DistribuTECH Conference Brings T&D Tampa’s Way

By Kathleen Davis, associate editor, and John Powers, online/associate editor

There was a kickoff in Tampa, but it wasn’t the Buccaneers starting a postseason exhibition. Instead it was Steven Brown, editor in chief of Utility Automation & Engineering T&D, kicking off the DistribuTECH 2006 conference with the keynote address.

This year, the conference visited beautiful Tampa, on Florida’s sunny West coast. From Feb. 7-9 more than 4,000 utility engineers, executives, consultants, researchers and other industry insiders gathered to debate automation and control systems, equipment, power delivery, T&D systems and water technology.

Keynote and Sessions

The DistribuTECH keynote session included speeches by Charles R. Black, president of Tampa Electric Co. (TECO), Terry Winter, executive vice president and COO of American Superconductor, and Terry Bowden, former head coach of the Auburn Tigers and current sports analyst for ABC Sports. The first speaker was Charles R. Black, president of TECO, the DistribuTECH host utility. Black spoke of Florida’s challenge of trying to add generating capacity to serve the some 1,000 people that move to Florida every day. With a steadily growing population, the capital costs of operations at TECO have risen significantly. To encourage a cost decrease, TECO decided to install a drive-by automated meter reading (AMR) solution that Black says resulted in the much sought after cost reduction along with a “53 percent decrease in safety issues” related to manual meter reading.

Dennis Lind, supervisor, Seattle City Light won the Harley giveaway at DistribuTECH 2006.
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Black also discussed customer service installations TECO has seen success with, including the installation of an “outbound dialer” to inform customers of outages and restoration times, as well as the implementation of a GIS system to increase productivity.

Next, Terry Winter, executive vice president and COO of American Superconductor, came to the podium. Winter spoke about trying to get engineers to look at politics as it relates to utilities when creating new technology. He gave a brief overview of past utility legislation from the 1930s to today, saying the Energy Policy Act of 2005 “will have a tremendous impact” on how utilities do business.

From there, Winter went on to describe aspects of the industry he believed would be of special significance in the coming years, such as generation, transmission, distribution, power quality and the environmental impact utilities have in their areas. Winter told the audience to have “customer focus,” saying such thinking will always prove successful for utilities.

“Let it drive all of your decisions,” he added, pointing out that customers want reliability more than lower costs.

Conference attendees leaving a crowded session during DistribuTECH 2006.
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Winter closed by saying an era has ended for the industry and that a new era is “coming forward and that’s an exciting era-a time of innovation, a time of flexibility.” He also urged the audience to fight the isolationism that could become pragmatic with an increasingly independent T&D side of the equation.

Finally, the stage was turned over to Terry Bowden, former college football coach and current analyst for ABC Sports. Bowden had the crowd laughing with anecdotes about his life and growing up as the son of famous Florida State head football coach, Bobby Bowden.

Using football as a springboard, Bowden spoke to the audience about what makes a successful team and how the same lessons can be drawn on in the business world.

Industry players gathered to mingle during the tropical-themed networking reception.
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My job is not to talk about the technology of the energy business, but about motivating your team,” he stated.

Bowden spoke about the recent Super Bowl game, saying that the best team did not win that Sunday evening. Instead, it was the “team that played the best.” Bowden said the team that does the little things the best will end up victorious in the end.

“People are the difference makers,” stated Bowden. “It’s called teamwork. I call it “˜Getting our eleven to play better than their eleven.'” Bowden went on to say the most important aspect of a successful team is loyalty. Loyalty involves passion for the team, company, or product, whatever sort of team one is a part of. Teammates, Bowden said, through their loyalty, care about each other and the team/company they serve.

“I want that burning desire to win. You’ve got to love to compete,” Bowden told the audience when explaining what he looks for in people he wants on his team or staff, challenging the conference attendees to look for the same.

“You want people who have a passion for your product, a passion for your company,” he stated.

Bowden went on to encourage those in attendance to shun complacency in favor of promoting motivation and enthusiasm no matter what the task. Every job, Bowden said, even the seemingly small jobs, can and do make a difference when it comes to success or failure.

“Little things like that make a difference,” he added. “Teamwork, like football, is a game of inches.”

The concept of “a game of inches” could be found throughout the DistribuTECH conference sessions. From how to maximize distribution resource analysis capabilities at NB Power in Canada to strengthening transmission grids in south Texas, the more than 4,000 attendees learned that the smallest gains could bring great rewards.

One of the most interesting new thoughts in the category came in the “Commercialization of New Technology” session on Tuesday afternoon, when Texas New Mexico Power discussed their mobile systems operation center, nicknamed “The SCADA-bago.” Since the utility didn’t really have the funds to set up multiple permanent emergency operations centers outside of their home base (to operate remotely during disasters, both natural and unnatural), they hit upon the idea of making a mobile one in an old RV they kept around-a game of inches that scored well in both operational and financial arenas.

Attendees and exhibitors explored technologies and system offerings on the DistribuTECH exhibit floor.
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The “Operational Issues in Transmission” session also saw a gain of inches that could, in the end, mean a great leap forward. Sharyland Utilities is taking the established HVDC tie and proposing what they say is the first commercial HVDC interconnect with Mexico. In a patch of land that is currently an onion field, Sharyland will build a 150 MW back-to-back HVDC tie expandable to 300 MW which they expect to be in service by August 2007.

Sharyland expects improved grid reliability, and lower energy costs for consumers from this gain of inches. Additionally, the tie will remain useful even as economic conditions change, according to the utility. So, it’s not a stranded investment.

Along with the conference information and informative keynote sessions, DistribuTECH 2006 offered a hands-on look at the latest in T&D and water technologies on the exhibit floor.

“Within the industry, DistribuTECH has become the show for large utilities,” stated Gary High with logicaCMG from his booth at the 2006 show.

From the Floor

And High wasn’t alone on that floor. In fact, more than 220 exhibitors crowded the freshly carpeted space with the latest products and service offerings the industry possesses-from SCADA to metering and everything in between. A number of exhibitors made announcements at the conference as well. If you’d had an ear to the buzz, you might have heard some of the following:

ABB discussed their two acquisitions over the last 15 months, including Malton Equipment Co. and Pacific Breaker Systems. Enrique Santacana, head of ABB’s Power Technologies division in North America, stated that the acquisitions will allow ABB “to deliver the benefits of our utility feeder automation capabilities in a coordinated manner-for both overhead and underground distribution systems.”

CenterPoint Energy’s electric T&D subsidiary, CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric, will follow a broadband over power lines (BPL) pilot program completed in 2005 with a limited deployment of Intelligent Grid technology. IBM has been selected as the technology and implementation partner for the project.

Verano talked of their recent purchase of PlantData Technologies, a SCADA security, IT services and industrial automation firm out of Houston. It will remain an independent subsidiary of Verano but is expected to nicely compliment the company’s Industrial Defender solution.

GarretCom and DYMEC inked a joint marketing agreement to offer an integrated substation network to customers. When John Shaw of DYMEC and Frank Madren of GarretCom sat down with Utility Automation & Engineering T&D on Tuesday, Madren commented on their focus on Ethernet, how it’s “bubbling to the surface of power utility substations” and DistribuTECH was the place to get a face-to-face with customers.

“Our users are here, and we want to talk to them,” Madren stated.

Shaw added, “Substation networks are our primary market, and DistribuTECH is our number one opportunity to network and see technology.”

And, technology was everywhere. Microwave Data Systems introduced the newest addition to its family of Ethernet radios during DistribuTECH. The MDS iNET-II provides a transmission rate of up to one megabit and is FCC-approved.

Announced as a collaborative development project in September 2004, Landis+Gyr and Comverge told the DistribuTECH audience that they have completed the adaptation of Comverge’s Maingate C&I CDMA cellular gateway-migrating from an external enclosure to an under-glass module-for full integration into the Landis+Gyr s4e C&I meter platform.

Xcel Energy revealed it most recent Utility Innovations project from the DistribuTECH floor: the latest prototypes to align information technology investments with business objectives, including a web portal, a predictive maintenance program for power plants, a partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a communications architecture model.

GE Energy announced that it has sold its one millionth I-210 solid-state residential electricity meter. The meter is GE’s first electronic, single-phase residential meter and has been installed at various locations in North America and the Asia-Pacific region.

Capgemini conducted a pulse survey at the conference, gathering responses from nearly 100 participants attending. The survey found that nearly half (43 percent) believe the biggest the biggest positive gain from widespread acceptance and implementation of smart meter technology will be “helping consumers better manage their energy use,” while another one-third (33 percent) point to “enabling consumers to save money in this era of rising energy prices.”

More than two-thirds (68 percent) of DistribuTECH respondents believe that utility T&D operations will improve through the implementation of smarter technology implementations over the next 5 years, compared to only three in ten (31 percent) who are unsure of such benefits. A majority of respondents were also bullish on the potential of innovative technology breakthroughs in the following T&D areas: SCADA (86 percent), GPS and GIS (73 percent), substation automation (71 percent), wireless services (66 percent) and worker mobility (58 percent).

“The survey respondents indicated there is willingness on the part of utilities today to invest in smart energy technology to achieve a competitive advantage in distribution operations,” said Doug Houseman, principal at Capgemini.”

Another key finding from the Capgemini pulse survey at DistribuTECH: Two-thirds (64 percent) believe the emergence of a “smart grid” will not happen for 6-10 years, while another one-quarter (28 percent) believe it will happen in less than 5 years.

Overall, DistribuTECH 2006 was a rousing success for participants, and all of us here at Utility Automation & Engineering T&D hope to see you again next year when DistribuTECH returns to the San Diego area February 4-6, 2007. And, as always, you can find the latest in call for papers, exhibitor listings and housing information on the website: www.distributech.com.<<

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