DistribuTECH Celebrates 12th Year South Beach-style

The DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition celebrated a successful 12th year this past Feb. 27-March 1 in Miami Beach, Fla. As usual, the weather was fantastic, and the discussions in the Miami Beach Convention Center were vital to the future of the electric power industry.

DistribuTECH’s exhibit hall was a highlight of this year’s show, with more than 220 companies offering products and solutions.
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Attendees heard informative paper presentations and panel discussion delivered in 10 different conference tracks, ranging from good old-fashioned distribution automation to new tracks on distributed generation and demand response. In DistribuTECH’s exhibit hall, more than 220 industry vendors gave attendees an up-close look at the future of utility technology.

Keynote Speakers Address Top Industry Issues

To open the DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition, keynote speakers addressed three top-of-mind topics: information technology, transmission and open competition in Texas.

First to take the podium was Joseph Lasky, ComEd Energy Delivery’s vice president of information technology. Lasky’s speech, titled “ReCOMittED–Information is a Powerful Tool,” addressed the leveraging of information, information technology and information services to meet or exceed business unit goals.

ComEd applied this model in their recent efforts to improve relationships with customers by strengthening outage management via enabling technologies, including the Web, personal digital assistants (PDAs), electronic sign boards, e-mail and paging. According to Lasky, the program was a success–ComEd’s annual customer satisfaction survey showed a nine-point jump, which was an all-time record improvement.

Although, as its name suggests, DistribuTECH is a show aimed primarily at the distribution side of the industry, the keynote session’s second speaker, Peter Flynn, vice president of National Grid USA and president of New England Power Co., addressed another of this industry’s hottest topics–transmission.

The ongoing policy debate led by FERC about regional transmission organizations (RTOs) was the subject of Flynn’s talk, “Slicing and Dicing–Where Are We Going and How Do We Get There?” The current debate has at its core the issue of for-profit vs. not-for-profit models. A proponent of for-profit transcos, Flynn said fully divested, fully functioning, super regional transmission companies will be best-suited to successfully satisfy customer and shareholder interests.

To be successful, Flynn said transcos must be independent of market participants; must be of sufficient size to be efficient and deliver value to their customers; and must be able to attract capital on favorable terms. He emphasized the need for regulatory policies that will ultimately foster a climate allowing for healthy returns on investment. Otherwise, there will be no incentives to provide top-notch service.

Flynn observed that the current composition of upper management has moved from engineers to more lawyers and economists. This change occurred as one of the keys for adding value has been handling policy and regulations. However, as the slicing and dicing occurs and a model evolves that drives value-enhancing transmission companies, the baton should be passed on to the engineers again. “Engineering talent will be at a premium at utilities across the country,” Flynn said.

William Bojorquez, director of settlements and customer service at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), wrapped up the DistribuTECH keynote session by providing an update of the newly opened Texas market.

Texas has the unique situation of being a self-contained transmission entity, with the majority of transmission being intrastate across its 7,000 miles of 345 kV lines and 15,000 miles of 138 kV lines. Under the Public Utilities Commission of Texas’ oversight, bilateral contracts cover 95 percent of energy purchases. Texas provides open access to regulated transmission lines and stranded cost recovery.

Bojorquez said that Texas has moved slowly and carefully as it transitions to an open market, but the transition remains a work in progress.

Conference & Exhibition a Success

After the Keynote, attendees moved on to the DistribuTECH exhibit hall, which featured more than 220 exhibiting companies. Distribution and substation automation system components, automatic meter reading equipment and services, GIS technologies, outage management systems, mobile computing hardware and mobile workforce management software–it was all there, including many brand-new offerings from longtime industry vendors and even some new first-time exhibitors. Most exhibitors noted that attendees seemed to be at DistribuTECH to do business, not just to “kick the tires” and browse.

DistribuTECH attendees were able to get an up-close look at new technology in the exhibit hall.
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Conference sessions were well-attended, particularly those sessions dealing with distribution automation and substation automation. One of the newer subject offerings at DistribuTECH this year was a track on mobile computing technologies. Although it only offered sessions on one of DistribuTECH’s three days, the mobile computing track was a popular one. Attendees can look forward to an expanded mobile solutions track at next year’s DistribuTECH Conference.

Attendance was also high at a special session on electric utility security in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy. In the “Protecting the Grid from Cyber Attack” session, Paul Oman from Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Massoud Amin from EPRI let attendees know that the control and automation systems that T&D utilities have come to depend on are vulnerable to electronic intrusion. Attendees were warned that electronic intrusions are currently hitting electric utilities in substantial numbers and that they’re almost certain to continue. Oman and Amin each encouraged session attendees to shore up potential weaknesses in their systems to help protect power delivery systems from terrorist attack.

DistribuTECH Making a Move

For 12 years now, DistribuTECH has been a bi-coastal conference, hitting Florida and California in alternating years. For its 13th year, conference organizers have decided to break free from that particular consistency.

DistribuTECH 2003 is headed to Las Vegas. For the first time, the City of Lights will host the conference dedicated to helping utilities keep their customers’ lights on. You can check DistribuTECH’s Web site at www.distributech.com for up-to-date information on attending next year’s big show in Las Vegas.

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