DistribuTECH Focuses on the Future

DistribuTECH Focuses on the Future

By Steven Wood, Associate Editor

The utility industry`s leading symposium on utility automation, DistribuTECH `98, recently concluded with thousands of delegates departing Tampa with the most current information about the emerging trends in the industry. Now in its eighth year, the conference continues to draw a record number of exhibitors. This year over 250 leading-edge companies demonstrated their products and services to the movers and the shakers of the utility industry.

In addition to exceptional product demonstrations, thousands of delegates were provided with nearly 80 educational sessions on current business and technology issues facing today`s distribution technologies. The DistribuTECH `98 delegates truly experienced the theme of the conference, “Find Your Future–all the answers under the sun.”

Visions of the Future

Change was the focus of the Opening Plenary Session, presented by a distinguish panel of speakers: Girard Anderson, TECO Energy Inc.`s president and CEO, Mark Spelman, Andersen Consulting worldwide head of strategy & enterprise transformation, and Paul Morris, EnergyOne executive vice president of marketing and sales. All three echoed that change will be constant and the consumer will take a major role of importance. To survive and be successful, utilities will have to become customer driven, rather than only a provider of electricity.

According to Anderson, utilities must take a role in offering value-added services, while embracing the benefits of technology. Spelman indicated that while utilities need to be aware of the change and react to it, they also need to stay inline with their business direction. Consumer trends need to be recognized according to Morris. To compete in the deregulated world, utility companies will have to know what the consumer wants and why.

Restructuring in California: Unbundling 100 Years of Regulation

The diverse panel of experts for the general session guaranteed a lively discussion as they examined the restructuring of the California electric industry. Moderated by David Geier, San Diego Gas & Electric distribution management & strategies manager, panelists included Wane Sakarias, San Diego Gas & Electric restruction manager; Terry Winter, California ISO COO; Michael Shames, Utility Consumer Action Network executive director; and Chris King, CellNet regulatory affairs vice president.

The fundamental change for electric utilities from monopolies to a competitive environment are being embraced by some but questioned by others. Sakarias believes that utilities should be responsible for the safe, reliable delivery of regulated electricity. He cited that over 200 organizations have registered to be energy service providers, opening the door for customer choice and a competitive market.

Winter led the delegates through the process of creating the ISO and the benefits of operating the system, as one instead of several, which he says will be economically positive. He also lined out the complexity of the ISO computer systems, encompassing five different systems: the scheduling infrastructure, scheduling applications, power management system, meter data acquisition system and the balance of business system. The testing of some of these systems caused the delay in the startup of the ISO.

The liveliest discussion came from Shames, who leads a consumer protection group concerned with utility deregulation. He does not believe small businesses and residential consumers will benefit from California`s deregulation plan. He is concerned that some of the service providers` deceptive advertising has misled consumers. The state plan required a 10 percent rate reduction beginning January 1. Some of the service providers are using this rate reduction as their inducement to potential customers. It is this deception that Shames feels will continue if controls are not put in place. He also believes that very little profit margin will exist under California`s plan, making it difficult for consumers to benefit from competition.

According to King, California`s deregulation success will lie with proper metering. Metering will provide three functions that will allow customer choice and improve market operation. The three functions are price options, the ability to provide value-added services and the ability to attract customers with these functions. He believes advanced state-of-the-art metering will provide greater market efficiency and more satisfied customers.

Innovation Awards

The best automation projects of 1997 were recognized at the 1998 Innovation Awards presentation during the Opening Plenary Session. Sponsored by Utility Automation, the awards recognize companies for leading-edge technologies, as well as development of advanced customer-focused applications.

The award winners and categories were:

Best Distribution Automation Project: Benton Public Utility District, Kennewick, Wash., Joint Utility SCADA Services

Best Systems Integration Project: Ameren UE (formerly Union Electric Co.), St. Louis, Mo., Advanced Distribution Management System

Best Telecommunications Project: Innovatec Corp., Milwaukee, Wis., Two-way Wireless Communications Network

Best Marketing Program: Commonwealth Edison, Chicago, Ill., Online Home Energy Audit

Best Customer Care Project: Kansas City Power & Light Co., Kansas City, Mo., Daily Customer Usage Information System

Best New Product or Technology: Bitronics Inc., Lehigh Valley, Pa., RT/RTS/RTH Fast Meters for “Real-Time” Control

Project of the Year: Grundy Electric Cooperative, Trenton, Mo., Implementation of Automated System to Improve Rates, Customer Service and Reliability

The Future is Changing

If delegates left Tampa with one thing on their minds it would be that the industry is in a tidal wave of changes. Technology is shaping the future of distribution, and deregulation is making it mandatory that organizations keep pace with the changes. To keep current with the technological changes, attending DistribuTECH `99 in San Diego, Feb. 14-18, will keep you and your organization on the cutting edge of technology.

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Thousands of delegates visited with companies displaying their leading-edge products.

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David Swank, Grundy Electric Cooperative Corporate Development Manager, receives the 1998 Innovation Award for Project of the Year from Steven Wood, Utility Automation associate editor and Teresa Hansen, Utility Automation managing editor.

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