to be direct and not to paint grid modernization as easy. She urged a realistic conversation.

“Don’t be afraid to tell the American people that this will be a really hard job,” Eisenhower said.

The hard work of the smart grid will be worth the effort for the industry and the public, she said.

Following the keynote, conference sessions were broken down into related tracks, including: customer operations, substation automation, international projects, distribution automation, transmission, advanced metering, communications, renewables and the grid and water utility technologies.

“The speaker list for DistribuTECH 2011 was outstanding,” said Michael Grossman, DistribuTECH 2011 manager and publisher of sponsor publication POWERGRID International. “This was easily the most informative conference program we’ve ever assembled.”

In addition, more than 400 exhibitors filled the exhibit floor. Their products ranged from communications to cable, electricity distribution hardware to software, and meters to smart thermostats. The news from the floor was steady. Highlights include:

  • Silver Spring Networks, a smart grid platforms provider, announced that the company is expanding its partnership with Oklahoma Gas & Electric, the state’s largest electric utility.
  • Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Dr. Ann Cavoukian along with Hydro One Inc., General Electric Co., International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) and Telvent released a report that shows the way forward for utilities working to embed privacy into the emerging smart grid.
  • Kansas City Power & Light revealed it has selected Siemens to implement technology innovations to demonstrate the feasibility and benefits of a comprehensive smart grid solution.
  • Energy platform company Tendril is partnering with Utility Integration Solutions Inc. (UISOL), a provider of demand response management and automation systems, on a price response demand demonstration project for PJM Interconnection, the largest power grid operator in North America.


DistribuTECH 2011 kicked off Feb. 1 in San Diego (with a few pre-conference sessions and meetings), and from the co-located Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) symposium to the keynote to my scheduled meetings, almost everyone was talking about the customers–and not just internal industry customers, truly about the end-use consumers (an idea foreign to traditional utilities that always had a bit of a monopoly and could assume demand without catering to consumers).

During the SGCC Smart Grid Symposium (also titled the Partnering for Progress Symposium) on Monday, Jan. 31, debate about how much, how often, how nicely utilities need to communicate with consumers was the stuff of panel debates and paper releases.

SGCC released its 2011 State of the Consumer report to “shed light on what residential electric consumers want.” What do they want? To know more, apparently–especially about the smart grid–if they have the values and priorities that fit into the smart grid overview. (The report notes that personal mores and hierarchies trumped age or income factors.)

When discussing this report and motivated smart grid energy consumers at the meeting, SGCC Research Director Judith Schwartz said that the big picture might change, but the major players for change had to “have passion, had to care.”

Schwartz made the comment during a debate on customer wants and needs, acceptances and doubts.

But she found disagreement with Ahmad Faruqui, The Brattle Group Inc. principal. Asking people what they would do in a situation and what those people actually end up doing when finally faced with the situation often are different prospects, Faruqui said. It might be a flaw in reasoning out the psychology of consumer smart grid choices, he said.

All the panelists, however, agreed that bringing consumers into the smart grid conversation is necessary because mainstream views of smart grid are often negative.

As panelist Craig Boice, president of the Boice Dunham Group said, the most successful smart grid marketing to date was created by San Francisco smart grid opponents who changed the community view of smart grid to a negative one in six to nine months.

“The smart grid story we are telling,” Boice said, “well, we just haven’t found a way to get the customer into that story.”

This blog entry by Senior Editor Kathleen Davis was published online at http://power-grid.com during DistribuTECH 2011.


In electric vehicle (EV) news, Indiana University researchers think Obama’s 1 million electric cars by 2015 dream will be shattered by car manufacturers who won’t rev up supply because they think U.S. consumers will not answer with matching demand.

The timing of this study’s release is interesting to me because I spent a good block of time at DistribuTECH talking to ABB and ECOtality about their EV plans.

ECOtality provides EV charging systems. ABB recently announced it’s investing $10 million in ECOtality. ECOtality, in turn, is leading the EV Project, a Department of Energy-funded program to develop EV infrastructure with the deployment of 15,000 charging stations in 16 cities.

Murray Jones, ABB vice president of global e-mobility, called this “range-ready infrastructure” in our meeting, which I found most intriguing–that someone is building out a basic highway charging infrastructure for EVs for a good road trip. Fleets of EVs are one thing. Distribution systems are circular, without a lot of miles traveled, and with a return trip to a central charging area. That might be how some businesses work, but that’s not how the average American lives. Putting charging infrastructure along the road–at restaurants and retail outlets–and really developing an infrastructure to ease consumers’ minds seems like a step forward to getting the second wave of EV adoption, beyond the early birds that love that electric car for its ecology marketing or as a second car that cuts gas costs.

Jonathan Read, ECOtality’s president and CEO, discussed the EV Project that includes the West Coast from Seattle to San Diego, extending into Arizona, Texas and cities in Tennessee.

“We’re building up a connected highway,” Read said.

The project’s goal is to take lessons learned from deployment of these first 8,300 EVs and related infrastructure to make it easier and faster to deploy Obama’s 1 million and beyond.

Putting EVs on the road takes more than car companies or consumer demand. It will take a ready, willing and enabled power utility. That’s where ABB comes into the game.

“In each market, we have to work with utilities, and no one knows utilities better than ABB,” Read said.

ABB and ECOtality believe those EVs on Obama’s horizon are coming, and they want to make EVs a real asset to the grid rather than a “drag on it,” as Read said.

Allen Burchett, ABB senior vice president for strategic initiatives in North America, said EVs will have a major impact on the electricity distribution network, but if utilities can control timing of personal charging, it can be a positive impact, relying on the charging infrastructure’s intelligence.

As for Obama’s dream of a million EVs, Read said there might be as many as 1.5 million by 2015, exceeding Obama’s vision. Perhaps those naysayers at Indiana University are wrong after all.

This blog entry by Senior Editor Kathleen Davis was published online at http://power-grid.com during DistribuTECH 2011.

More PowerGrid International Issue Articles
PowerGrid International Articles Archives
View Power Generation Articles on PennEnergy.com
Previous articleDoD to use landfill gas to energy technology
Next articlePersonal Information Concerns Smart Grid Developers
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