DistribuTECH Breaks New Ground

DistribuTECH 2009 brought a record number of people to the bayside conference center in San Diego. Nearly 5,800 attendees wandered through during the show’s four days, which included packed conference sessions on industry topics, an exhibit floor with more than 300 companies and an opening keynote by Frank Abagnale, a man immortalized in the flick “Catch Me if You Can.” DistribuTECH was one place you could catch Abagnale in person.

The San Diego Convention Center flies the colors of DistribuTECH, welcoming attendees.Click here to enlarge image

From detailed industry information to hands-on exhibits to celebrity sightings, DistribuTECH offered it.

On the Conference Side

Each year on the day before DistribuTECH officially begins, the conference offers popular Utility University sessions. This year, DistribuTECH added its first Utility University keynote luncheon. It, too, was a success. Hundreds attended the Monday, Feb. 2 luncheon to hear former astronaut and experimental test pilot Joe Edwards and Anthony Erickson, global industry leader for utilities with EDS, talk about the smart grid.

Edwards shared his experiences in the NASA program and pointed out that smart grid technology has been used in the space station for years. He spoke about how the technology is being adapted and implemented on earth for smart grid deployment.

“The technology is ready and the consumers are ready,” Erickson said. “This is the year we will start to see big things happen.”

Erickson added that President Obama has issued a top-down mandate for companies to develop and deploy the smart grid, similar to the mandate President Kennedy issued in the early 1960s for the space program.

Michael Niggli, COO of Sempra Energy Utilities, discusses the future for California’s utilities, specifically his own, during the DistribuTECH keynote session.Click here to enlarge image

DistribuTECH 2009 began Tuesday, Feb. 3 with a keynote session sponsored by Oracle. Speakers were Abagnale as the headliner and two industry leaders: Michael Niggli, COO of Sempra Energy Utilities, and Kurt Yeager, executive director of Galvin Electricity Initiative.

Sempra is the parent company of this year’s DistribuTECH host utility, San Diego & Electric (SDG&E). Niggli said that the pathway to a smart, green grid is through demand response (DR), energy efficiency (EE), renewables, affordability and reliability. Following California’s call to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030, SDG&E’s plan will include initiatives in smart meters, solar power, technology upgrades and new transmission. Niggli called it “a monumental task, but one that’s worth the effort.”

Yeager, an industry veteran, followed Niggli. He argued that the center of our industry issues is the distribution system. The challenges include efficiency, demand growth, energy security and climate change, he said.

Our current grid’s unreliability costs the United States $150 billion a year; its inefficiency costs us $100 billion a year; and our productivity penalty is $1 trillion a year, Yeager said.

“We’ve rigged the books so those numbers never reach the public’s eye,” he said.

Frank Abagnale recalls his life as a con man and his subsequent return to law-abiding ways during the DistribuTECH keynote session.Click here to enlarge image

Abagnale, the inspiration for the movie “Catch Me if You Can” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, spoke about his teenage years and early life of fraud and identity theft. Abagnale resides in Tulsa, Okla., with his wife. He credits her with setting him straight and being the man he is today. He has worked with the FBI more than three decades–since they removed him from prison early to join the fraud team.

Following the keynote, DistribuTECH offered its typical spectrum of conference sessions. Beginning Tuesday afternoon, attendees could sit in and listen to industry experts deliver paper and panel sessions on topics such as customer service, aging infrastructure and the smart grid.

One Tuesday afternoon panel session, “Mutual Assistance: Lone Crews, Equipment and Now CSRs,” explored calls for mutual assistance during major restoration efforts, a cornerstone of the utility industry in times of trouble. It featured Harvey Ellis, operations manager at Georgia Power, Terri Metzler, director of business development, utilities at Twenty First Century Communications, and Wesley Higgins, technology analyst for Alabama Power Customer Services.

Attendees line up to register onsite for the 2009 show.Click here to enlarge image

Ellis demonstrated how customer calls would be answered during a mutual assistance restoration effort. Metzler explained how a new emergency-preparedness tool is a cost-effective way to allow utility-trained staff to answer calls for other utilities. Higgins dissected how the computer bones of the system work.

On Wednesday, in the “Are Utilities Really Creating Any Value From Their Customer Data?” session, panelists discussed real-time metering and usage information, smart grid monitoring data, customer premise-based usage information, substation and distribution system state data, which are rapidly reaching critical mass and creating new integrated information sources. In this session, Karen France of Toronto Hydro Electric System LTD explained the company’s pilot program that examined time-of-use rates. Allen Beaudette, an engineer with Advantica, said engineering analyses are important for many reasons: cost savings, safety and reliability, and assisting with day-to-day operations.

Information sessions weren’t the only DistribuTECH highlight. The show also offered networking opportunities. Along with the previously mentioned Utility University luncheon, another new event was the Thursday, Feb. 5 keynote breakfast. About 350 people got up early to hear Randy Huston, program delivery executive for the SmartGridCity initiative at Xcel Energy, talk about the Boulder, Colo., program.

Damen Brady with Science Applications International Corp. won the Saturn Sky giveaway at the 2009 DistribuTECH conference.Click here to enlarge image

Huston said that the current electricity grid has changed little since Thomas Edison’s era. Today’s electric grid is used for many things other than for what it was designed, and it needs drastic change to meet 21st century needs, he said.

Huston listed four drivers of grid change:

1. Grid reliability,
2. New environmental standards and regulations,
3. Energy security, and
4. Customer choice.

Huston said the SmartGridCity will allow control and integration of renewable energy. It will also allow Xcel to better manage its assets while allowing customers to better manage their energy use.

Huston stressed that Xcel Energy’s SmartGridCity is not a pilot project. He said it is bringing the industry’s vision of a smart grid to life. The project is being rolled out across the entire city of Boulder. It is leveraging the best talent, building skills and experience, testing technologies and processes, and proving the benefits of a smart grid, Huston said.

After completing his formal presentation, Huston was joined by representatives of Xcel’s partners in the SmartGridCity initiative to answer audience questions. Those representatives were: Michael Donohue, Accenture; Matt Dinsmore, CURRENT Group; Derek Porter, Ventyx Inc.; Roy Moxley, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Inc.; Paul Duncan, GridPoint; Lee Margaret Ayers, OSIsoft; and Nangy Gul, SmartSynch.

From the Exhibit Floor

Attendees and visitors wandered through more than 300 exhibitors that lined the DistribuTECH 2009 show floor. From software to hardware, meters to MultiSpeak, just about any T&D-related product or service was represented. While the conference offered information to delegates, the show floor offered even more.

Ice Energy, a developer and provider of smart grid and distributed energy storage solutions for leveling peak energy demand, selected DistribuTECH to debut its integrated smart grid offerings that focus on large-scale utility deployment.

Ice Energy’s solutions for utilities integrate the company’s effectively lossless distributed energy storage technology with closed-loop, two-way control and an advanced software infrastructure that permanently reshapes the load curve, improving energy system efficiency and reliability.

Attendees listen with rapt attention to a session speaker outline his paper.Click here to enlarge image

Ice Energy’s solutions enable utilities to capitalize on distributed load management by addressing peak system cooling loads, the single biggest challenge in their demand portfolio. This makes it possible for utility companies to use cleaner, less expensive off-peak power to produce and store energy for use during peak demand periods–permanently lowering peak demand, reducing carbon emissions and lowering service costs.

“For the past two years, Ice Energy has delivered proven, reliable, and cost-effective distributed energy storage to hundreds of locations nationwide,” said Frank Ramirez, Ice Energy CEO.

Now the company is extending its solution to meet the large-scale demand of utility companies needing smart grid solutions to help meet escalating peak-system demand and effectively integrate intermittent renewable resources, he said.

Omnitron Systems Technology, a provider of Carrier Ethernet demarcation devices and media converters, revealed the availability of the new iConverter XG 10 gigabit media converter. The iConverter XG is a protocol-transparent media converter with two pluggable transceiver ports designed to simplify fiber connectivity for Ethernet and TDM networks by providing 10 gigabit media conversion and fiber extension.

Kurt Yeager, executive director of the Galvin Electricity Initiative, motivates the audience to challenge the energy status quo during the DistribuTECH keynote session.Click here to enlarge image

Oracle announced contracts at DistribuTECH 2009, including ones with Seattle City Light and Bermuda Electric Light Co. (BELCO). Seattle City Light, the ninth-largest publicly owned U.S. electric utility created by the citizens of Seattle in 1902, selected Oracle Utilities Network Management System and Oracle Utilities Mobile Workforce Management to replace an existing legacy system. BELCO, in Hamilton, Bermuda, operates a generation plant and T&D systems throughout the island for 34,043 metered customers. The utility upgraded to Oracle Utilities Network Management System to capture and manage outage data more effectively. On an international front, Italy’s Acea Distribuzione S.p.A selected Oracle Utilities Meter Data Management to provide a centralized, robust meter-data management system and support the company’s automatic meter-management project.

And the band plays on at the DistribuTECH Rock “Ëœn’ Roll Networking Reception.Click here to enlarge image

GarrettCom Inc. and Bow Networks Inc. unveiled an expanded version of their unified NERC CIP cybersecurity solution for power utilities at DistribuTECH 2009. The GarrettCom CrossBow Architecture provides an integrated environment for supporting CIP cybersecurity requirements for North American utilities wanting to meet the July 1 NERC CIP standards compliance deadline.

Attendees cut a rug at the DistribuTECH Rock “Ëœn’ Roll Networking Reception.Click here to enlarge image

New Jersey-based Comverge, a provider of smart grid, demand management and EE solutions, announced the release of its Apollo Demand Response Management System during the show. Designed for direct load control, price response and messaging, the Apollo Platform will manage residential and commercial demand management resources, while incorporating capabilities for plug-in hybrid and electric vehicle control, renewable resource management and future smart grid resources as they become part of their utility customers’ portfolio of assets.

Attendees visit a product demonstration on the DistribuTECH show floor.Click here to enlarge image

Itron Inc. and Digi International trumpeted their collaboration to enable utilities to remotely monitor and control distribution automation devices using the OpenWay advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) network by Itron. The agreement further enhances the electric utility industry’s investment in OpenWay and expands upon Digi’s comprehensive family of Drop-in Networking connectivity solutions.

Siemens Energy touted a contract to install its IEC 61850-compliant substation automation system and associated protection and control intelligent electronic devices for the modernization of the New York Power Authority’s (NYPA’s) St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) transmission substation in New York. This might interest the U.S. market because IEC 61850 has previously dominated European and Indian power arenas.

From the conference to the exhibit floor, DistribuTECH 2009 was a success. Join us in celebrating DistribuTECH’s 20th anniversary March 23-25, 2010, in Tampa, Fla. We knew the grid before it was smart, and we look forward to helping it learn more every year.


  • 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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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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